By: Claudio DeMarchi
“Here comes our Traveling Golfer…” I hear as I approached a group of my tennis buddies after my latest trip to a part of Florida that I had never been to! The Florida Panhandle that stretches from Panama City to Pensacola also known as the Emerald Coast. It doesn’t take long to figure out the tag Emerald Coast as whenever you see water you can’t help but notice its emerald color as it contrasts with the white sand beaches that stretch for miles and miles.
“So where were you playing, this time?” asked Big Tony. Tony is a bit of a golfer himself that likes to get away to play during the winter. “The Florida Panhandle” I replied, “we stayed at my buddy Phil’s winter home in Panama City Beach. We played from there to Pensacola… in between meetings of course!” I have to keep reminding these guys that this is still work!
“I am going to have to keep that in mind for next time” replied Tony, adding “I never think of going there, I keep going back to the same old places.” Tony is not the only one; it might just be Florida’s best kept golf secret!
Phil picked me up at the Panama City Beach Airport and in about 15 minutes or less we were sipping margaritas seaside at a trendy area of Panama City Beach known as Pier Park…and what better place to start off at than Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. A dozen oysters and a couple of margaritas!
After a good night sleep, waking up to the sounds of waves lapping up against the shoreline, we were off to The Nicklaus Course at Bay Point Golf Resort & Spa. This course is a Nicklaus classic design, (the only Nicklaus design in Northwest Florida) featuring many doglegs and strategically placed hazards. It was a beautiful day, mid 70’s and sunshine. Can’t beat that for mid December!
The course measures just over 7,000 yards but its muscular slope rating of 143 and course rating of 75.3 tells you that there is no let up on the course. The par 3, 2nd hole gives you your first test firing – a 190 yard all carry shot to a long narrow green flanked seemingly by water on three sides. The 5th hole is the signature hole offering spectacular panoramic views of St. Andrews Bay. The hole is 370 yards from the tees we played, but this day it was into the wind. A driver was required to carry the Grand Lagoon to a rather smallish landing area, leaving me about 160 yards over the lagoon again to the green. Count your blessings when getting away from this hole with a par! A few other favorite holes included 14, 15, the 17th with its fishbowl green and 18 is an exceptional closing par 5.
Bay Point Resort is one of the most popular resorts in the Panama City Beach area, located minutes from the white sand beaches and nestled on a 1,100 acre wildlife sanctuary. Bay Point is home to a 2nd course, The Meadows, a traditional Florida resort course stretching back to 6,900 yards with a number of tight fairways, numerous bunkers and water hazards.
Holiday Golf Club was our 2nd stop. Here is a great test of golf and a practice facility second to none in the area. Can’t get enough golf in the daylight? No worries here as the 9 hole par 3 course is fully illuminated!
The Holiday Golf Club is just under 6,500 yards from the tips and with a slope rating of 128 and course rating of 71.1 it is perfect for any level of golfer or for the low handicapper to work off some of the winter rust. The fairways are generous narrowing as you approach the greens that are smooth and fast. There are a number of holes where water comes into play so be aware!
2012 must have been my year with “Clint!” After having the honor of meeting the man himself in the spring I closed out my season visiting the Hombre Golf Club, a 27-hole owner designed complex is appropriately named “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!”
There is water on 21 of the 27 meticulously manicured fairways – The Bad and The Ugly play host to the PGA Tour Qualifying School.
All three 9 are a good test of golf but with the Bad and Ugly playing to a par of 74 at only 6,700 yards but still holding ratings of 74.4 and 144 you know that you are in for something a little different.
We may have just come across the most interesting collection of par 3’s in Florida! They are certainly not long but 3 of 4 have intimidation all around them. Bottom line, you need to have your “A” game to play Hombre. There are not too many places where you can play for a good miss. The fairways for the most part are tight and there are a number of forced carries to tight landing areas. So bottom line if you play the right tee’s it is not that long a course. You could score. Play smart, pick the right club and just hit it!
When you are done with the golf and once you have made the decision to pull yourself away from the sugary white sand beaches and emerald green waters you have nothing but choices, choices, choices!
I don’t just like margaritas and oysters to start off a vacation they are awesome after golf too! Mikes is a great place to check out with many oyster presentations to temp your pallet. Of course eating is a favorite pastime and seafood of any kind always works for me so you can tell that I am in heaven here as Panama City Beach is known as the “Seafood Capital of the World.”
Of course you can always go on out and catch your own. Within minutes you can be in the remarkably deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico fishing for a wide array of fish or if you prefer tackle the spring-fed creeks or bay flats. Either way you will not be disappointed, there are many guides and charters to help you out.
So much to do and as always so little time! You will want to make sure that you leave time for some shopping and an eco-tour or two and you will not believe the Ripley’s Believe It or NOT!
Check it out for yourself at www.visitpanamacitybeach.com