When it comes to the best resorts in Florida, Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is at the top of the list. How could it not be? The beach town it inhabits was literally named after it. What started out as a mining area in St. Johns County, Fla., Ponte Vedra Beach became a gorgeous seaside community. Today, Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is celebrating their 90th anniversary.
To be quite honest, I had never heard of Ponte Vedra Beach, which is located 18 miles southeast of downtown Jacksonville and 26 miles north of St. Augustine. Some serious golfers might know the area because the TPC Sawgrass is there. With the winter we were experiencing in Bergen County, going to an oceanside resort with a great golf course seemed like a perfect choice regardless of my knowledge of it. We hopped on a plane and 2-and-a-half hours later, we landed in Jacksonville. A mere 30 minutes later, we arrived at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club. The sight of beautiful white sand on one side of the resort and the lush greens of the golf course on the other made me as happy as I could be.
Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is a AAA-Five Diamond resort. From the moment I arrived there, I could tell why. To me, it is all about service and obviously AAA agrees. The staff could not be more accommodating. They were always there when I needed them and sincerely warm and helpful – southern hospitality at its best.
Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is made up of ten buildings, including the historic inn, most of which offer beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean. To continue to earn their Five Diamond rating, PVIC is constantly upgrading their rooms and amenities. My room had an incredible view of the white sand beach and the calm ocean. Sitting on my balcony was one of my favorite parts of my visit. Listening to the ocean, as we all know, is incredibly calming. The suite had a large sitting room with bar (breakfast counter for families), nice sized bedroom and a big bathroom, complete with a rainfall walk in shower and Jacuzzi tub. There are so many things to do, on the property and off, that it seemed like I was rarely in the room.
Once again, their incredible level of service was there when I went to play golf. I did not want to ship my clubs and gear for this short weekend getaway, so I was dependent on the pro shop and rentals. They had everything I needed and all seemingly brand new. As a lefty, oftentimes if I need to rent clubs, the clubs seem to be just manufactured after they stopped making wood drivers. That was not the case here. It was a good thing too because the two 18-hole courses plus the wind certainly required use of all the clubs in my bag. Playing along the water always has its challenges, especially for me, but it makes for a beautiful and relaxing round. The ninth hole was quite the challenge; it is rumored to be the inspiration for the TPC Sawgrass Island hole. I bogeyed it. Yes, very good for me.
The Spa at Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is 30,000 square feet and seems to offer every service one could ever hope for to relax and/or to heal. No wonder it is labeled as one of the best spas in Jacksonville, Fla. area. After not playing golf all winter, it seemed like I would need a Cryotherapy treatment most. The Cryosauna does in 3 minutes what athletes receive in a 20-minute ice bath. It uses cold temperature (an understatement) to promote natural healing and wellness. The one thing I can say is that although I had not played golf in a while, the normal aches and pains were not there the day after the cryotherapy treatment. The spa also offers compression treatments, which help the muscles in the body heal. With its assortment of massages, facials, the outdoor heated pool and, of course, the café, one can certainly fill an entire day at the spa and feel really good about it.
One of the biggest surprises of my trip was the incredible food that I ate throughout the four days. Florida seems to get a bad reputation for its cuisine – not here! Not only is the food terrific, but they also have several “dining experiences.” I went to the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club’s sister property down the road, The Lodge and Club, which is basically a long walk or very short drive along the ocean. At the Sea View Grille, we were able to enjoy a wonderful dinner overlooking the Atlantic. The appetizer course, Florida Wagyu Beef, was prepared at our table over a piece of Himalayan salt, which had been heated in an oven and brought to the table. The rest of the meal and experience was great.
Remember that ninth hole I was speaking of before at the Inn and Club? We were lucky enough to have a complete dinner prepared on the actual hole itself! There are quite a few groundskeepers losing sleep over this, I‘m sure. Not only was the incredible array of foods outstanding, the experience was unique. My favorite food experience of the trip was dinner at the Seahorse Grille at Ponte Vedra Inn and Club in the kitchen. The Chef’s Table, literally at the end of the line in the kitchen, offered a 12-course tasting menu with each course trying to outdo the last, and they succeeded!
The long weekend certainly didn’t have enough hours to enjoy all the resort or area had to offer. Did I mention bicycling on the beach, tennis, gym and a full array of kid’s activities? Jacksonville and St. Augustine are each only about a half hour away. St. Augustine, which claims to be the oldest city in the United States, has many things to do, including a trip to the area museums or The Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th century fortress, as well as looking at all the great architecture and visiting the St. Augustine Distillery and Ice Plant. First watch how they make bourbons, vodkas, etc., and then go next door and have something good to eat while you sample some of the distilled beverages.
Although I had never heard of Ponte Vedra Inn and Club before, I will not soon forget it. They have mastered the art of service and hospitality. Whether it is the 24/7 room service, al fresco massage, ocean view gym or watching the waves, they seem to make it special.
By Steven Goldstein