When most people think of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, two things typically come to mind: the Players Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass or the PGA Tour, whose headquarters are right near the course. But the golf cognoscenti are keenly aware of another place just down the road: the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, a luxurious retreat with a par-three island green that predates the famous 17th at Sawgrass by some 60 years.
Located on a stretch of white-sand beach along the Atlantic southeast of Jacksonville, the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club checks all the boxes when it comes to a first-class golf resort: 36 scenic and challenging holes, 250 recently renovated rooms, and a number of fine restaurants, as well as a top-rated tennis complex, four heated pools (three of which are right on the beach), and a 30,000-square-foot spa—the largest one north of Palm Beach.
But perhaps more than the facilities and location, it’s the intangibles that make the Inn & Club so special. Greeting visitors inside the lobby is the hotel’s AAA Five Diamond Award, which it’s won 10 years running. It’s one of only eight resorts in the state to carry the jeweled imprimatur, signaling the ultimate in luxury, service, and sophistication. The blend of old-school charm and modern amenities gives the place a unique character that is at once familiar and comfortable yet stylish and elegant.The warm but refined ambience of the resort has been years in the making. The Inn & Club opened in 1928 and attracted the upper crust from the Northeast and Midwest for sun, surf, and golf. Designed by British architect Herbert Bertram Strong, the Ocean Course was the first one in the region, which all the great players of the era, like Bobby Jones, frequented. Then, like today, the 144-yard 9th with its island green (above) was a big attraction. Some say it was the inspiration for Pete Dye’s famous hole down the street, but Strong didn’t have modern earth-moving equipment like Dye; just a team of mules to dredge the lagoon. Bobby Weed renovated the layout in 1997 and it remains a fine test today. Ninety-nine bunkers—many with big lips—dot the course and elevated greens make for challenging approaches and short-game recovery shots.
At just over 6,000 yards, the Lagoon Course may be 800 yards shorter than the Ocean but no less challenging: A mosaic of lakes and lagoons comes into play on 11 holes. A par 70, the Robert Trent Jones Sr./Joe Lee design has an interesting mix of holes with a couple of drivable par fours and six par threes. And after a 2007 renovation by Weed that greatly improved drainage and turf conditions, the course is in better shape than ever.The drive down Ponte Vedra Blvd. would get any golfer’s juices flowing as you pass by the Ocean’s finishing holes and pull under the porte-cochere at the Inn to see a five-level fountain flanked by two putting greens. One of the allures of the resort is its campus-like feel, with buildings spread out over 300 well-kept acres lined by Medjool date palms. Next to the Inn is the tennis facility, which has 15 Har-Tru “hydrocourts” with subsurface irrigation, eight of which have lights for night play. Just a little farther south is the impressive spa, which was built in 2006 and includes a café, outdoor pool and “therapy grotto” (above), and hair and nail salon, as well as more than 100 treatments. There’s nothing like getting pampered in paradise.
On the other side of Ponte Vedra Blvd. is where you’ll find the majority of the elegantly homey accommodations, most of which are right on the beach in a collection of two-story structures. Stepping onto the balcony or terrace to see the sun or moon rise over the ocean is one of the treats of any visit. Also beachside are three pools, a Jacuzzi, and a large workout facility with 75 machines and view of the ocean. Naturally, the club’s “barefoot and bikini” bar, High Tides, overlooks the Atlantic, as well, as do the two main restaurants, the Seahorse Grille with its room-dividing fish tank and the formal but intimate Seafoam Dining Room, where jackets and ties are still worn in a nod to the resort’s Golden Era history.
Just as The Breakers is the crown jewel of southeast Florida, the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is its counterpart in the northeast part of the state.
This historic golf resort on the ocean in north Florida mixes old-school charm with a modern touch
By: Tom Cunneff