Wednesday, November 29, 2017

On Location: Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort


For more than 25 years, I've traveled the highways, byways and waterways of Florida. I've devoured conch fritters in America's southernmost city, Key West, and feasted on fresh smoked grouper in the panhandle, so the Guru knows a thing or two about the good life in the Sunshine State.

One of my favorite places to visit is Amelia Island, a 13-mile long barrier island about 35 minutes from Jacksonville. It has a great mix of controlled development and untouched natural surroundings. What I love is you can enjoy a beautiful, walkable beach, numerous bike and nature paths and lots of great resort and public golf, dining and sightseeing without ever leaving the island.


The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, which sits on 1,350 acres, is perfectly positioned oceanside with easy access to the village of Fernandina Beach (about a 15-minute drive).

GOLF

Two of my favorite course architects, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio, have separately designed the two championship layouts accessible to Omni Amelia Island guests.


Oak Marsh--Appropriately named, the course meanders along saltmarsh creeks through moss-draped oaks. A classic Pete Dye design built in 1972, Oak Marsh has several Dye signature features, including long, contoured fairways and bulkheaded greens. Like all Dye courses, Oak Marsh demands accuracy and shot-making ability from its challengers. If you're a spray hitter off the tee, be prepared for the nature walk of your life as you roam the fairway fringes to locate your ball.

Long Point--A Tom Fazio design, this layout takes you on an amazing trek through a well-preserved wilderness area. Dense forests, fifty-foot high sand dunes and marsh and ocean views dominate the experience. Fazio requires you to hit a wide variety of shots, ranging from those over menacing marshlands to those aimed at narrow, tree-lined fairways and oceanside greens surrounded by dunes.

ACCOMMODATIONS


Taking full advantage of its Atlantic Ocean setting, the resort has 404 oceanfront guest rooms and suites with patios and balconies. With an impressive amenity package, the rooms (as all Omni rooms) are, in the Guru's humble opinion, an exceptional value.

Room Amenities include:

--Ocean views from all 4004 guest rooms

--Furnished balcony or patio

--Serta Pillow Top mattress with 330-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets

--Plush terry cloth robes

--Exclusive skin care products

--Coffee maker with premium coffee

--Work desk with lots of outlets and ports

RESORT AMENITIES

--3.5 miles private beach

--Infinity edge adult swimming pool

--10,000-square-foot family-friendly pool with a children's splash par and 2 hot tubs

--23 Har-Tru court tennis complex

--Shopping village with 14 boutiques, deli and market

--Nature center

--Hiking and nature trails

--Fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding and surfing

--Guided Segway tours, bicycles and golf carts

--Horseback riding

--Fully equipped fitness center with a 20-yard lap pool, personal trainers and group classes

--80,000 square feet of versatile indoor and outdoor meeting space

10 Little Things I Liked

1. The friendly southern hospitality you receive throughout the resort.


2. The great veranda and fire pit at the golf clubhouse.


3. The packed hard sands on the beach, which are ideal for sunrise and sunset strolls.


4. Blueberry Margaritas at the pool.


5. Plush, comfortable bedding. I always get a good nights sleep at an Omni property.


6. Fire pits and whirlpools in the pool area.


7. Great balcony overlooking the pool and Atlantic Ocean. A phenomenal place to wind down after a good or bad day on the course.


8. Delicious in-room coffee with the Keurig Coffeemaker.


9. Convenient and prompt tram service throughout the resort.


10. Boutique shopping center near the front of the resort.


DINING/LOUNGES

You don't have to leave the resort premises for great dining. Here's the menu:

--Bob's Steak & Chop House--Prime steaks, great whiskeys and an excellent wine list can be found here.

--Verandah--A contemporary design dining room featuring fresh seafood and varied wine list.

--Oceanside--It's swimsuits, flip-flops and margaritas during the day and later it transforms into an upscale ocean-side dining venue at night where you can hear waves crashing and smell salt air.

--Marsh View Bar & Grill--Features casual fare with stunning panoramas of the marsh and 9th hole of the Oak Marsh Golf Course. (Available only to registered guests and members).

Other options on resort grounds include Falcon's Nest (pub-style menu and build-your-own-burgers), Natural Slice (pizza joint with fresh ingredients and hand tossed dough), Marche Burette (French-style market and deli), Sunrise Cafe (features great breakfast buffet) and Seaglass Lounge (handcrafted cocktails and small plates).

