Regatta Bay Golf and C.C. in Destin: Smooth as a sunset sail across Choctawatchee Bay

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

DESTIN, Fla. -- You won't find many settings more beautiful than where architect Robert Walker laid out Regatta Bay Golf and Country Club. First of all, it's in Destin, that strip of vacation land that lies between the rolling dunes of the Gulf of Mexico and the languid waters of Choctawatchee Bay.

Regatta Bay Golf and C.C.
Regatta Bay is one of the most picturesque golf courses on the Emerald Coast.
Regatta Bay Golf and C.C.Regatta Bay Golf and Country ClubRegatta Bay golf course
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Regatta Bay Golf & Yacht Club

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Regatta Bay Golf & Yacht Club blends seamlessly into the carefully preserved wilderness along the Choctawhatchee Bay. The course is not only an Emerald Coast favorite, but also one of the top golf courses in Florida. The layout is defined by the abundant wetlands that cover the entire course.

18 Holes | Semi-Private golf course | Par: 72 | 6798 yards | Book online | ... details »

The Regatta Bay course is set in the lush woods and wetlands of the Florida Panhandle, one of many golf destinations in the Sunshine State, where you can hear the birds twittering and see the sun setting over the gulf. The course does have homes around it, but they are set back more tastefully than most development courses; it's almost as if they were warned to back off and allow the course to be the star of the show.

Conditioning is immaculate, as fine as any you'll find along this stretch of what the marketers call Florida's Emerald Coast; the cart rides between holes are botanical adventures in themselves.

The terrain itself is a mix of flat and rolling, or as rolling as you could rightfully expect in this part of the flat state.

Walker used to be the lead architect for Arnold Palmer's company, Palmer Design, and he did a nice job here of putting together a resort course that will please those who expect the niceties associated with an upscale, country club scene -- mango-scented iced towels anyone? No, how about a chilled apple?

Walker uses the lay of the land for most of his obstacles -- you're always aware of the marshes to the sides of the narrow fairways, and wetlands come into play on about half the holes.

What dear Mother Nature didn't hand over for free, Walker built himself in the way of intricate freeform bunkering. He took pains here to let golf and nature live in harmony; Regatta Bay is the only Audubon-registered course in the area.

The green complexes are surrounded by imaginative contours, and the large surrounds are so closely mown you can putt from them. In fact, you will notice little difference between them and the greens on some holes. The tougher greens have bailout areas.

Little bridges take you over wetlands, and the greens have enough to them to challenge your putting nerves. The course has a nice variety of holes and is very playable, even from the back tees -- at 6,864 yards -- if your driver has any oomph left in it.

There is some nasty thick rough in places and some forced carries but none is so intimidating your knees will shake.

"That is definitely my favorite course down here," said Joline Walker, a tourist from western Pennsylvania. "It's not that easy for me, but the beauty makes me want to play it again and again."

Regatta Bay Golf and Country Club: The verdict

One of the few quibbles I had about the course is that although it plays by the bay, there are no grand, sweeping views of it, like nearby Kelly Plantation offers on some if its front nine holes.

Also, the routing is a touch odd, with some holes playing through the neighborhood while others are relatively isolated settings.

But, as I say, these are minor points. The golf itself will make you barely notice, like the 411-yard second hole, all 411 yards of which usually play into the wind. The landing area is squeezed by woods coming in from the right and pines on the left. The fairway narrows into almost nothing, and your approach is into a small green with a false front.

The butterfly garden along the fourth hole is a very nice touch, as is the plateau fairway on no. 7, which also offers a gorgeous view of a lake behind the green. No. 8 is a long par 3 to a well bunkered green, and two marshes cut across the ninth fairway.

Nos. 11 and 12 are very enjoyable risk-reward holes that wrap around a lake. Beware the false front on no. 16 -- it certainly foiled me.

Regatta Bay Golf and Country Club has quite a reputation. Golf Digest ranked it among its "200 Places to Play in North America," Emerald Coast Magazine's readers voted it the "Best of the Emerald Coast," and Florida Golf News magazine named it the "No. 1 Favorite Golf Course in Northwest Florida."

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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