The Ford Field and River Club in Savannah, Georgia offers a lifestyle that most people are not familiar with. This extremely upscale and private 1,800-acre vacation home community is built along Georgia’s Ogeechee River and is located minutes from downtown Savannah. The Ford – as it is better known – has a tremendous history dating back to 1917, when world-renowned automaker Henry Ford first encountered the Savannah, Georgia area. Ford purchased over 70,000 acres – equivalent to 120 square miles – of land in the Savannah area.
In 1936, Ford broke ground on an incredible mansion that sat on 55 acres of manicured lawns and flowering gardens on the banks of the Ogeechee River. He and his wife Clara soon made this their winter home and hosted many elite social gatherings with visits from the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and the DuPonts. The Main House – which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – now serves as the clubhouse and is the centerpiece of the community with its swimming pool, gardens, formal living, and dining rooms, and well-appointed guest suites.
The Ford is a recreational oasis with a myriad of sports and recreational opportunities at your disposal to keep you busy and active. Equestrian enthusiasts can explore more than 10 miles of bridle trails. The state-of-the-art Equestrian Center is a 7-acre facility comprised of 22 stalls, multiple arenas, and a members’ lounge. Water lovers can choose from several activities such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or boating. If fishing is your thing, the waterways around the community are teeming with bass, trout, blue crab, and shrimp or you can book an expert-guided fishing excursion through the Deepwater Marina. The nearby 5,000-acre Dorchester Shooting Preserve offers sporting clays and upland wing shooting. Other activities include archery, running, hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing, water skiing, tennis, and pickleball.
For the majority of residents, the main attraction at The Ford is its award-winning golf course. The original course opened in 1986 at a reported cost of $11 million. It was the brainchild of Saudi businessman Ghaith Pharaon and was owned by his holding company, InterRedec. In 1991 Pharaon had to flee the US as he was wanted by the FBI on fraud and racketeering charges related to the collapsed Bank of Credit and Commerce International. The property changed hands after his downfall and became known as the Ogeechee Golf Club and then subsequently became Ford Plantation.
This exciting Pete Dye design winds its way throughout 250 acres and is shaped by freshwater lakes, meadows, and coastline. This Audubon-certified Pete Dye signature golf course offers five sets of tees on each hole and can play anywhere from 7,409 yards from the Black to 5,002 yards from the Reds. I found The Dye (Blue) Tees 6,148/70/128) a fair test and they still let me leave with a little dignity!
Over the years, the golf course has received its fair share of accolades including Golf Digest’s and Golf Magazine’s Best New Courses 2014, LINKS Magazine’s Best Renovation (Private) 2014, and Golfweek’s Top 100 Best Residential Courses 2016. At The Ford, tee times are never required and players of all ages and abilities can enjoy an unhurried game.
Pete Dye’s main objective was to create a course that was playable for the members, one they could enjoy and have fun on. And, with its two different design styles, this course does not disappoint. The front nine is traditional, Lowcountry, parkland-style golf with a lot of doglegs, and winds its way along the lakes and through groves of oak trees draped with Spanish moss.
The back nine was built on rice paddies and as you would expect, was relatively flat. A lot of dirt was brought in to create what became an overabundance of artificial mounding. When the members took ownership of the course and put it through a complete redesign in 2014, a lot of the mounding was removed. The back nine is reminiscent of a Scottish links course, especially when the wind is blowing. There are few trees, good undulation in the fairways and on the greens, and wide-open spaces. In his own words, Dye proudly proclaimed The Ford his “finest Southern links.”
Compared to other Pete Dye courses I have experienced, The Ford is quite playable. That being said, in no way do I mean it is easy. As you make your way around the course, you’ll encounter tricky pin placements and strategically placed bunkers. Getting off the tee is the easy part, many of the fairways are wide and generous and everything slopes toward the middle. With each hole played, the course gets a little tougher, primarily the approach shots. Better golfers that try to take a more direct route to the green had best be on their A-game, otherwise, the course will eat you up! You’ll have the most fun if you keep the ball in the fairway and minimize risk-taking. Ladies will appreciate the attention given to the placement of the forward tees, which typically eliminate the need to carry water or larger hazards. Women have Pete’s wife Alice to thank for that!
The Ford is full of memorable holes, but here are three that stick out in my mind. Hitting the green in regulation is critical on the short, par 4, 10th hole. Playing a mere 310 yards, the hole presents a good birdie opportunity for many players. However, the green has a lot of slope and undulation to it and if you miss your approach shot, getting up and down is not easy, making it a tough par.
If the rough on the left side were heather and gorse on the 16th hole, you’d swear you were in Scotland. This 588-yard par 5 doglegs left features rough down the left side and a large bunker on the right that needs to be carried off the tee to score well on this hole. Play your tee shot out to the right to give yourself the best angle into the green.
Many members feel that par 3, 17th is the signature hole at Ford Plantation and is probably the most photographed hole on the course. At a mere 146 yards from the Dye Tees, it looks to be straightforward as you’re standing on the tee, however, looks can be deceiving. Specifically, the pot bunker behind the green; find it and you can all but kiss your par goodbye. Deep bunkers guard the front right and left. Par is a good score here.
The Ford also has some pristine practice facilities with a full-length driving range, putting green, and a short game area. If you’re having trouble with any facet of your game, the talented professional staff can help.
To help keep you in shape physically and mentally The Ford’s Sports Barn & Pool offers 7,000 square feet of fitness equipment including a squash court, cardio and strength-training equipment, personal training, and more. There are three Har-Tru tennis courts nearby as well as croquet, bocce, lawn tennis, pickleball, and basketball courts. There are several pools including The Lake Dye Pool which offers lap swim lanes, a kiddie pool, and a hot tub; the pool at the Main House is more adult-friendly and is the perfect place to lounge around in the sun.
The Ford Field and River Plantation is a mandatory membership community meaning that when you purchase a home in this private, gated community, you must join the club at some level. Memberships are unique at The Ford; a single membership covers multiple generations. Full privileges are extended to parents, children, and grandchildren. As a member, you’ll enjoy all the trappings of Southern hospitality combined with tons of modern amenities and year-round outdoor pursuits, all in an ever-agreeable coastal climate.
Everything discussed in this article doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the Ford Field and River Plantation has to offer members and residents. One of the best ways to experience all that the Ford Field and River Plantation has to offer is one of their Discovery Experience packages. As their guest, you will have the opportunity to enjoy three days and two nights at The Main House, Henry, and Clara Ford’s prized estate, and indulge in all the activities you so desire. For more information or to arrange a visit to The Ford Plantation, you can call them at 912.756.5666 or visit them online at www.fordfieldandriverclub.com.