Emerald Coast of Florida draws the big names of golf course design

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

DESTIN, Fla. -- Known as the Emerald Coast, the Destin/Panama City-area, might be one of the most underrated golf regions in the state of Florida. Anyone who visits knows, however, that the natural scenery, with its pure white-sandy beaches and emerald blue water, provides one of the most scenic vacation backdrops in the country.

Raven Golf Club at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort - 11th
The Raven Golf Club at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is a Robert Trent Jones gem.
Raven Golf Club at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort - 11thBurnt Pine Golf Club at Sandestin resort - 14thCamp Creek Golf Club - 16thSeascape golf course
If you go

Golf course architects have discovered that as well, and some of the country's most prolific designers have tried their hand on the Emerald Coast canvas. From Nicklaus to Fazio, the area is well-represented. What follows is a sampling of the works from some of the game's bigger names:

Bay Point Resort -- Jack Nicklaus

There are 36 holes at Bay Point Resort in Panama City, but the Nicklaus Course is the only one in Northwest Florida designed by Jack Nicklaus.

At nearly 7,200 yards, this beautiful course, which opened in 1986, offers five sets of tees and all the difficulty a player could want. Overlooking the Grand Lagoon and St. Andrews Bay, the course sprawls across rolling terrain covered with scrub oaks and tall Florida pines, through saltwater marshes and sandy white waste areas.

The 17th is one of the most memorable holes. Its "fish bowl" design requires a semi-blind shot to a green that is recessed below the surrounding landscape.

Burnt Pine at Sandestin -- Rees Jones

Open to resort guests of the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, the Rees Jones-designed Burnt Pine Golf Club is one of the few courses in the region that overseeds wall-to-wall in the winter. And that means incredibly lush conditions.

Even more impressive, however, is the design. Jones, known as the "Open Doctor" for his work on U.S. Open courses, created quite the test at Burnt Pine. Especially impressive is the back nine, which works through wetlands and Choctawhatchee Bay. The par 3s are particularly stunning.

Camp Creek -- Tom Fazio

Tom Fazio has designed well over 200 courses, but Camp Creek Golf Club, located near Panama City Beach not far from the WaterColor Inn and Resort, may be one of his best.

It's also one of the best public golf courses in Florida. If you like nature, no homes, large bunkers and greens, and plenty of water, this is your course. No two holes are alike, and it's very challenging.

With a slope/rating of 152/76 from the tips, Camp Creek is a perennial and difficult site for U.S. Open and Amateur qualifiers.

Emerald Bay Golf Club -- Bob Cupp

He might not be as well-known as Tom Fazio or Robert Trent Jones, but former American Society of Golf Course Architects president Bob Cupp has a pretty good resume, too, including Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon and Liberty National near Manhattan.

At 6,800-yards, Emerald Bay Golf Club in Destin, he faced the challenge of routing a course through a development but did a great job of using Choctawhatchee Bay in his design to create one of the best courses in the area.

Kelly Plantation -- Gene Bates

Designed by one of the country's most underrated architects, Kelly Plantation Golf Club ranks among northwest Florida's favorite tracks.

It's also a collaboration between Gene Bates and tour player Fred Couples, with whom Bates has worked with in the past. Like all Bates courses, Kelly Plantation is straightforward, uncomplicated, but certainly interesting with plenty of water, bunkers and risk-reward holes, challenging all players, especially at 7,100 yards.

Raven at Sandestin -- Robert Trent Jones Jr.

The Jones boys have certainly authored the two best courses at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, and personal preference will likely determine how you rank the Raven Golf Club vs. Burnt Pine, a private course open to resort guests.

The best part is that the two courses are entirely different. With Raven, Robert Trent Jones Jr. created a course with softer lines, old-style bunkers and large undulating greens. The finishing stretch is particularly stunning, but there are plenty of highlights throughout, including a 203-yard island-green par 3.

Seascape Resort -- Joe Lee

In Florida, there aren't many architects as prolific as Joe Lee, and this 1969 design in Destin is a perfect example of Florida golf.

At Seascape Resort Lee made good use of views of the Gulf of Mexico as well as freshwater lakes and pine forests. The design is one that caters to all levels of players, especially beginners from the forward tees with few forced carries.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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