Couples' fingerprints all over Kelly Plantation Golf Course in Destin

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

DESTIN, Fla. - Fred Couples was co-designer here at the Kelly Plantation Golf Club, and they want you to know it. Freddie's in your face every hole - for good or bad - on the GPS screen. Freddie did this here. Freddie did that here. Bet you can't do what Freddie did. Freddie's better than you.

Freddie probably didn't need any tips since he designed it but they offer those, too. It's just part of the experience at the Plantation; they want you to do well and come on back for more.

And they do come back.

"This and Regatta Bay are the two nicest in Destin said high-handicapper Pete Viksnis, a recent resident of Regatta.

"Actually, I think this is better," said his playing partner, Tony Griffith, countering the home-course bias.

There certainly is no reason to stay away, if you want a nice, resort course with great views of Choctawatchee Bay and a staff that treats you like you're better than your lousy handicap. They don't have starters here, they have "hosts." The beer cart girls are friendlier than most and, more importantly, quicker. They seem to pop up every few holes with supplies.

And then there's the matter of the iced towels and apples. Every so often, an attendant will come around with fresh, iced towels to drape around your neck in your ongoing skirmish with the northwest Florida heat. Not sure what the iced apples, do, but hey, it shows they're going the extra mile.

The course itself is what a resort course should be: relatively easy from the forward tees, moderate from the middle and a bit of a challenge from the back, at 7,099 yards. Couples and Gene Bates engage the resort set with a pretty straightforward golf course.

"What you see is what you get," said Kelly Plantation Assistant Professional Trey Childs. "It's appealing to the eye and it's not set up to be hard for the average golfer. It's friendly for the ladies. They call up here all the time, wanting to know why it's so lady friendly. There's only one forced carry for them, on No. 10."

The fairways and greens are bordered by soft mounds, funneling your wayward shots back to where they were supposed to be in the first place. The greens are large and, though fast, roll true. There are wide collars and many of the greens allow for the bump-and-run. You won't often find yourself having to feather a delicate wedge over a bunker to a tough pin placement. The rough is thick enough now to keep most balls from rolling into swamp and marsh.

But, there's challenge from the tips. The best angles to the greens often require tee shots short of or close to the hazards. Be bold and you'll be rewarded, if you're on the mark.

The Verdict

Golf Digest gave the course four-and-a-half stars out of five, mainly because of the conditioning and service. Both are excellent. The course maintains just the right touch of naturalness and quiet, subtle landscaping - with the exception of the giant aquarium wall with painted blue shales that runs along No. 4.

Kelly Plantation winds through a residential community, but Nos. 3 and 4, and a touch of No. 5 give you broad, shining views of Choctawatchee Bay. They are both beautiful holes, though the building of condo buildings overlooking the fourth hole will take away some of that.

Try No. 10 from the back tees, just to see if you can reach this 550-yard par 5 in two. Bet you can't. The fairway is wide, but your second shot, should you dare, must reach the green on the fly, carrying a bulk-headed creek to a green that sits at an angle to the fairway. Tough hole.

Stay and Play

Destin is a player in the golf destination genre and there are resorts like the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf and Resort and Spa, which has four courses and overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. There's also the usual chain motels, more specialized lodging like the Inn on Destin Harbor, and bed and breakfasts like A Highlands House, Henderson Park and Sugar Beach Inn.

Dining Out

Of course, you're going to want to try some local seafood, right? Try the Lucky Snapper, a casual oyster bar and restaurant with a great view of the Gulf; Finz-a "retro-chic" eatery specializing in seafood straight from the Gulf; the Lighthouse Restaurant and La Paz Restaurante and Cantina which combines seafood with Tex-Mex.

When you've had your fill of seafood, try the Marina Café, Destin Chops for steak and prime rib, Beach Walk, Café Thirty-A and Bud and Alley's restaurant, which specializes in "Old Florida" food - the style, not the age of the food.

Fast Fact

The course sits on the site of an old turpentine farm, once owned by Mattie and Coleman Kelly. You can still see holes at the bottoms of trees where the turpentine used to be drained.

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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