The Ford Plantation: Southern Golf Vacation in the Peach State


Sitting on the back balcony of the old Ford house, overlooking the Ogeechee River, a warm breeze rustles the moss in the 17th century live oak trees. The squawk of a soaring turkey vulture is the only sound in the late afternoon. A panoramic view from the balcony reveals live oaks spanning the shoreline of the river from left to right, with an old rice mill and oyster house off to the right. The setting is the Ford Plantation, located in Richmond Hill just 15 minutes from Savannah in the south part of Georgia, and is a private golf and sports community. Auto maker extraordinaire, Henry Ford, bought plantation land in the 1920’s, and was determined to restore the devastated and neglected plantation land. Ford was very passionate about nature and set out to protect the environment, repair the original Cherry Hill Estate, and eventually built a new custom home in 1936 for his wife Clara, which he made his winter home. Today, the main house – named Richmond Hill and Clara’s house, is the hub of the plantation community and allows members to come, enjoy tea in the afternoon, sit on the balcony, or relax in the library with a good book. The 1800 acre estate is private, offering prime real estate and all the amenities expected in an upscale community. Golf, spa, equestrian, water sports including catching shrimp, fishing, and crabbing, hiking, and fine dining top the list of activities that are enjoyed by members. The main house’s expansive bedrooms accommodate 6 couples with the option to rent a vacationing member’s house for those that prefer a visit to give them a feel of plantation living. A marina, sports facility, spa facility, equestrian stables, golf club with championship golf course, and wildlife rescue is all on property along with 24 hour security. And, 3 full-time guides for fishing, hunting and hiking are unique to the Plantation property.

The Ford Plantation acreage was once three separate plantations which were established in the 1700’s, named Dublin (renamed Richmond), Cherry Hill, and Silk Hope, and produced upland cotton and tidal rice, which was their primary crop. As you drive in past the security stop and white gates, you can only imagine the three-quarter of a century plantation struggles that included the 1860’s Civil war, which brought upon economic and plantation devastation. The driveway view now reveals breathtaking and massive live oak, mossy trees among white corralled horse grounds that lead you to the historic Ford main house. A stay at the main house estate is very much like a colonial style bed and breakfast, where the beds are comfy, the staff is personable, and the home is welcoming. A large formal dining and living room with parlor and majestic fire place, breakfast room with paned windows, library are maintained in the original Ford design, with old photographs of the Ford’s and the plantation in earlier years adorn the walls. In addition to the spectacular colonial style architecture and the smell of the woods used to build the home, the décor transforms you back to a time when life was lived at a much slower pace. That same philosophy is true at the plantation today.

