New set of tees improves an already superb golf outing at Kelly Plantation in Destin, Florida

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

DESTIN, Fla. - The last time I played the superb Kelly Plantation golf course, about two years ago, I thought the only thing missing was an intermediate set of tees for the long-hitting ladies, juniors and seniors.

Kelly Plantation Golf Course - No. 4
Kelly Plantation's No. 4 green overlooks Choctawhatchee Bay.
Kelly Plantation Golf Course - No. 4Kelly Plantation Golf Course - DestinKelly Plantation Golf Course
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Kelly Plantation Golf Club

3.5 stars out of 5 (based on 2 reviews)
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307 Kelly Plantation Dr
Destin, Florida 32541
Okaloosa County
Phone(s): (850) 650-7600
18 Holes | Semi-Private golf course | Par: 72 | 7099 yards | Book online | ... details »


Club officials have added an intermediate set of tees - No. 4, not on your scorecard yet - at around 5,900 yards.

"I really like it," said Deborah Barnes, who was playing the No. 4 tees one recent day while her husband Larry played from the whites. "They're just right for me."

Kelly Plantation, built just west of the Mid-Bay Bridge in Destin, on the site of an old turpentine plantation, is just right for a lot of people. It is clearly among the best golf courses Destin and Fort Walton Beach have to offer, with its manicured conditioning, scenic surroundings and playable layout.

Everything about it says first-class, from the neatly stacked range balls to the excellent practice facilities, fine clubhouse and restaurant, good service, and - cue the trumpet - free salsa and chips!

There are also free chilled apples for the more health conscious.

Even more impressive is the stupendously free view of Choctawhatchee Bay from holes No. 3, 4 and 5, particularly No. 4. It's a little odd that such a huge body of water doesn't creep into view more often on Destin-area courses.

Kelly opened in 1998 from a design by Fred Couples and Gene Bates, who came up with a layout well-matched for the golf resort set, not too hard, not too easy. The maintenance crew has kept up the good work; the conditioning is so intense, it's almost anal. Even the first cut is well groomed.

"It's a beautiful golf course, and there's hardly any rough," Barnes said. "It's not that penal if you miss the fairway. The fairways are pretty generous out here."

Most of the fairways have gentle mounding, as do the back of many greens; that's the gentle hand of the resort folks oh-so-subtly nudging your wayward ball back in play so you'll walk off No. 18 feeling hale and hearty and wanting to come back for more salsa!

Lest you think Kelly is a cupcake, try it from the back tees. It's 7,099 yards from the tips, and the forced carries will give you enough to keep you occupied. Move to any of the forward tees, and the forced carries pretty much disappear.

As on any well-designed course, even from the forward tees you'll need to hit off the tee close to the fairway hazards to claim the best route to the greens, which are large and gently contoured.

Kelly Plantation: The verdict

One of the best things about the Kelly Plantation course is the greens. They are quite fast, which is a tad unusual for a resort course; only the pros seem to like very fast greens. To me, greens this fast show the greenskeeper is paying attention and having some fun.

Kelly is an interesting, if fairly straightforward, course, with most of the hazards easy to spot and not much nasty stuff lurking unseen.

"What you see is what you get. It's appealing to the eye, and it's not set up to be hard for the average golfer," Assistant Professional Trey Childs said the last time I visited, and that hasn't changed. "It's friendly for the ladies."

Of course, you're going to pay for all this. Green fees are in the $130 range. That includes cart and range balls.

Destin hotels

The Water's Edge condos on Okaloosa Island puts you in a great spot for the golf courses of Destin as well as Fort Walton Beach.

And - I never thought I'd be saying this - one of the best features about the condos is the parking garage. It goes up four levels and you can practically park in front of your Gulf-front condo. No more dragging your baggage up the elevator.

Of course, the Gulf view is pretty fine, too, seeing that the building is right on the sand. The condos are well furnished, and the complex has two large swimming pools so close to the Gulf you can hear the waves lapping on the shore.

It's also close to a variety of restaurants and other non-golf options.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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