Taking everything into consideration, I suppose I was a little fortunate. There was for example, a rather huge swamp in front of me. Actually, it was also to the left and the right of me too, perhaps hiding an alligator or three, and then of course, there is the rather large expanse of water that is the Gulf of Mexico just behind the green.
The green? Ah yes, that will be the lumpy looking formation 200 yards away that has more hills on it than the slalom at Innsbruck. And let’s not forget the breeze that was powering in off the coast. Ok, it might be a warm breeze, but I was facing it head on and that made me try that much harder. Still, a thinned 3 wood is still a shot whichever way you look at it and it ended up on the green no less. This my friends, is the 14th, a brutal par 3 that welcomes you to the ocean stretch of Burnt Pine, and one of the most famous holes in North West Florida.
This is the Panhandle playground or as locals like to call it, the other LA (Lower Alabama) and it has been the sun drenched beach paradise for Alabamans and Georgians for years. No surprise really, as the beaches, all 56 unbroken miles of them, are soft shimmering white against an azure green sea. Golf in north west Florida, only an hour’s flight from Orlando by South West or Delta is ripe for golf with year round sun and of course Florida’s famous marshlands, so here are the pick of the courses for you..
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort lies at the far end of South Walton’s impressive beach stretch. At 2,400 acres, it’s the largest property in the area, a mix of private and rental condo’s and villas and a hotel and contains pretty much everything you’ll need for a holiday from shops and restaurants to entertainment and sports. It has four championship courses and two of them in particular are worthy of note namely The Raven Golf Club and Burnt Pine. Both of these courses lay side by side and have come under the famous Trent Jones design stable with brothers Rees and Robert Junior taking one each and laying down their own personal signatures on them.
For me though, Burnt Pine is the jewel in the crown. At 7,000 yards, Burnt Pine has it all. A front nine that meanders through the pines and wetlands of the Emerald Coast and then the breathtaking views of the Choctawhatchee Bay on the brutal back nine (– see above!). It has an air of exclusivity about it from the plush confines of the clubhouse to the practice greens where considerately, balls already await you and on to the velvety manicured fairways and greens of the course itself. In such a set up, the only blame for a poor score lies with you my friend, for this is a course that has to be respected at all costs. That’s the thing with Trent Jones courses, they are risk reward designed in such a way to entice you to try for the spectacular, but you just end up spectacularly failing. Stand out holes are of course the magical 14th, the 15th too, the enormous bunker along the 2nd and the lake strewn par 5 5th.
Tucked away a just few miles outside Panama City at Bay Point where the majestic Grand Lagoon and St Andrew’s Bay offer up their sumptuous scenery, Bay Point Golf Club provides two outstanding courses. The club is operated by Marriott and the hotel property meanders through 1,100 lovely acres of this protected wild life sanctuary. The Nicklaus, designed by the great man himself contains over 7,000 yards of just about every element of the area’s natural ingredients – towering pines, scrub oaks, waste bunkers and salt water marshes. In true Nicklaus style each hole carries its own version of risk versus reward with elevation changes making bunkers seem nearer or further then they really are. The 17th is a perfect example where you’re playing a blind shot down into a hidden fish bowl like green. And when you reach the signature 5th you’ll witness the full splendour of the Bay in all its glory.
The Meadows course, whilst not quite as long as The Nicklaus and without some of its buttock clenching moments, is still a charmingly tight track that is reminiscent of a plush country club. The dog leg 1st looks benign but with trees hugging both sides of the fairway you go off line at your peril. Like its illustrious sister, The Meadows makes full use of the terrain and there is enough water here to satisfy even the most competitive among you.
I loved the ambiance here. The club house is a welcoming retreat from your labours and the Marriott service signature is all over this place. The views are spectacular as is the wildlife that abounds. For me, The Nicklaus is a must have experience of course, but leave some time to enjoy The Meadows too. It’ll be well worth it.