The early morning sun streams in paned windows and the bustle of staff in the kitchen below along with the heavenly scent of their homemade blueberry muffins and aromatic coffee announces the start of the day. Take breakfast on the balcony overlooking the river or in the breakfast room with a view of the rose garden and Old 1870’s Rice Mill. The old mill was converted by Ford into his part-time research laboratory, which also provided steam to the Richmond Estate Home, and is now privately owned and occupied. After breakfast, a round of golf is in order (and perhaps a little fishing, so don’t forget your fishing pole!) It is not unheard of a member shooting a couple of holes of golf and then taking a break to fish in the lake, and then shoot a few more holes of golf and fish. The pace is that laid back. A short golf cart ride to the golf club will take you through some quaint neighborhoods, revealing custom homes, some of which emulating the main house. Usually, no need for a tee time at the plantation, as the membership is small. The Pete Dye designed 18 hole 72 par golf course, created in the mid-1980’s with an unlimited budget and free design, is divided by Lake Clara at hole 10, and hole 1 is situated near the golf club and Rose Hill Community (where the first Ford home was inhabited). Majestic live oaks and over 250 acres of freshwater lakes are the scenic landscape of this course. In 1984, one of the many land owners and wealthy Saudi businessman, Mr. Garth Pharaon commissioned Pete Dye to build “The Sterling Bluff Golf Course”, in which the first nine holes are designed after a Parkland style golf course, and the back nine was innovatively created on once plantation rice fields and is a Scottish-links style design, and according to Pharaon’s desire to create a course in the tradition of the Augusta National Course. The course took 3 years to build, and Fall season 2013 “tee to green” golf course restoration project. The plan, to top $7 million, includes constant involvement with Pete Dye, and will focus on restoring the exact detail of Mr. Dye’s sculptured bunkers, greens and fairways. Presently, the course is maintained to as much of the 1980’s original design with deviations and changes to the bunkers and greens over the years due to owner changes and challenges with consistent upkeep, especially since the back nine of the course was built in the middle of the Cherry Hill rice fields (which were turned into lettuce fields by Henry Ford). C.W. Canfield, Golf Professional at the Plantation, commented, “With an aging golf course, we’ve had to be creative with our agronomic practices. One of the biggest improvements came with fertilization efficiency. We use GPS tracking via soil samples to only fertilize area that are in need of nutrients.” Nelson Caron, the Golf Course Superintendent, makes sure his greens are quick, and at times, unforgiving. Nonetheless, some of the course highlights include Hole 5, a par 4 at 383 yards, which is considered a hidden tee shot. Pete Dye replicated this hole from the original 14th hole, an “Alp” type design, at Prestwick Scotland, and you will find that you need a drive to the left to obtain site to the pin or a shot to the right lands you in the water or most likely unable to see the green. A smart drive to the left at 158 yards will keep you safe, and a shot through the Oak-lined bunker corridor with a curve to the right will place you at the green. Beware, as sand bunkers are at the left to catch an errant shot. The hole will challenge you to play strategic golf. A fun, trouble-filled par 3 is hole 8, 193 accurate yards from the expert tee box, will test your accuracy in your drive. A shot too short will land you in the water or bunker. The green is strategically placed with bunkers in front and to both sides with an undulating, fast surface, and a majestic 250 year old looming Oak tree directly behind. It is wise to land a shot to the middle of the green and tap to the pin. Another grand hole, a “Cape hole” is number 13, a par 4 at 448, with cord-grass and water along the fairway and is a true dogleg right. You are sure to see many water fowl, the occasional alligator, and jumping mullet fish flying out of the water. If this is not distraction enough, wind can cause your drive down the ample fairway to steer you to trouble on the approach to the green, as you have bunkers to the left at 172 yards and 104 yards to the green on the right. So a direct shot is required, or you will find the bothersome bunkers and tall cord-grass sprinkled among the fairway. The green is small and quick, so an accurate shot with proper pace is in order. An overshot will land you in the water. By the time you hit the 18th hole, you will be acclimated to the water trouble, cord-grass, and quick greens. The final hole, a par 5 at 534 yards, will lead you left up through a slight elevated terrain with water on the right. The green is elevated and guarded by bunkers, with a few dips on the right. Ultimately, be prepared to play strategic golf through a forest of immense oak trees, pines, and palmetto’s, through hills and bunkers, and large lakes. A note to those nature lovers, bring your camera, as you never know if you will see an Osprey or an Eagle soaring above. There are many nests located throughout the course, and if you visit in the spring months, the nests may be occupied.

Members and guests can play the course year-round. Although course play will cease from October 2013 to October 14, 2014 while earth moving construction will take place to reconstruct to a new and improved Pete Dye design. According to C.W. Canfield, “Ford has made arrangements with 15 clubs in the area (Brunswick to Hilton Head) so members can continue play. In addition, Ford will build a putting green/short game area near the Main House for members on property to be able to practice while the course is closed.” Up until that time period, enjoy course play, and for those who would like to brush up on their golf skills, the staff Golf Pro can schedule a private lesson with you. State-of-the-art teaching programs are available to all skill levels of players at the Ogeechee Golf Club at the Ford Plantation, and the Women’s and Junior’s programs are very well attended. The junior golf clinic runs on a weekly basis for ages 6 years and up, and teaches rules, etiquette, and swing fundamentals. The Ladies Golf Clinics meet once weekly in the morning and the Men’s Golf Clinic meet in the afternoon. Their 19th hole is the Lake Dye Grill, where you can enjoy a fresh shrimp salad and beverage on the veranda with a lakeside view.

There are many on-property activities at Ford including the Sports Barn Fitness Center and Squash Courts, where you will find that latest fitness equipment and fitness classes in Yoga, Pilates, and Cardio, with Spin classes at the Marina and water aerobics at the Lake Dye Pool. For those that would like to experience fitness and nature, then a hike with Naturalist Mike Womble will accomplish both, and provide an educational aspect. A couple of hiking/walking options is the McAllister Trail that starts at the Oyster House, and winds along the Ogeechee River around the Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, or the Lake Clara Trail, that leads from the main house to the Marina and segregates the Ogeechee River and Lake Clara. Mr. Womble, who oversees the Oyster House and Naturalist Center, says, “I am always happy to show off our little piece of heaven. Spring is one of our most popular times of the year with a lot of activity in our natural community. Flowers are blooming, fish are spawning, and birds are busy nesting; we have documented over 230 species of birds that use Ford throughout the year. One of the more unusual nesters here is our resident pair of bald eagles. They decided to nest right in the center of the property. We really enjoy watching these birds as they raise their young right in front of us. It is truly an amazing site. Regardless of the time of year you choose to come, you must try your hand in catching a crab, fish, and learn how to shrimp. Fuzzy Davis, a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed Captain and radio talk show host, is the resident Outdoor Pursuits Director at the Ford Plantation. Fuzzy comments, "We enjoy teaching our members what is available right here on The Ford Plantation property. Lake Clara is a special and unique brackish estuary with an amazing diversity. Members and guests may catch shrimp, redfish, crabs and largemouth bass in the same body of water! Throwing the cast net for shrimp is an activity that is enjoyed by adults and children.” Mr. Davis continues, by stating, “The amount of shrimp in Lake Clara is directly related to the salinity in the Ogeechee River which feeds the lake. This year we had a tremendous amount of rain late in the summer and that affected the shrimp harvest but the crabs, flounder and redfish love the low salinity and our members have been able to experience some great crabbing and fishing." The experience alone is a memory-maker! Whether you catch fish, shrimp, and crab or not, you can always take a relaxing river cruise with Danny, longtime licensed captain of the plantation and native. He is sure to spot gators, point out the resident birds, while winding through the maze of old plantation fields toward open ocean, so don’t forget your camera.

