Golf Chicago!
Golf Chicago!

Taking a Golf Vacation Where Everyone has a Ball!
Family Fun

At the top of the war-torn and weatherworn stone and brick walls of Fort Clinch there are several Civil War era cannons. Big and black. It was the perfect place for my two young sons to climb upon, wondering about the battles and the cannon balls and the ships that sailed in the sights of these big guns along the coastline of Amelia Island, Florida in the 1800’s.

Meanwhile, Dad wondered if he placed a golf ball in the middle grounds of this historic fort would it take an 8-iron or a 9-iron to hit it over the wall and onto the beach?

This captures the essence of my family’s vacation to Amelia Island - a few days packed with fun plus plenty of golf to go around. I wanted to see if it was possible to go on a golf vacation that also gave my not-so golf-crazed family a memorable time. It was also quite imperative that when it was all over my marriage would survive and my kids would still love me. You see, I planned to play a good deal of golf on this vacation.

Amelia Island is a beautiful barrier island just north of Jacksonville where American history, historic architecture, beachfront rentals, elegant hotels, family-friendly adventures and superb golf all come together. From everything I had read, it looked like a wondrous spot to take a family vacation and still enjoy great golf. There is plenty of beach, a charming historic district in the town of Fernandina and a great state park on the northern end of the island. That’s where you’ll find Fort Clinch - a civil war military installation built to guard the mouth of the St, Mary’s River. The old fort overflows with history and really does take you back in time. It was our last stop before we headed for the airport to go back home and it was one of the more enjoyable visits of the trip. My two boys, 8 and 10 years old, were fascinated by all that was around them. I was too.

But well before the history lesson came four days of other family fun...and yes, golf.
If you have ever spent any time at a Ritz Carlton property, you know the level of service and elegance. The Ritz on Amelia Island is a magnificent place. The hotel sits on the beach near the stunning sand dunes and every room has a view on the ocean. But unlike other Ritz properties, this one caters very well to families. It maintains the sophistication of a Ritz without being stuffy and the surroundings have a feel of casual elegance. There are marvelous outside and inside pools plus the beach is just a walk over a wooden footbridge that makes its way through the protected dunes. You want to see a beautiful sunrise? This is the place.

“I wanted to see if it was possible to go on a golf vacation that also gave my not-so golf-crazed family a memorable time.”
We made it an early night with all of us lying in bed watching the Academy Awards. At the same time, I went over some of my golf itinerary for the week while curled up in crisp linen sheets and wrapped in that great, big white Ritz robe. Royal Amelia Golf Links, a relatively new course, was my first stop tomorrow and I was looking forward to getting a first hand look at this new upscale course. Plus, my wife, Marie, was going to play with me for the one and only time this trip and I was hoping for an un-crowded day with glorious weather. My wishes came true.

While Marie and I played golf the plan was a day at the Ritz Kids Day Camp for Casey and Graham. The Ritz Day Camp has some very skilled counselors who really get the kids excited. All it took for the boys was for their counselor, Gary, to tell them they would spend some time on the beach looking for sharks’ teeth! To make one thing clear, the camp is NOT a babysitting service. This is a fully planned activities-driven program that allows time for all kinds of adventures. I asked my boys to give me a few words on how they liked the Ritz Kids camp and you can read that in this story.

For Mom and Dad though, it was time to tee it up!

Royal Amelia Golf Links is on the southern end of the island not far from the small local airport. The place is about a year old and the clubhouse is not yet complete, but the grounds and the course are in top-notch shape - especially the greens. Marie and I headed inside to meet the staff and get us set-up for a great morning.

The beauty of Royal Amelia lies in its naturalness. It’s carved out of forests of live oaks, palms and pines near the Amelia River and the tidal marsh. And you have to be sure to keep an eye out for the wildlife. Magnificent birds, including some very sizable hawks are part of the experience. But the king of the course, if you will, is Wally. Wally is a 10-foot long alligator that lives on the property. There’s a photo of him, autographed by the way, of Wally in the temporary clubhouse. Everyone seems to know Wally, and respects him, as you can imagine. We looked for Wally, but never saw him. It’s likely, though, that he saw us.

