Thursday, April 12, 2012

Play Golf in Bubba Land

Shark's Tooth Golf Club, Panama City, Florida
Masters Champion Bubba Watson grew up in Florida's panhandle in a small town named Bagdad, about a 20 minute drive from Pensacola.

In what is presumably the greatest high school golf squad ever, Watson teamed with future PGA Tour pros Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum at Milton High School in Santa Rosa County.

The trio honed their games on courses in and around Milton and played junior tournaments at layouts throughout the panhandle.

If these courses are good enough for the 2012 Masters champ, hey, they should be good enough for the rest of us, right?

Utilizing flat terrain dotted with palms, palmetto, pine forests and swamps, designers like Fred Couples, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones and Greg Norman have fashioned some terrific, fun-to-play layouts in the region. If you want to play some of the courses Watson and his pals played, you're in luck, because you can tee up at them for less than $30.

Enhancing the golf experience is the laid back, casual, flip-flops and t-shirt lifestyle in the panhandle. Stretching from Pensacola to Panama City, the region has been dubbed the "Redneck Riviera" and "L.A." (Lower Alabama) because of the large numbers of southerners who drive down for annual beach and golf vacations and spring breaks from places like Birmingham, Dothan and Montgomery.

You can't beat the beaches with their blindingly white sands and emerald green waters, the exceptional deep sea fishing and the lifestyle is unpretentious and fun. This is a place where people guzzle Dr. Pepper, drink generous quantities of PBR (Papst Blue Ribbon) beer and dine on delicacies like smoked mullet, Apalachicola shrimp on the rough, oysters on the half shell and fried pickles.

For more than 30 years I've visited the panhandle to catch some rays, body surf, play golf and gorge on seafood.

Here is some of my "local knowledge":


Milton Area-Try Tanglewood, where you can play 18 holes for $20, Stonebrook ($29) and Moors, a links style layout designed by John B. Lafoy.

Navarre-Club at Hidden Creek, a Ron Garl design.

Gulf Breeze-Tiger Point, a 36-hole complex built alongside the Santa Rosa Sound.

Shalimar-- Shalimar Pointe, a collaboration by Pete Dye and Joe Finger.

Emerald Coast Golf Trail--Check this site out. They offer golf packages that include courses in Navarre, Gulf Breeze and Shalimar.

Destin/Fort Walton Beach--Some of my favorites include Kelly Plantation, a Fred Couples Signature Course, Burnt Pine Golf Club at Sandestin, a Rees Jones design that rates as one of the Golf Travel Guru's Florida favorites and Raven Golf Club Sandestin, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that hosted a PGA Tour Champions Tour event in 2006 and 2007.

Pensacola-- Scenic Hills, a redesign by U.S. Open Champion Jerry Pate, Perdido Bay Golf Club, a former site of the Pensacola Open for 10 years and Lost Key, a great target golf layout with beauty and challenge.

Panama City Beach--Camp Creek, a Tom Fazio design in WaterColor (a personal favorite), Origins in WaterColor, a great, innovative 6-hole layout designed by Davis Love III where you can walk, and Shark's Tooth, a Greg Norman design in Panama City Beach.


Bluewater Bay Resort in Niceville

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin

Wyndham Bay Point Resort in Panama City


{Note: In the following restaurants, which are personal favorites, you can wear your golf clothes or the ultimate Emerald Coast fashion statement, a Guy Harvey t-shirt and Margaritaville flip-flops.}

Boondocks (Panama City Beach)--Located off Highway 79 on the way to Ebro Dog Track, this well hidden place features favorites like fried oyster salad, grilled popcorn shrimp, fried pickles and onion rings.

Donut Hole (Destin)--Phenomenal biscuits and gravy, pancakes and coffee in mugs.

Hunt's Oyster Bar (Panama City)-If you love oysters on the half shell, this long time local favorite in downtown near the marina is a must visit.

Pompano Joe's (Destin)--Sits right on the beach offering entrees like parmesan encrusted flounder and snow crab feast.

Thomas Donut Shack (Panama City Beach)--Homemade donuts fried the old-fashioned way. Caution: No yogurt or granola available.


Deep sea fishing (Destin marinas have lots of charter boats.)

Scuba diving and snorkeling (Some great wrecks to explore along this section of the Gulf of Mexico coast)

Canoeing and kayaking (Blackwater River State Park is a nirvana for canoe and kayak enthusiasts).

Camping (Grayton Beach State Park near Seaside is beachside camping at its finest.)

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