THINGS TO DO NEARBY

--Shopping, dining and entertainment in Fernandina Beach, a walkable fishing village with a quaint downtown area with lots of great restaurants and local shops. I highly recommend the Salty Pelican Bar & Grill on North Front Street. Get a table on the second floor open-air porch and enjoy the superb seafood. No exaggeration alert: At the Salty P I had the best fried shrimp platter ever in my many years of travel.

--Amelia Island is a bicyclers paradise with excellent trails. You can rent bikes, baby trailers, jogging strollers, tandem bikes ant Island hoppers at the resort.

--Visit Fort Clinch State Park where you can explore a Civil War era fort.

--Ride a horse on the beach (Kelly Seahorse Ranch 904-491-5166 or Amelia Island Horseback Riding 90753-1701)

--Take a fishing charter from Fernandina Beach.

LOCATION

It's situated about a 45 minute drive from downtown Jacksonville and 29 miles from Jacksonville International Airport. If you're traveling on I-95 north or south, take exit 373 (Route A1A East) and it's about 17 miles to the resort entrance. Address: 39 Beach Lagoon Road, Amelia Island, Florida 32034

GET THE SCOOP


Call 904-261-6161 or 1-888-444-OMNI. Visit their website by clicking HERE

Monday, November 20, 2017

Top 10 Golf Travel Trends for 2018


Let the good times and dimpled balls roll for golf travel enthusiasts in 2018.

With an American economy revving up with 3 % growth accompanied by meteoric stock market numbers, more people will have a few extra bucks to spend on luxury pursuits like golf vacations in the coming year.

Here are ten golf travel trends the Golf Travel Guru highlights for 2018:

1. Extended Golf Travel Vacations

Referred to as "sojourns" for the baby-boomer generation, these involve two or three month stays in golf rich areas. Typically, these golf travelers rent vacation apartments short-term or utilize services such as Airbnb. Popular locations include Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and Ireland. These longer vacations aren't just for retired boomers, either. Many boomers work as consultants or freelancers and all they need is a reliable wi-fi connection and they can travel and play golf for weeks at a time.

2. Over-The-Top Greens Fees at Iconic Golf Courses

You're going to need the few extra dollars from the robust economy because more and more of the world's most famous courses are charging  past $400 for a round of golf during their high season. If you want to play golf's high-profile layouts, be prepared to shell out some serious coin. Some of the priciest include Pebble Beach Golf Links ($525), TPC Sawgrass--PLAYERS Stadium Course ($495) and Pinehurst No. 2 ($420). 

3. Merging Fitness and Golf 

In addition to great golf, many golf vacationers want top notch wellness facilities at their resort or hotel. Especially attractive to linksters are spas with numerous treatments and services, well-equipped fitness centers, walking and jogging trails, nature paths, yoga and exercise classes. From losing weight and getting in shape to improving mental health, the goal is to improve your life beyond the fairways. 

4. Making Safety and Security a Priority

Savvy travelers are increasingly more cognizant of political turmoil, terrorism, inclement weather patterns and they want to play golf at destinations that are safe and secure. Travel agents and golf tour operators are paying closer attention to political happenings, hurricane seasons and other troubling weather situations in planning vacations. 

5. Exciting New Courses to Play

Several impressive golf courses debuted in 2017. For those seeking new golfing frontiers, the menu is enticing. Heading the list are:  Hogs Head Golf Club in Waterville, Ireland, Streamsong Black in Bowling Green, Florida, Sand Valley Golf Resort in Rome Wisconsin, Norman Signature Course in Nayarit, Mexico, Panorama Golf Resort near Praque, Czech Republic and Danzante Bay Golf Club in Mexico.

6. Viva Italia

Italy, the sumptuous oasis of great wine, pasta and gelato, has increased its tee time bookings by 40% in the past three years. The momentum is expected to continue as Italy will host the Ryder Cup for the first time in 2022. Italy has 142 18-hole golf courses and several exceptional golf resorts. The Guru's favorite destination, the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region in the northeast corner of the country, has a good menu of courses like Golf Club Trieste, Golf Club Udine, Golf Club Lignano, Golf Club Grado, Golf & Country Club Castello Di Spessa, Golf Club Castel D'Aviano and Golf Club Tarviso. Other great choices throughout Italy include Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort in Manciano, Argentario Golf Resort & Spa in Monte Argentario and Donnafugata Golf Resort & Spa in Ragusa, Sicily. It doesn't get any better than a chilled glass of pinot grigio after a round of golf.

