Golf in the Southern United States, namely Richmond Hill, Georgia is at its finest at the Ford Plantation. Just minutes from Savannah, Ford Plantation is over 1800 acres of lush historic plantation land, rich with history, and a 400-Resident private gated community with many amenities. Among them is a uniquely built private 18-Hole Championship Golf Course by award winning and World Golf Hall of Fame architect, 89 year-old Pete Dye. Mr. Dye spent over a year renovating the Ford Plantation course with a team of experts, Ford’s golf course staff and member financial input. Over $7 million dollars investment by Ford Plantation Members, a year plus in transformation with 94,000 cubic yards of soil moved and redistributed, the golf course was transformed into a very unique and one of the finest Southern golf course design that tantalize all skill levels. According to Director of Golf Course Maintenance and project collaborator Nelson Caron, Mr. Dye would stop, and “draw” in the dirt to get his point across to the team about the structure of a particular hole (shown in the pic to the side). The initial course design was created by Pete Dye in 1984, under previous ownership of a wealthy business man. However with course features lost over the last three decades, the urgent need for infrastructure upgrades due to consistent drainage failures prompted the restoration project. Ultimately, as, Nelson Caron explains, “The renovation has addressed and corrected the infrastructure issues; restored Dye features; made the course playable; has increased environmental sensitivity and awareness through infrastructure reform; and, now Ford has the ability to promote and market their golf course as a new product.” Some impressive redesign qualities included more firm and fast greens, doubled irrigation on all holes, installation of a state-of-the-art soil moisture meter system that is monitored at all times – an important feature due to the low water table of the plantation land. In addition, some holes were completely transformed, including Signature Hole #10, where the design team actually moved the green from the left side of the fairway to the right. Another Signature Hole #17, a favorite of Pete Dye and one of his finest, boasts a downhill Par 3 (you don’t find many in the low country) and Lake Clara which sits on the right is at higher elevation than the green.
The front nine of 250 acres, which has a park like feel as trees and inconspicuously built million-dollar custom homes are tucked along the lakes and golf course, wraps around Lakes Davis, Harn and Sterling. The back nine is a “low country Scottish links style” that includes Dye’s signature wrap around sand bunkering, featuring panoramic views of Lake Clara on one of the original plantation fields. The course layout is similar to the original, with major fairway redesigns to a few holes that were irrigation challenged and under water during rains and after. Noted changes include “high dune” type and pot-hole bunkering along with widened fairways and generous landing areas, in order to make the course more playable for the Ford members and guests. Another noted feature includes continuous tee boxes that allows variety and flexibility in course set up. Under the 1.7 million sq.ft. of Celebration Bermuda sod, undulations were created with the soil, and then the sod was laid to create a variety of rippled terrain throughout the fairways and even the greens. Greens expanded by 20 percent and have been manicured to be firm and fast. Caron explains that once the greens “break in”, they will soften a bit. If your short game needs work, you better brush up before you play Ford, as the greens are true to your line and putt. Much credit needs to go to Nelson and his team for their tireless work of maintaining superior putting surfaces. During the grand opening event, Paul Wickes, Ford Plantation Club President States, “the course has its secrets.” Having played the course 2 years prior, I experienced some of those secrets!
It is hard to believe that plantations once occupied the greens and fairways that make up the Ford Plantation. With a total of 6,460 modified Yardage, this 18-hole golf course challenges all skill levels, even seasoned pros. Notable holes include Hole 3, 10 and 17, as an extra focus was given to create diversity. Hole 3, 601 yards from the Championship tee, is challenging Par-5 with Lake Davis to the right which is home to resident Alligators (which by the way, are more scared of you and scamper off when approached). A slight dogleg left, with play down the right side is your best option. The green, which is the smallest on the golf course, is heavily guarded by Dye featured deep pot bunkers, so stay centered with a chip up to the pin. Dye has been generous to provide easier position play with a kick slope short of the right to the green. Since water is most troublesome on this course, you will have had a bit of practice by the time you reach Hole 10. A Par-4 with a slight dogleg right, has a generous fairway until the approach to the green, then there is trouble with a wrap around skirted sand bunker and the waters of Lake Clara to the right. Shoot with a slight shot to the left avoiding the left pot bunker will leave you with a nice shot to the green on the plateau. Do not over shoot, as you will land on the beach. Hole 17, a downhill Par-3, will exercise your accuracy due to the offset elevated green, pin placement, and guarding bunkers with a deep pot bunker directly off the back of the putting surface. You will note the green is at a higher elevation of Lake Clara, which provides an interesting visual aspect.
