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Amelia River Golf Club in Amelia Island, Florida gets better as you go

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Amelia River Golf Club, has a lot going for it: no development around it, an excellent staff tending to you and the golf course, the beautiful Amelia River, and some really fun risk-reward choices.

Designed by Tom Jackson in 1999, the course gives you many chances to cut corners over trees, sand or water. Of course, if you fail there is a price to be paid, but in many instances the lure is too great.

From the start, you'll sense Amelia River is different. From the first tee, you can see small planes rise and descend at an airstrip a few hundred yards away. It's pretty mesmerizing to watch the planes come and go, moreso to see the people falling out of those planes, parachutes attached to their backs. That's a distraction not found in many "how to" golf books.

The golf course opens with a par 5 that sets the tone for all of its long holes: all have a links-style openness to them, but there are twists in getting to the greens. On number one, the fairway turns gently right toward the green, a ditch to clear in front of it.

The second hole requires a precise drive of just the right length to clear a bend right but avoid landing behind a tree on the left.

The golf course builds as it goes, leaving the most dramatic holes for the last third of your round.

For example, the crescent-shaped 14th hole is over a pond. Looking to your left, the green is right past the water and a string of bunkers, but the fairway takes the long way around. What to do? You know what you're going to do. You're going to go for it.

Amelia River's 16th hole has a live oak arching over the left side of the dogleg. If you can clear that tree, you can hit the green. The voice in your head urges you on.

The 17th is a replica of the famous island green hole on the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass. It's dramatic. Either you hit the green or you don't. There isn't a safe alternative. Walking up to the green, pay a little respect to the dozens of balls in the water that missed their mark. Perhaps you'll want to whistle as you pass the graveyard for the hopes and dreams of par.

Then there is the final hole, a par 5. There is a marsh area to clear on your second or third shot, depending on your distance, and then an offset green. It is just a long ribbon of putting surface fronted by an army of bunkers. It's a shot of great finesse.

Regardless of how you did on 18, pause a second and drink in the beautiful view of the Amelia River beyond the hole. Then head to the Cape Cod-style clubhouse for some great food and excellent service.

"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.

Parachutists, risk, reward, a beautiful river -- it's all part of a day at Amelia River Golf Club.

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