7. Emerging Destinations

For those seeking new golf travel frontiers, countries increasingly bullish on golf as a lure for tourists include South Africa, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Korea, Vietnam, Mauritius, St. Kitts/Nevis and Malaysia.

8. Shipping Your Sticks

An increasing number of golf travelers are opting to ship their golf clubs. Who can blame them? Long baggage security check-in lines, lugging a heavy bag around the airport and searching in vain for the oversized bag drop-off are just some of the reasons traveling with your clubs is a major pain in the posterior. Oh yeah, the airlines could lose your clubs and you're really screwed. It's really not surprising that shipping golf clubs is increasing in popularity. Top companies include Shipsticks.com, Luggageforward.com and Golfbagshipping.com

9. Ryder Cup 2018

The Ryder Cup has evolved into one of the sporting world's (not just golf's) biggest events. Ryder Cup 2018 will put the spotlight on golf in France and attract golf travelers from around the world. The matches will be staged September 28-30 at the Albatross Course of Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, a suburb of southwest Paris.  For those who want to attend, your best bet is to go through an authorized golf travel tour operator. There are a variety of options, including Ryder Cup cruises and various pre- and post-trips to popular French regions like Bordeaux, Normandy and Brittany.

10. Food and Wine Lovers

Golfers love great food and fine wines. Hey, just about everybody is a foodie and wine lover these days. Destinations with superb, interesting cuisine and great wines are becoming even more attractive to golfers who want to enhance their vacation experience. Some of my favorite wine/golf destinations include South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Italy, France and Napa Valley in California. For dining, the Guru particularly likes Australia, which has awesome outdoor (al fresco) dining options and Italy, with its fantastic family-owned trattorias and wine estates.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Drive Shack Opening Soon in Orlando


You might want to cue "New Kid in Town", the classic Eagles tune as Drive Shack, a golf entertainment complex, recently announced it will open in Orlando in early 2018.

Similar to Topgolf, which debuted a 65,000 square foot facility in Orlando in October, Drive Shack features a high-tech, gaming-style driving range with hitting bays, restaurant, lounge, bar and meeting space.

Who knew hitting computer chip golf balls to shiny, lighted targets while noshing on fancy  appetizers and exotic drinks and craft beers would be such a big hit?

Millennials and casual golfers love Topgolf, which has 36 locations, so it'll be interesting to see if Drive Shack has the same strong appeal.

Currently under construction in the Lake Nona area (7675 Lake Nona Boulevard) near Orlando International airport, the 66,000 square-foot Drive Shack will encompass 90 hitting bays on three floors, a 220-yard range, pro shop, restaurants, bars and event space for up to 150 people.

Drive Shack officials haven't offered many specific details on the Orlando facility. 



A division of American Golf, which has 77 traditional golf facilities under its ownership and lease/management umbrella, Drive Shack is a new concept for the company. Orlando will be its first facility. Future locations include Palm Beach, Florida, Glendale near Phoenix, Raleigh, North Carolina and Richmond, Virginia.

Reportedly, the Phoenix Drive Shack will be situated near the University of Phoenix Stadium across the street from a soon-to-open Topgolf. I suspect Drive Shack is banking on the Burger King theory of locating near a McDonald's whenever possible. It should be very entertaining to watch the battle of the golf entertainment complexes in Phoenix.

While traditionalists might scoff at these glitzy, high-tech driving ranges, you can't deny they  introduce many people to golf who would never, ever, go near a golf course.

The Guru will see you at Drive Shack next year...

Friday, November 10, 2017

On Location: Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate


The Guru travels around the world to play golf, but, ironically, I really don't have to venture beyond my hometown, Orlando, to tee up at phenomenal resorts. O-Town has an amazing inventory of resorts with courses designed by a Who's Who list of architects like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Tom Fazio and Tom Watson.

Just a few miles from my house is one of my favorites, Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate. I absolutely love the resort plan with all of the golf elements situated directly behind the hotel. Everything from the two championship golf courses, the world headquarters of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and par 3 chip and putt course are just a few steps from the hotel back door. Oh yeah, if you've got kids in tow, they've even got a highly entertaining miniature golf course.

Better still, it's a great time to visit because the resort just completed a multi-year, extensive $40 million enhancement and expansion project.

GOLF

You can almost feel Greg Norman's presence on the Championsgate fairways. Norman, aka The Great White Shark, designed both of the resort's 18-hole championship layouts. Both courses have undergone recent refurbishments and enhancements.