One of the major advantages of playing Ford Plantation is there are no tee times needed, and you can golf at your leisure. While golfing with Ford resident Melanie Culver, she states, “A very popular golfing activity among residents is the Hook and Slice 9-Hole Tournament where 2 people golf a hole and 2 people fish a hole with points added for fish caught (according to the number of fish caught and the size of the fish caught).” She adds, “Each time you play the course, you are continually challenged, as your play changes with each ball landing. It is like playing a new course each time.” Her enjoyment of the Ford Plantation comes with the breath taking views of playing the course, the numerous activities that bring the membership together, and her outside excursions to Savannah to take in the enriching book festivals and upbeat music festivals featuring a variety of music and artists.
The Ford Plantation, rich with history and nature set on rice and cotton plantation land, is much more than distinguished golf community. Once home to Ford automobile founder, Henry and his wife Clara Ford in the 1920’s, is now a private sporting community featuring custom homes sprawled on the 1,800 acre Century Oak laden land that stretches along the Ogeechee River. The Main House, which was the Ford’s winter home, is now guest accommodations, the gathering spot for Ford Plantation community for club meetings, weddings, and a historic architectural landmark. Guests are also welcome in spacious one-bedroom to four-bedroom guest cottages and homes, which are located within walking distance of the clubhouse. Activities are abundant at Ford. Like Owner and Member Ron told me, “It is like being at Summer Camp. There is so much to do!” The Ford Plantation 6,000 ft. Sports “Barn” boasts tennis courts, heated swimming pool, state-of-the-art fitness equipment with yoga studio, and the Lake Dye Grill offering casual dining. A 22-stall barn Equestrian Center provides full service boarding and training, and in close proximity is the old Carriage House home of the Ford Plantation Day Spa, featuring a full menu of spa services and treatments. A host of other outdoor activities include nature walks on the mile plus peninsula that separates Lake Clara and Ogeechee River. Fly fishing, shrimping and crabbing are also quite popular among the membership and guests within Ford Plantation land, in addition to canoe rides with gator spotting and kayaking. Embark on a nature adventure river boat cruise, from Ford’s deep water Marina, on the Ogeechee River, and cruise through a tangling of networks of bird laden scenic canals that branch off in all directions from the river. The river ultimately leads to the Intracoastal Waterway located twenty nautical miles, where ocean water fishing is a popular summer sport. An offsite favorite is the Dorchester Shooting Preserve, located 15 miles from Ford, is 5,000 acres of hunting preserve where shooting skeet is offered along with seasonal hunting. Although, one of the main features at the Ford Plantation is their multi-million dollar golf course and “Southern Inspired” architecture Golf Club and Pro Shop, the Ford Signature Restaurant boasts fine dining. Southern style menu items feature seasonal game and local “catch of the day” seafood with an infusion of fresh ingredients from the Ford garden. One popular Ford favorite is a dinner of traditional roasted Oysters and barbecue, which many times is featured at Events and Monthly Oyster Roasts at the vintage Oyster House.
There are so many activities at the Ford Plantation that there is no reason ever to leave, however if your artistic side is yearning for culture, a 15 minute drive to Savannah is in order. You will find a plethora of galleries, museums, historic town square, and dining establishments. For full details on the offerings of Savannah, please visit their website at www.visitsavannah.com. To find out more about visiting the Ford Plantation and membership, please visit www.fordplantation.com or go to www.fordplantation.com/fordexperience to learn about the Guest Experience Package.