Discover the Hidden Gem of Florida
The are few places in the United States that are undiscovered golf destinations that the masses of golf travelers have yet to discover. Along the Florida Gulf Coast between the the capital city of Tallahassee and Pensacola which borders Alabama is one such place, The Emerald Coast.
That all is changing quickly, as golf travelers, snowbirds from the north and retirees are discovering, that the handle of the Pan may have more to offer than the Pan itself. Traditionally golf travelers and vacationers in fall, winter and spring have chosen Orlando and east and west coastlines to flock to. Today northwest Florida is becoming a very popular place to be and the cities of Destin and Ft. Walton are at the center of it all.
White sugar sand beaches, great restaurants, accommodations galore and courses designed by the very best in the game that are all accessible to play. Pete Dye, Robert Cupp, Tom Fazio, Fred Couples, Arnold Palmer and Jerry Pate have all created beautiful courses in the region. You will find perfect golf weather 10 + months of the year here and rates 20-30 percent less than other popular Sunshine State destinations.
Rolling terrain, lush fairways and post card views are plentiful on many courses throughout this region. There are also as many magnolias as palms lining the courses, a reminder that this is the deep south, not the flat landscape of south Florida courses Mediterranean styled gated golf course communities and pastel boutiques and shops are everywhere and the seafood and especially oysters are the best you will ever have.
Kelly Plantation: The Masterpiece on the Bay
Kelly Plantation, which is situated between Jones Bayou to the east and Indian Bayou to the west, is respectfully referred to as “The Masterpiece on the Bay”, was designed by Fred Couples and Gene Bates. This exclusive, gated community is nestled on 900 pristine acres along the scenic shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay. The land is lushly forested with wetlands and marshes teeming with wildlife and numerous bird species. Kelly Plantation was designed to preserve its stunning nature while keeping family life in mind.
Within its nine neighborhoods are a number of green spaces filled with parks, scenic walking and jogging trails — including a 250- acre nature preserve. At the center of it all, an 18-hold championship golf course designed by Fred Couples and Gene Bates. It boasts 7,000 yards of carefully manicured Bermuda greens along the bay and is dotted with lake and pond water features.
Great Courses to Play / Great Places to Stay
Regatta Bay Golf & Country Club is punctuated by heavily wooded interiors, maze marshes, and alternating rolling and flat terrain. The area’s only Audubon registered course winds along the shore of Choctawhatchee. The 6,864- yard Robert C. Walker design features tight fairways and narrow greens around an array of crystal-clear lakes that demand displays of shot placement.
Emerald Bay is a 6,802-yard masterpiece designed by nationally recognized architect Robert Cupp – formerly chief designer for Jack Nicklaus. Acclaimed by Golfweek as one of the “50 Most Distinctive Development Courses in the Southeast,” it presents gentle, undulating greens and towering pine-lined fairways in a medley of short and long holes all affected by surrounding bay breezes.
Golf and Country Club boasts 18 holes of Finger-Dye acclaim. Bordered by rolling white dunes and dense hammocks of pine, oak and magnolia, the course blends beauty with the beast. Heralded by Links magazine as having “Two of the Hardest Holes on the Emerald Coast,” the 6,765-yard course highlights are undoubtedly the famed 11th and 17th holes.
Indian Bayou Golf and Country Club, the Earl Stone-designed links are a challenging, yet playable, assortment of nines for 27 holes. The 3,500-yard Seminoleand 3,500-yard Choctaw courses are woven with gracious fairways and long, wide holes, but punctuated with periodic “problems.” Both feature left and right doglegged holes. The newest nine, the 3,500-yard (3,200 m) Creek, applauds accuracy with all nine holes winding through natural swamp.
Fort Walton Beach Golf Club features 2 municipal courses, The Pines Course and The Oaks Course designed by Bill Amick in the mid 60’s. The first 18 of 36 holes sport wide fairways and spacious greens, while the second offer a more challenging layout with tight, tree-lined fairways and an array of water features. Fort Walton Beach Golf Club is always in pristine condition.
Eglin Air Force Base features two 18-hole courses, Eagle and Falcon, and edging Hurlburt Field is 6,894-yard Gator Lakes, where water comes into play on 14 holes with rugged forests, scattered bunkers, restricted fairways and ball hungry gators sweetening the pot. The signature showpiece is hole No. 17 alongside azalea-encircled Lake Carry.
Close by are some of the very best courses in all of Florida and the Southeast such as Camp Creek Golf Club (Tom Fazio), Burnt Pine (Rees Jones), The Raven (Robert Trent Jones), Bay Point (Jack Nicklaus) and Hombre (Wes Burnham), former home of PGA Tour Q-School. Around all the courses are plenty of really good restaurants and other things to do. There are a host of resorts that offer golf packages or you can customize your own trip as well.
Go to emeraldcoast.com/golf for more informationWHAT'S YOUR REACTION?