Ponte Vedra may have been put on the map in 1982 with the first PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass, but it's been a retreat for luxury travelers since the 1920s, with its wide beaches, upscale amenities and plenty of activities for staying active. Midway between historic St. Augustine and Southern-city Jacksonville, there are many opportunities for arts, culture and dining. So even if you can't make it for the PLAYERS Championship (May 5-10, 2015), you can follow this itinerary for a golf and fitness-centric vacation, all while enjoying Florida's famous beaches and sunshine along with a dollop of Southern hospitality.
Late check-in at the AAA five-diamond Ponte Vedra Inn & Club (from $299). Have a welcome cocktail in the cozy lounge before turning in early after a day of traveling.
Watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean from your balcony and head to the dining room for an elegant breakfast, served on fine china and with attentive service. Order the signature Mayport Benedict ($18), named for the nearby fishing village of Mayport and birthplace of America's shrimping industry. The meal is both healthy and hearty, complete with a generous portion of high-protein lump crab and Mayport shrimp along with the superfood, avocado, and a side of fresh fruit.
Take a jog on the beach. Wide smooth beaches at the tideline make it easy and invigorating for running, or head to the deeper sand near the dunes for a tough leg workout.
Make your way to the inn's oceanfront gym for a class, from water aerobics to indoor cycling and power yoga, which are all included in your daily resort fee. Kara leads the 45-minute Rip Curl class which gives you a full-body, muscle-toning workout.
Check into the spa across the street. The 30,000-square-foot facility features his-and-her hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms. Take advantage of the spa's private outdoor pool designed especially for swimmers with Jacuzzis and a grotto with simulated currents. Afterward, lounge around in your robe with your spouse in the co-ed quiet room for a detoxifying lunch of tender kale salad. Then, take a steam before a therapeutic sports massage ($140).
Just 25 miles south down scenic AIA is historic St. Augustine. Along the way, you'll discover protected wetlands and secluded beaches just feet from your car. Park near the Castillo de San Marcos downtown, then casually stroll along the bayfront. Make your way down pedestrian-only St. George Street toward Flager College and Aviles Street for a history lesson on America's Oldest City. This quaint city by the sea celebrates its 450th birthday this year, and the pride is palpable everywhere you turn.
After an active day, you've earned a cold one. Carb up at A1A Ale Works for a seasonal craft beer. Sit out on the wrought-iron balcony for a view of the city's marina, the Bridge of Lions and the majestic tall ships, in town for the 450th.
Walk a few blocks on St. George or along the bay to Cuna Street for dinner at Michael's Tasting Room. Small plates pack a big punch here. Order tapas to share, starting at $6, along with a house-recommended Spanish wine. Be sure to try the Gambas La Florida ($12), made with local shrimp sautéed with garlic and local Datil peppers deglazed with Florida orange juice. Salud!
Head out for a day at TPC Sawgrass, home of the PLAYERS Championship. Start with a lesson (from $125/hour) at the PGA TOUR Academy, where pros use the latest technology to analyze your swing and improve your game.
Tee off. The stunning course is known for its iconic 17th hole, and moss-draped oaks and slender pines create a stately, Southern ambience. At the turn, pay a visit to the clubhouse and splurge on "The Burger," which is made-to-order and big enough to split, along with a side of hand-cut fries ($16). Note: the clubhouse is open to the public, so even if you're not playing golf, you can enjoy its amenities.
After a round, take a free tour of the clubhouse, including the tunnel of champions where greats like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelsen have passed through.
After some downtime back at the inn, head out for a night on the town in nearby Jacksonville. Perhaps catch an intimate concert in the 1927 Moorish-fantasy style Florida Theatre and grab a bite. Five Points/Riverside, near the tony Avondale neighborhood, has thrived in recent years with an influx of local eateries and breweries. Black Sheep offers out-of-the-box Southern specialties like barbecue pork rinds ($5), and Korean beef short ribs served over creamy grits ($27). Okay, so maybe we've stopped counting calories.
Depart for home with a better golf game, a guilt-free conscience and a different perspective of Florida from the First Coast.