Golf at its best is a peaceful, sublime fusion of nature and sport.
In fact, entering the term “healing power of golf” on Google delivers more than 19 million hits.
A small piece of land between A1A and the Atlantic on Amelia Island is an example of how golf can heal – especially old wounds.
The opening this week of Little Sandy, a 10-hole, par-3 course at the Omni Amelia Plantation Resort, not only brings another alternative golf facility to the First Coast, but also sparked a bitter dispute between the Omni Amelia Plantation Resort and ended the Amelia Island Equity Club, more than four years after the abrupt closure of one of the two 18-hole courses on the property.
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Both sides have moved forward and the beautiful little gem that surrounds Red Maple Lake is the peacemaker.
“The members are very satisfied with the layout of [designer] Beau Welling, the construction of MacCurrach Golf and Omni’s efforts to bring it all together,” said Mike Warfield, President of the Amelia Island Club. “For us as members we have access to a really well designed short course that many private clubs don’t get access to. I just think it’s spectacular.”
The course, named for its size (less than 30 acres) and proximity to the towering dunes of Amelia Island, had its grand opening on Tuesday, becoming the second 18-hole alternative to open in two years opened on the First Coast.
Born out of the former Oak Bridge Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, The Yards opened in Fall 2020 and features a nine hole course and six par 3s.
The oldest par 3 course in the area is Palm Valley Golf Club.
The opening of The Yards, and now Little Sandy, is part of a nationwide trend of golf clubs, resorts and communities looking for alternatives to the four- to six-hour, 18-hole golfing experience that many players say simply takes too much of a toll on their free time .
According to the National Golf Foundation, about a third of the new golf courses opened in the US last year were par 3s between six and 14 holes.
A golf experience in 60 minutes
Jonathan Bridges, director of golf at Omni Amelia, said two players can travel Little Sandy’s 928 yards in an hour, and groups of six have done it in less than 90 minutes since the soft opening.
“They’re really enjoying it,” Bridges said. “It’s something completely different.”
Holes range from the ninth hole at 42 yards to the first and tenth holes at 115 yards. The course will be laid over the remains of Nos. 7, 8, 17 and 18 of the old Ocean Links course, which was closed by the resort in November 2017 without notifying the Equity Club in good time, a Nassau County judge later ruled.
The 10th green, one of three holes with water in play, is in pretty much the same location as Ocean Links’ par 3 18th green.
The course cost $3.5 million. There was no rating for Amelia Island Club members who have gaming privileges at Oak Marsh and the Amelia Island Club at Long Point – the latter closed for renovations this week and will reopen in the fall.
Little Sandy has relatively large greens with dramatic contours that allow for numerous pin positions. At seven of the holes, players have the opportunity to run the ball onto the green.
Rental sets containing a putter, three wedges, and a 9-iron are available, but players are welcome to bring their own bag. Walking is required unless a player has a disability.
There’s an 18-hole putting course that Warfield described as “a real treat.”
Golfers want more options
Welling, based in Greenville, SC, said like almost everything else to do with leisure, golfers want options that don’t involve a door-to-door experience that consumes much of the day.
“Look at society in general, we have so many choices about how we can use our time and our lives,” he said. “I grew up at a time when there were only three channels on TV. Now we don’t even watch TV on a TV. We don’t read newspapers on paper. What we’re seeing is a golfer’s desire to have options in how they orient themselves to golf.”
Welling said the increase in par 3s will help players get better at golf’s key shots – from 100 yards to the green.
“This type of facility strips away a lot of the shots that people are having a hard time playing with and focuses on the shots that give them a chance to succeed,” he said.
Little Sandy also has an array of amenities ranging from charming to functional to fun.
Each tee marker consists of four drink holders, allowing players to carry their drinks from hole to hole. There is also a parasol and two sun loungers at each tee.
The putting green has half a dozen Adirondack chairs.
Small speakers strategically placed near the tees and greens play music. A small pro shop stocks rental sets, balls, tees, divot tools and ball markers as well as a selection of clothing. The course is within easy walking distance of Bob’s Steak and Chop House and other dining and drinking options at the resort shopping village, making it easy to arrange 10 holes of golf at Little Sandy around breakfast, lunch or dinner.
And if players run out of ammo, there’s a large gumball machine past the ninth tee that dispenses pink golf balls.
Little Sandy fits perfectly into the resort’s family-oriented vibe. Welling said he went onto the course last week and saw a guest at the resort teaching his little daughter how to putt while her two little brothers did somersaults on the green.
“I thought, ‘That’s what we’re trying to do here,'” Welling said. “It’s all about the family.”
Little Sandy fixes hard feelings
Little Sandy appears to be an appropriate compromise to the closure of Ocean Links, the first design on the First Coast by World Golf Hall of Fame architect Pete Dye in collaboration with Bobby Weed. Dye also designed Oak Marsh.
The resort closed Ocean Links on November 12, 2017, the day after it was still taking tee times, and began grading the three holes along the ocean – hours after an email was sent to Equity Club members asking them were informed of the closure.
At the time, the resort claimed members had failed to honor an agreement to offer 10,000 annual rounds at Ocean Links and Oak Marsh, and a minimum of 3,000 at Ocean Links, in addition to vacationer-generated resort rounds.
Equity Club’s lawsuit alleges that Omni Amelia Island LLC breached a long-standing agreement to operate two private membership golf courses and play at the resort, which dates back to 2010 when Omni purchased the property through bankruptcy proceedings which the original owners were involved.
The bulldozers began work under police protection. Work was halted two days later on a restraining order from Judge Steven Fahlgren – who blasted the resort in his decision.
“The agreement does not permit Omni to unilaterally close the Ocean Links golf course, but rather requires the club’s written consent to do so,” Fahlgren wrote. “Omni destroyed the Ocean Links golf course without notice and in a manner designed to complete the destruction before the club had an opportunity to seek judicial relief. Florida law will not allow Omni to benefit from this wrongdoing.”
The Equity Club’s attorney, Steven Busey, told the Times-Union at the time: “Omni’s sudden closure of the Ocean Links course was the result of Omni’s arrogance, greed and disdain for contractual obligations.”
Fahlgren ordered the golf course. The 10 hole par 3 alternative became the compromise and the harsh language surrounding the closure of Ocean Links is now forgiving on both sides.
“I’m not going to contrast and compare the situation,” Warfield said. “All I can say is we’re very happy with this course. I can’t speak for all the residents, but I think they’re looking at it and saying, ‘Wow, that’s attractive…it’s going to be.’ help home values It was a really positive experience.”
Theo Schofield, the Omni CEO, has only been at Amelia Plantation for a little over a year and believes there is real harmony in opening Little Sandy. The resort held an opening for Equity Club members last week and he is pleased with their response.
“They are very excited about it,” he said. “I think they’re very excited to have another option to play with.”