The day has come for my nephew, the West Point graduate, to make love, not war. He has just returned from his second deployment in Iraq and his stunning bride-to-be, a nurse practitioner, is beaming. Two years in the planning, and the big date has finally arrived. The celebrations are in the Jacksonville, Florida area.
The wedding will take place in a downtown church and the reception will be held at the famed TPC Sawgrass clubhouse. My golfer husband has been vibrating with excitement ever since he heard about it.
My excitement leans more towards the anticipation of the family get-together. It’s been way too long. I’m bummed that my 40-something “little” brother and his wife can’t make it but my father and my older brother (father of the groom) will be there with his current family. The extended family includes steps, exes, in-laws and cousins; toss in the family-to-be and the marriage merge is complete. It’s going to be fun!
It’s easier to just hop in the car and make the six hour road trip from Charlotte, North Carolina to Jacksonville than hassle with flights and rental cars. It’s a pretty boring excursion that we’ve done quite a few times so the drive has become routine.
Charlotte is a great central location for driving to a lot of places. To the north and west there is spectacular scenery and it’s usually much less expensive than flying. Add in all the additional hours spent on hassles at the airport, and driving often doesn’t take that much more time.
We both take the Friday of the wedding weekend off so we don’t have to rush hitting the road. We just need to get there in time to check into a yet-to-be-booked hotel and dress for the rehearsal dinner that night at the country club.
I have been crazy busy at work and have not had time to book a hotel, which winds up working to my advantage. The wedding party has arranged special rates at two hotels in Ponte Vedra.
The Sawgrass Marriott at TPC has two choices. The least expensive room is $159 for Balcony and Tropical View. The other choice is a Villa Suite with one bedroom, a full kitchen, living room and sliding glass doors that open onto a patio from both the living room and bedroom for $179. I immediately nix this because I don’t want this to turn into an expensive weekend. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Across the street is the Hilton Garden Inn. Their deal is $119 a night for a standard guest-room with a king or two doubles. Never one to just go with the first price I see, I log on to Hotels.com to check out what else is around. I have been doing this off and on since we got the invitation. The same Hilton Garden Inn comes up at around $100 on both Hotels.com and my Hilton Honors reward club reservation site. For weeks I have not been able to commit to any of those prices. Good thing.
Now that we are in the car and an hour away from checking in to a hotel, I decide to gamble with Priceline.com while Mike zooms towards the area. Being my mother’s daughter, I don’t want to book for two nights because I’m afraid I will be stuck in a room we hate and it will be far from where we really want to be.
On Priceline’s iPhone app, the area for Jacksonville Beach-Mayo Clinic stretches quite far. We could end up with a hotel 15 miles from where we want to be. The app tells me that a $75 bid snagged a 3 1/2 star room in that area. We are out of time so I put in a bid for $60 to see what happens.
William Shatner negotiates my deal and it’s accepted! Yup. He’s the Negotiator. I zip to my e-mail for confirmation and shriek with delight that we have just booked a room at the expensive Sawgrass Marriott at TPC at a bargain-basement price. It’s even better when we check in and find ourselves in room #1502, one of the $179 one-bedroom villas!
Of course now I am mad that I didn’t book it for two nights. Priceline will allow me to extend our stay but the rate is either $129 or $159. I can’t figure out if I have until midnight or 11:00 am tomorrow to book another night. We decide to risk it and book tomorrow. What cannot wait is a tee time for golf for Mike. I have already promised Mike that he can get an early tee time and golf before the wedding. The Priceline confirmation offers tee times but the golf booking app isn’t user friendly.
I now briefly relinquish control of this blog to Mike to tell that part of the story:
While Jill has earned bragging rights for finding an incredible hotel deal in an exclusive Florida neighborhood, I am stuck with trying to find an incredible golf deal in an exclusive Florida neighborhood at the last minute.
The wedding is at 2:00 pm, so that means if I’m going to get in a 4-hour round of 18 holes (Nine is never a consideration. Well, for Jill it is.) I need to be in or near the first group teeing off at 7:30 am. The course also must be near the hotel. I choke back the taste of failure creeping up my gullet.
My problem is that Jill has to wait until the last minute to get a deal on the hotel. So, I wind up waiting until it’s after five in the afternoon to get started: a time when most courses stop answering their phones.
While checking in at the hotel, the front desk clerk lets drop casually, “Oh, you can make tee times right over there.” She points.
I abandon Jill and make a bee line for the pro shop. The clerk offers a list of golf courses and their rates. My eyes bulge in response. $275 for TPC Sawgrass. “Any savings for a walker or senior?” I whisper. He shakes his head ‘no’. “Anything cheaper?” He pulls out the complimentary area golf guide flips a few pages and inks a couple of dots.
The first course I call is only a fifteen minute drive, but they are booked solid. I ask the guy if he has any ideas for cheap and close. “Try Ponte Vedra.” He offers. I counter that was on the hotel’s list for $90. “For Ponte Vedra? No way. Give ‘em a call.”
