LAKE LINKS TO BAY-BACKED BUNKERS
DESTIN * FORT WALTON BEACH * OKALOOSA ISLAND, Fla. -- Acclaimed for its sporting collection of great golf escapes, the Destin * Fort Walton Beach * Okaloosa Island area tees up an incredible 1,080 holes. From challenging links designed by world-renowned architects to panoramic enticements engineered by Mother Nature -- they capitalize on woods and wetlands for scenic -- yet sinister -- contrasts. The popular courses of the Emerald Coast are reasonably priced and pure pleasure to play year round.
Featuring varying views, the 18-hole Regatta Bay Golf Club -- newly opened in '98 -- is punctuated by heavily wooded interiors, mazed marshes and alternating rolling and flat terrain. Winding along the shore of Choctawhatchee Bay for picturesque play, the 6,864-yard (6,276m), Robert C. Walker design wraps tight fairways and narrow greens around an array of crystal-clear lakes demanding displays of shot placement. The signature seventh hole, a 464-yard (422m), par-4 challenges expert golfers with a blind tee-shot over a fairway-dominating sand trap, leaving a long downhill approach to a green engulfed in bunkers, palm trees and lurking water. Surrounded in 120 acres (48.6h) of never-to-be-disturbed nature preserves, the Regatta Bay Golf Club is a phenomenon of natural hazards.
The creation of Fred Couples and Gene Bates, Kelly Plantation Golf Club is one of the newest additions to the Emerald Coast. The 18 hole course is layered throughout the southern shores of majestic Choctawhatchee Bay. Its landscape represents perfect harmony between nature and humanity, while its artistic fairways cater to the novice or mater golfer.
Emerald Bay is a 6,802-yard (6,190m) masterpiece designed by nationally recognized architect Robert Cupp -- formerly chief designer for Jack Nicklaus. Acclaimed by Golfweek as one of the "50 Most Distinctive Development Courses the Southeast," it presents gentle, undulating greens and towering pine-lined fairways in a medley of short and long holes all affected by surrounding bay breezes.
Touting a tough slope rating of 135 from the championship tees, all 18 holes are a privilege to play. Designer Cupp claims of Emerald Bay, "There is no signature hole, it is -- instead -- a signature golf course."
Also situated on the banks of Choctawhatchee Bay, Shalimar Pointe Golf and Country Club boasts 18 holes of Finger-Dye acclaim. Bordered by rolling white dunes and dense hammocks of pine, oak and magnolia, the course blends beauty with the beast. Heralded by Links magazine as having "Two of the Hardest Holes on the Emerald Coast," the 6,765-yard (6,156m) course highlights are undoubtedly the famed 11th and 17th holes. Requiring a 149-yard (136m) drive from an elevated and forbidding water hazard, the 11th hole is banked by a tough grass bunker and lake to the right, and a drastic downslope -- some swear it's a cliff -- to the left. If that is not enough, an unforgiving dogleg left awaits at the par-4, 455-yard (414m) 17th hole. With a stretch of sand and heavy woods to the left of the tee, an immense tree on the inside corner of the dogleg, and a deep grass pit to the right and lake to the left of the pine-bordered green -- the hole redefines navigational know-how.
At Indian Bayou Golf and Country Club, the Earl Stone-designed links are a challenging, yet playable, assortment of nines. The 3,541-yard (3,222m) Seminole and 3,417-yard (3,109m) Choctaw courses are woven with gracious fairways and long, wide holes, but punctuated with periodic "problems."
Both feature left and right doglegs and a combination of difficult par-3s, tough par-4s and moderate par-5s. The newest nine, the 3,475-yard (3,162m) Creek, applauds accuracy with all nine holes winding through natural swamp.
The showcase is the 514-yard (468m), par-5 fourth hole, requiring a tricky tee-shot over the marsh, a tight island landing, and a return drive over wetlands to the fairway -- just short of the green. The course is liquid-locked between the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay.
A veritable fortress of nature, Shoal River Country Club threads all 18 holes through, around and above statuesque forests of oak, magnolia and pine. Demanding accuracy, the 7,020-yard (6,388m) course is heavy with continual elevation changes and tight landing areas flanked by bunkers, grass depressions and various species of wild grass.
Fort Walton Beach Municipal Course is a must for pleasurable play with good, solid scores. The first 18 of 36 holes sport wide fairways and spacious greens, while the third nine spices the course with tight, tree-lined fairways and an array of water oppositions.
Available with government I.D., two 18-hole courses -- Eagle and Falcon -- are at Eglin Air Force Base. And edging Hurlburt Field is 6,894-yard (6,274m) Gator Lakes where water comes into play on 14 holes with rugged forests, scattered bunkers, restricted fairways and ball-hungry gators sweetening the pot. The signature showpiece is hole No. 17 alongside azalea-encircled Lake Carry.
Island Golf Center is ideal for perfecting techniques or just "putting" around. Set between the Choctawhatchee Bay and Gulf, it has nine par-3s and nine holes of pitch-and-putt around four course lakes. Play is lit from March-November. The center also sports 36 holes of miniature golf.
Content Courtesy Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau
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