The first hole at Royal Amelia is a longish par-5 with a creek that runs in front of the green. I was able to par it, but only because I played it cautiously and made an 18 foot putt. Marie struggled a bit, but found the hole in a respectfully low number of strokes. She had decided not to keep score this round and just enjoy the day. It was her first time playing this season and didn’t want to spoil it with calculations. I must say though, she played well and the set-up from the forward tees is very playable.

The rest of the layout calls for accurate shooting. The length from the whites is only 6128 yards, but you cannot spray the ball or big numbers will likely be your pattern for the day. My favorite holes were the short, par-4 10th, the 14th - a big dogleg left around water, and the 17th. This par-3 offers a green nearly surrounded by water and calls for some real target shooting. Tip - take a club longer than you think. I hit balls from the blue tees and the white tees and thought I hit both perfectly. Both found the water.

We loved our day at Royal Amelia - beautiful surroundings and nice golf plus four hours of quality time with my wife. We joked and laughed and egged each other on and even played a few holes of match play on the back nine for kicks. And we had this great time while our kids were having their own great time at the Ritz. The rest of the day was spent in languid relaxation, family style.

Just before dinner we all strolled out to the putting green at the Golf Club of Amelia, just a chip shot from the main entrance to the hotel. It was a cool evening, but the sunset gave the golf course that copper glow that makes everything look spectacular. The boys and I played our regular putting game - an as usual I lost a few quarters to them.

The next morning came before the sunrise for me. I couldn’t sleep any longer and decided to head down to the beach to see the sun pop up over the Atlantic. My youngest, Graham, joined me for a quite walk on the beach and some father-son time. After our walk it was back to the room where Marie had promised the boys a room-service breakfast as I headed for the golf course.

The Golf Club of Amelia at Summer Beach is part of the complex at the Ritz and the clubhouse is literally right outside the hotel’s front door. I had noticed the 10th fairway and 18th green near the clubhouse on the first day we arrived. They were in stunning condition, green as green could be and not a blemish to be found. I was looking forward to a solid round.

This Mark McCumber-Gene Littler designed golf course is one of the tightest I’ve ever played. But the greens are relatively flat making the course a little more forgiving. I played alone this day, and frankly enjoyed it greatly. Even with a threesome in front of me, the pace of play allowed me to hit a couple balls from time to time. Spending a few extra minutes on some of these superbly designed holes was a pleasure. I found the course a beautiful combination of fairness and challenge.

Just before the round, I noticed a man putting his clubs on his cart at the clubhouse and his son, who was about 5 or 6 years old, was sitting in the passenger seat ready to go along for the day. I had done this a few times with my boys for nine holes and it was always a pleasure. It was nice to see that The Golf Club of Amelia allowed players to do that

I got around the course in less than four hours, which was pleasing as the entire family had a date with a few horses on the beach.

It’s been a few years since I rode a horse. My sore thighs and painful behind proved that. But the main point - for the boys to love the ride - was accomplished. The Kelly Seahorse Ranch is on part of the state controlled beach on Amelia Island and the scenery was lovely. We each hopped on a horse and headed for the beach with the sea breezes whipping very nicely in the mid-afternoon. For a little over an hour we leisurely moved along the beachfront where no houses would spoil the views. But it’s a good thing we didn’t have to ride the horses all the way to our next stop - the opposite end of the island. Our butts would be aching. Cowboys we are not.

The town of Fernandina sits on the north end of Amelia and is simply one of the most charming little towns I’ve ever visited. It’s classic colonial Florida with a little touch of Georgia. The architecture is preserved throughout the historic district where you’ll find grand Victorian guest homes and welcoming tree-lined streets. Even the newly built Hampton Inn and Suites at the edge of the district and near the docks meshed perfectly with its architectural surroundings. First stop - the best toyshop on the island.

The boys had a choice to make. Mom agreed to get them each one thing from Z Z Toys. It was one of those old-style toyshops where things are piled up to the ceiling. Casey and Graham made their choices, after considerable debate, and Dad picked out a kite. I love kites at the ocean; so easy to get into the sky.

We then headed for a few other shops along Centre Street stopping at Fantastic Fudge for a little pre-dinner treat and even a quick look at the available homes and condos posted in the window of a real estate agency. It’s always fun to dream.

We made it an early night, packed a little for our final day on the island with each of us commenting on what a delightful town Fernandina is.

Tomorrow morning it was a boat ride for Mom and the boys, and yes, more golf for me.

