By John Steinbreder
After four years and $45 million, the restoration project at the venerable Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra, Fla., is almost complete. And that has made this 300-acre, oceanside resort an even more enjoyable place to stay. In fact, there is not a better retreat in the northeast part of the state.
Let’s start with the golf. The Inn & Club has two 18-hole tracks, the best-known of which is the Ocean Course. Built in 1928, it originally was designed by British architect Herbert Strong and features the much-photographed island green on its par-3 ninth. The links-style layout, which was selected in 1939 as the site for the Ryder Cup matches that eventually were canceled because of World War II, was redesigned in 1947 by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Bobby Weed oversaw the latest renovation work, which included the addition of tee boxes to increase length, as well as new bunkers, water hazards and larger greens.
At 6,811 yards from the back markers, the par-72 track provides a good challenge, especially when the wind blows hard off the sea. No, it’s not the TPC, but there aren’t many resort layouts in the entire state that are comparable.
In addition, Ponte Vedra has the par-70 Lagoon Course. The first nine holes were designed by Trent Jones and opened in 1961, while a second nine was put together by Joe Lee in 1977. The layout is quite a bit shorter than the Ocean Course, measuring a mere 5,574 yards from the backs, and not nearly as difficult. But the design is pleasing, the water hazards plentiful and the conditioning superb. In other words, the Lagoon is a good No. 2.
The accommodations, however, don’t take a back seat to any resort in Florida. There are 160 rooms and 40 suites located in nine, red-roofed, low-rise buildings. All have a private balcony or patio, and many face the Atlantic Ocean, opening right up to some gorgeous stretches of beach. The rooms are well-appointed, with everything from ceiling-level core lighting and whirlpool bathtubs to data ports and cable television. They work for business travelers, as well as for vacationers, who no doubt like the fact that many come with modern kitchenettes and ironing boards. (I prefer to order room service, which is available 24 hours a day, and I send out my shirts and pants to be pressed.)
The people at Ponte Vedra spare very little when it comes to amenities. They run four restaurants, as well as a business and conference center, and they offer much-appreciated baby-sitting services. You can play tennis on one of 15 Hard-Tru courts, swim in one of four pools, go sailing or deep-sea fishing or head over to the new, 29,000-square-foot ocean-front fitness center that stands two stories tall.
Guests will find perhaps the most extensive and sophisticated spa in all of North Florida at Ponte Vedra, and more than 100 specialized “pampering” services are available. You can get full-body massages, herbal wraps, body polishes, facials, and hot-paraffin manicures and pedicures. Or you can do what I like best, which is to sweat things out in the steam room or sauna. Daily aerobic and aquacize classes are options as well, and for those who prefer to get their cardiovascular workouts by shopping, there is 5,000 square feet of new retail space at the Inn.
All these things combine to make Ponte Vedra a truly great resort. But what really puts it over the top for me is the setting. Located on both sides of Ponte Vedra Boulevard, it stands in the middle of a residential area with modest homes, quiet streets and the Atlantic Ocean just to the East. The tone is relaxed, and the feel both classic and modern, offering all the tradition and style of an old-time resort that catered to the upper crust of American society with the facilities and comforts of the 21st century. Simply put, it is a wonderful place to visit.