Long story short: I pay $63 for an 8:30 tee time. When I get there, the Starter escorts me ahead of everyone else to Hole #6 and “jokes” about a $10 surcharge. I have nothing but a twenty so I pretend like I don’t hear him. Later at the clubhouse, I break the twenty and slip the Starter five. Everyone is happy. I finish by 11:30 am.
I now relinquish my brief control of Jill’s blog.
We wash off the road grunge and get dressed for the rehearsal dinner. Both of my brother’s boys and his step-daughter are there, along with my brother and his wife. We’re all travelers so it’s good to catch up. We also meet a couple who lived near my former home towns in Colorado and New England. They are big skiers and I used to be a ski reporter. The stories roll as we compare notes on our favorite slopes and ski towns.
On the morning of the wedding, I drive Mike to the course. It’s in the gated community just down the street from our hotel and next door to TPC Sawgrass, home of the annual PGA “The Players” tournament and the location of what is called “the toughest 3 finishing holes in golf. His tee time is reported to the security gate so that they will allow us access.
While he’s golfing, I hang at the hotel to try to rid myself of a headache. It’s not a hangover! At least that’s what I tell myself. I didn’t sleep very well. For what is supposed to be an expensive room, the bed is in need of a new mattress.
I really need to run to get some pantyhose and maybe a case and a cheap, light, tripod for our hot new Sony NEX-3 camera. This camera shoots pictures, HD and 3D video. We haven’t had time to figure out all the bells and whistles, but I’m confident we’ll get some decent video and at least a few memorable pictures.
I also need to focus on my other headache – what we’re doing for a hotel room tonight. We decide that I will do a new bid on Priceline and hope that we can stay put. If not, I am prepared to move us. Since I won the $60 bid later in the day and really don’t want to move, I submit a bid for $70.
When we checked in, the front desk clerk told us that there were a lot of empty rooms if we wanted to stay a second night. With fingers crossed, I hit send. In warp speed, I get the confirmation. Yippee! Thank you Captain Kirk! We are here for another night.
I call the front desk to see if we need to change rooms. Nope, just fill out new paperwork since it’s a new reservation. We have scored a two-night stay in the most expensive suite for less than it would normally cost for one night in the least expensive room!
When I finally feel like I have conquered both headaches and am ready for the world, Mike calls for a ride.
We decide to have lunch at the nearby Aqua Grill before shopping. He orders a Fresh Catch sandwich. It’s tilapia. He gets it blackened and can’t resist a side order of homemade hummus to slather on it. He’s very happy.
I am looking at the Bang Bang Shrimp Wrap but our waiter says it doesn’t have much flavor. I am the queen of heat and bold flavors and that makes me put on the brakes. He suggests that I try the special Fresh Catch Pad Thai and substitute Bang Bang Shrimp for the fish. He promises to bring some sriracha hot sauce to give it more flavor. What a great suggestion. He is a bit taken aback when I ask for seconds on the sriracha. What can I say? I like my food hot!
Now the clock is our enemy. We dash to Target, buy what we need and hurry back to the hotel to get dressed for the wedding. It’s in downtown Jacksonville and we are 20 miles away. The wedding is at 2:00 pm and at 1:35 we are finally out the door.
We are so late that we arrive at the church as the bridesmaids are starting to walk down the aisle. I almost step on the bride’s train as we are directed up a side aisle on the bride’s side. We plunk ourselves down in the same row as my family but they are rightfully on the groom’s side. In the end we are going to be one big happy family so we’re okay with getting close a bit early.
Let the wedded bliss begin! It’s time to party. The reception is at the TPC (Tournament Players Club) Sawgrass clubhouse. Think of any major golfer and they have probably walked through these doors. The party begins at the top of the grand staircase with an open bar and hors d’oeuvres.
After we are a few drinks in (yes, I said a few), Mike cannot contain himself any more. He MUST see the golf course. We walk outside for some “air” and learn that the bride and groom are out taking pictures on the course. We also find out that there are volunteers who will take us on a tour of the last three holes.
The reception is starting but I agree that this is our only chance to see the famed 17th hole with the green in the middle of a lake. Our chariot, I mean golf cart, whisks us to the revered hole. Even for me as a non-golfer, it’s pretty cool to see.
Our timing continues to be a few minutes off. We’re back just in time to see the bridal party lining up for their grand entrance. We’re very comfortable being backstage so maybe this is the right place for us. We go in after the newlyweds are starting to party.
The reception is everything anybody expects with some fun additions. One was an old time photo booth. Groups of people pack in and make silly poses. The group gets a strip of pictures and a copy is glued to a scrapbook page. Everyone added a note to the page and the book was presented to the couple the next morning at a brunch for out of town guests.
With the festivities over, the family scatters to all points on the planet. The newlyweds are flying to Italy for their honeymoon. My younger nephew misses the brunch because he is embarking on an 11 month/11 country charitable mission. Today he takes off for Bangkok, Thailand. My father heads south to his Florida home. My brother and his wife go northwest to the mountains of Georgia after dropping off their daughter for her flight to Baltimore. Mike and I drive home to North Carolina. My mother (see The Pathfinder) made sure her children and grandchildren had passports. This day would have made her very happy.