Ritz Kids Camp
By Casey Berner
(10-years old)

Camp was fun and was good for kids 8-12 years old. The stuff to do is more for kids of an older age, which was OK for me. We went shell and shark teeth hunting. Yes, we did find shark’s teeth but it was hard. Then we played outdoor games like “over/under,” volleyball and “Swap.” From there it was on to the water to swim the indoor pool. The outdoor pool was a little too cold, although my brother braved it and jumped in.

We swam and then went to lunch outside in the sunshine. I had a cheeseburger with fries. After we ate we went back inside. Inside we played a few rounds of Uno. I won 3 out of 5 times. Later we went back to the beach. The water was too cold to swim but it was cool how the waves piled onto of each other.

After my dad and mom picked us up, we had a putting game at the Amelia Golf Club. It’s the game Dad and I play now and then where we have to make putts for quarters. I think he still owes me $2.

I awakened before the alarm clock, again, and headed down for breakfast before my final 18 holes at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club. If you ever stay at the Hampton Inn in Fernandina you absolutely must have their breakfast. It is served in a roomy, upper floor with a view of the marshes and the food is tremendous, especially the waffles. You get to make them yourself with already prepared batter and a waffle iron ready and hot. It’s a treat.

I wasn’t expecting a lot from this golf experience. Fernandina Beach Golf Club is the popular public course with three nines and a lot of play. But, the price is very reasonable. And I wanted to get a taste of a little “regular” golf and not “resort” golf on the island.

I teamed up with a couple of locals - Wally and Doc, both retirees who play Fernandina three days a week. Our fourth was a fellow on vacation from Richmond, IN who snuck out for an early round while the family made plans for the day. Sounded familiar. We headed off the first tee with nothing in front of us but a stiff off-the-ocean breeze.

The golf course was very playable and for as much play as it gets the conditioning was far better than average. But the golf course wasn’t what made my day, it was the company. Wally and Doc are old friends who needled each every step of the way. When Doc hit a shot far right on number 13, Wally turned to me and said, “He owns that property over there, you know. He should, he’s there so much.” Then with a wink Wally added, “He owns a part of the lake on the South Course, too.” These guys were a hoot and they really gave me a taste of everyday life on the island and a totally enjoyable round on the golf course.

I got back to the hotel in record time and headed straight for the docks. The boys and mom had planned a boating excursion for the time that I would be on the links. I figured that I would catch them returning not long after my round. I sat in one of the Kennedy rockers set-up at the harbor and watched their boat move closer to shore. They waved when they spotted me and were so anxious to tell me about the dolphins that came right up to the boat, the wild horses they spotted and the submarine. Yes, they were lucky enough to see a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine from the base at Jacksonville scooting along the surface. What a treat for the boys, especially so on the last day of our trip.

The last stop was the previously mentioned Fort Clinch State Park. We not only had time to climb on the cannons, but also time to fly that kite I bought.

Golf vacations are many times thought of as the “getaway for the guys” but as many of us get older, wiser and add on the responsibilities of family, those kinds of getaways are not always practical. If you plan for everyone’s enjoyment and make good choices about where to take your journey, golf, even a lot of golf, can be a part of any family vacation.

On the plane home, I thought a little more about whether it was an 8-iron or a 9-iron to make it over the wall at Fort Clinch. After some careful thought, I believe you’ve got to go with a soft eight.

Where to Go?

Choosing a place to take a family golf vacation has a lot to do with how the non-golfers want to spend their time, or if the children plan to play. Here’s a short list of some companies and resorts that can help you design an enjoyable family golf trip where everyone has fun.

1. The Ritz Carlton - Amelia Island, Florida - 1-904-277-1100
2. The Amelia Plantation - Amelia Island, Florida - 1-888-261-6161
3. Carolina Golf & Family Vacations -
4. Eagle Ridge Inn & Resort - Galena, Illinois - 1-800-892-2269
5. Double JJ Resort - Rothbury, Michigan - 1-800-DOUBLE JJ
6. Grand Geneva Resort and Spa - Geneva, Wisconsin - 1-262-248-8811
7. Crystal Mountain Resort - Michigan - 1-800-YOUR-MTN
8. The Homestead - Hot Springs, Virginia - 1-800-838-1766
9. Hotel Hershey - Hershey, Pennsylvania - 1-717-533-2171
10. Disney World Resort - Orlando, Florida -

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Last Updated: 7/1/01