--International Course-If you've never been to Australia to play golf, this layout will give you a good idea of what a "down under" coastal links course looks and plays like. Ranked in most "Top 10" rankings of courses in Florida, this rustic design features firm, fast fairways, wind-swept dunes and sprawling greens. Opened in 2000, it's a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit very challenging at times, links-style golf experience. If you've got serious game, try the Black tees at 7,363 yards and a 143 slope. Most golfers play the blues at 6,792 yards (137 slope) or Whites at 6,239 yards (132 slope).


--National Course-It's a traditional, parklike course carved from 200 acres of citrus groves, wetlands and natural Florida forest. There are 80 sculpted bunkers and a variety of engaging holes with interesting doglegs and water coming into play on several holes. The greens are fairly small so shotmaking and distance control are important if you want to score well. The Black tees play 7,128 yards. For higher handicappers, the blues at 6,427 yards and whites at 5,937 yards are the best choices.

--David Leadbetter Academy--If you need instruction, help is not far away at Championsgate. The world headquarters of the David Leadbetter Academy is at the opposite end of the resort's expansive practice range. Amenities at the complex include spacious classrooms, student relaxation areas, video and computer analysis area, short game practice area, 65,000 square-foot lesson tee and more.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Overview: There are 862 guestrooms and suites as well as two-and-three bedroom villas and a new lodge.

--The standard guestrooms are superbly designed with an executive desk, leather chair, triple sheeting on beds, foam and feather pillows, mini-refrigerator and plush robes to name some of the amenities. The design scheme is soft, muted beige, brown and yellow colors.

--Some of the amenities at the villas include 24-hour room service, open kitchen, dining and living room floor plans, built-in wet bar in the dining rooms area, queen-size sleeper sofa bed in each living room, 42 inch plasma television or 35 inch LCD television with DVD play in living room, washer/dryer stackable units and daily housekeeping.


--Recently opened is the new Sunset Lodge and Suites, a 3-story building with 93 units, including 23 four-bedroom unites and 50 studio suites with double Queen beds and kitchenettes.





MAJOR RESORT AMENITIES

--European-style spa

--Kids pool, slides and private cabanas

--Quiet pool with private cabanas

--Family pool

--850-foot Lazy River

--Wave pool and private cabanas

--Lighted 9-hole par 3 course and miniature golf

--Complimentary scheduled shuttle transportation to Walt Disney World theme parks

--Guided bass fishing excursions and seminars

--Eco-adventure excursions

10 Little Things I Liked

1. The amazing French Toast coated with crumbled corn flakes and coconut I had for breakfast at Trevi's.


2. The mini-fridge in my guest room, which was perfect for chilling white wine and water.


3. The free valet parking at the golf clubhouse and the convenient self-parking at the hotel.


4. The scrumptious club sandwich I had after my round at Piper's Grille at the golf clubhouse.


5. The fun-to-play (and oh so convenient) Champions Lighted Golf 9-hole, par 3 course right behind the hotel.


6. The Lazy River and Wave Pool.  The Guru never, I mean never, misses a chance to float down a Lazy River with a cool libation in hand.


7. The phenomenal Orange Sesame Beef with Steamed Broccoli I had at the on-site restaurant Zen.


8. My meeting with golf director Patrick Dill, who directs a staff that makes every golfer guest feel welcome.


9. The multiple, rapid elevators in the hotel that allow you quick access to the lobby and pool area.


10. The scenic walking, jogging path that weaves through the resort grounds.


DINING/LOUNGES


Zen Restaurant--An upscale Chinese setting with a sushi and sake bar.

David's Club--A high-end sports bar ambiance with everything from nachos and burgers to steaks. For your sports viewing pleasure, there is video wall and 90" flat screen TV.

Trevi's Restaurant--Available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Italian fare dominates the menu in the evenings.

Croc's Pool Bar & Grille--Lots of burgers, salads and cocktails you can enjoy while in your bathing suit.

Piper's Bar and Grille at Championsgate Clubhouse--Really delicious pub style food. Better than most clubhouse grills.

THINGS TO DO NEARBY


--Walt Disney World Theme Parks--Located less than a 15 minute drive from the resort.

--Warbird Adventures--Kissimmee-based company featuring flying in vintage military aircraft.

--Boggy Creek Air Boat Rides

--Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park

LOCATION

Situated 25 minutes from Orlando International Airport 3 miles past the Walt Disney World exits on Interstate 4. Take exit 58 off I-4 and bear right. Address; 1500 Masters Boulevard, Championsgate, Florida 33896

GET THE SCOOP

For more information, click to Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate or call 1-888-444-OMNI