Ford Plantation’s Day Spa is a great way to end the afternoon. The transformed, old carriage house, where Henry Ford parked his Model T’s, was renovated into a two-story house to match the main house, and serves as the Spa. Upon entering the foyer, you will be greeted by friendly staff, and ushered to a private dressing area. Once robed, you will be escorted upstairs to one of their treatment rooms to have a personalized treatment and/or massage. Massage therapy with one of their highly trained professionals will boost immunity, ease muscle tension and stress, and promote full mind / body rejuvenation. A skin facial treatment with one of the skin care professionals will be an extra treat, as only top products are used, like the Dr. Babor products. The Dr. Babor Skin Care Product Line, made in Germany, is manufactured without parabens, synthetic dyes and chemicals, and use organic ingredients that promote skin regeneration and repair. The Babor line includes products for most skin types, and is widely used by top skin care professionals throughout the world. Relax in the sauna a bit and finish your Spa experience with a revitalizing Vichy shower.

Have a before dinner drink and relax by a majestic fire place in the Colonial style furnished parlor at the main house, then dine on world-influenced cuisine. Fresh ingredients from the Plantation are incorporated in a customized daily menu and include the “catch of the day” from the surrounding waters – both river and ocean. The resident Executive Chef, and Puerto Rican born Juan Carlos, brings his flavor-full style to the Plantation and is ever-creative in the menu selected daily. Whether you choose to dine at the Grill or main house, the food is always prepared with fresh ingredients daily, including vegetables from the resident garden and eggs from the chickens on the farm.

The whole Ford Plantation experience is much more than a vacation, as you are welcomed as a guest Southern style. Nick Casala, CEO and General Manager says, “Ford Plantation is truly southern living at its finest and takes full advantage of its authentic low country setting to deliver some amazing experiential opportunities for members and guests to enjoy. The community has a true “sense of place” and the informal, relaxed service delivery is a key component to the social atmosphere that resonates throughout the property. No one ever feels like a stranger here.”

For full information about the Ford Plantation, please visit: www.fordplantation.com, (912) 756-5666, or visit their offices at 50 Ford Way, Richmond Hill, Georgia 31324 or pop them a message at info@fordplantation.com, you will not be disappointed!

Explore the historical City of Savannah! The “Historic District” of Savannah is one of the South’s and America’s most visited, and offers twenty-four town squares, with the first four named Johnson, Wright, Ellis and Telfair. Square establishments began in the 1700’s through the mid-1800’s and each have a very unique history, sometimes hauntingly unique. You will find monuments and fountains marking events, and the spot where the production crew from the famous movie, “Forrest Gump” filmed the scene with Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. Quaint shops along the cobblestone streets will lure you in to explore hand crafted items. A walk to the riverfront will lead you to the many restaurant establishments. Capture an amazing view of ships gliding past, on the Savannah River, from the roof top of the Bohemian Hotel and Bar/Restaurant – Rocks on the Roof lounge. It is a popular spot to hang out at twilight and to grab a couple of drinks and appetizers. Visit their website at www.bohemianhotelsavannah.com for a list of dining specials, or call them at 912-721-3800, they are located at 102 West Bay Street. Vic’s on the River for fine dining and a grand view of the river is not the only draw to this historical spot. The building, erected in 1859, housed shipping operations and at one time, was housing and planning area for officers of General Sherman’s army. Opened in 2006 by “Dr. Vic” (Dr. Irving Victor, a respected medical doctor of the community for over 40 years), Vic’s team ensures top service in an upbeat casual atmosphere, and the steak house boasts fresh fare with a southern touch. You will find them just a casual walk from the Bohemian Hotel at: 26 East Bay Street – 15 East River Street in the Historic District of Savannah, www.vicsontheriver.com, 912-721-1000.

There are so many more spots to tour, fine dining establishments and activities in Savannah. Please visit www.savannahvisit.com for a full listing of restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and tours/attractions (famous Hollywood movie tour to Haunted Hearse Tour).

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