Amelia River Golf Club in Amelia Island: Lots of risks, rewards, surprises -- and fun

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Amelia River Golf Club is full of surprises, thanks to designer Tom Jackson's love of risk-and-reward golf.

Amelia River Golf Club - No. 18
The Amelia River serves as the backdrop for the final green at Amelia River Golf Club.
Amelia River Golf Club - No. 18Amelia River Golf Club - No. 17Amelia River Golf Club - clubhouseAmelia River Golf Club - No. 4
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The Amelia River Club

5 stars out of 5 (based on 3 reviews)
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The Amelia River Club prides itself on being one of the best-conditioned golf courses in the area, boasting large, smooth TifEagle greens that are carefully sculpted around forested parkland. Due to the abundance of trees on the golf course, ball placement and accuracy are integral to doing well.

18 Holes | Semi-Private golf course | Par: 72 | 6860 yards | Book online | ... details »

"People walk away with a smile on their face, happy that they had a chance to score well," said Ed Tucker, general manager and director of golf. Five tees, ranging from 4,801 yards to 6,843 yards, make it manageable for everyone.

The golf course is perfectly maintained, the staff is great and there isn't any development around it. What's most memorable, though, is how fun the course is. Amelia River Golf Club is not a course that insists you bend to its will. You're the driver, you choose what kind of game you want to play. Opt for conservative play and you'll score well. Take some chances and you can have the round of your life.

There are many occasions you'll stand on the tee and ask "what if?" And you won't be able to resist finding out.

For example, the par-4 11th has a honking-big tree on the left and a bunker on the right. Still those wobbling knees and fly the bunker. You can nearly drive the green.

The 14th hole is nearly a crescent. Depending on which tees you play and how aggressive you want to be, part of your ball flight will be over an alligator-infested pond. (Well, there was one sunning itself on the bank. Does that count as "infested"?)

If you overestimate your distance, there is a series of bunkers lining the shore that will welcome your ball. Conversely, if you take the conservative route but overshoot the fairway, you could be blocked out from the green by a huge tree. The tortoise does not always beat the hare on this hole.

The 16th is another hole that just begs you to go for it. Come on, you can clear those trees on the left with your drive. The green is beckoning.

Amelia River Golf Club's signature hole is the nearly island par-3 17th, a replica of TPC Sawgrass. Its risk-reward is pretty stark. Either you cleared the water or you didn't.

The par 5s at Amelia River Golf Club

The par 5s are all nestled between mounds and bunkers, giving them a links appearance, but each has its own personality. For example, the 13th runs along the runway of the adjacent commuter airport, so there will be some aerial distractions along the way. Just try to ignore those two parachutists descending a few hundred yards away, OK? Then, the offset green throws every possible hazard at you: a sharp drop-off left into water if your ball doesn't get sucked into a mid-hill bunker, steep elevation, trees behind and a bunker right.

"That's a par 6 for me," said Nan Hamilton of Philadelphia, who plays the course often.

But that's just a warm-up for the last par 5, No. 18. There is a hefty marsh about 100 yards from the green, but that's not the hard part.

"Once you get over the water, you're still not out of trouble," Hamilton said. "It's a tough green. You don't have a lot of room to work with."

You have to stick your approach on an offset, skinny green fronted with all kinds of bunkers. Then there is the gorgeous view of Amelia River beyond that you have to tune out. Such a tough approach, such a pretty view. One last dab of risk-or-reward, perhaps?

"One of our trademarks is the course is always in really good condition," Tucker said, adding that the course, once named Royal Amelia, has had the same superintendent since it opened in 1999. "He takes a lot of pride in the course."

Amelia River Golf Club: The verdict

Brian Vaughn loves it all about Amelia River Golf Club: the layout, the clubhouse and the people. "The greens are the best of anywhere in the state," he said.

Hamilton said, "It's fair and fun to play. It's not too hard. The par 4s are reachable. It has a very interesting mix of holes."

At the end of the day, there is little risk Tucker won't be rewarded with his wish: "We want our guests to have a nice, pleasant experience."

For more info about golf along Florida's First Coast, click here.

Lisa AllenLisa Allen, Contributor

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.

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