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|No. 10 at Marcus Pointe Golf Club is a par 4, downhill all the way. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)|
PENSACOLA, Fla. - Marcus Pointe Golf Club is one of those golf courses with a split personality. The front nine is pleasant enough, winding leisurely through a neighborhood with some moderately testy holes. What you don't know if you've never played the course before is that it's simply a tease.
The back nine is where Marcus Pointe really gets rolling, literally. The course has some unusually severe elevation changes for Florida, particularly here in the flat Panhandle.
"I've played a lot of golf courses in Florida, and I don't believe I've ever played a course that swooped up and down like that one," said Steve Garvin, of Michigan. "The back nine was a blast to play. I can't even remember much about the front; I just remember some of those back-nine holes.
There are other Florida golf courses with elevation but not many in the Panhandle. Actually, the fun starts late on the front nine, at No. 8, a 415-yard par 4 with a downhill tee shot into a sort of valley, both sides of the fairway rising up to make it practically impossible to miss the fairway. The green is one of the more interesting on the course, presenting a lot of movement with "swoops" and dips: There's a high shelf on the left that slopes off right and back to front.
Marcus Pointe is a semi-private course opened in 1990 from a design by Earl Stone, an old-school designer who lived right down the road in Mobile. Stone did a lot of Gulf Coast golf courses and is known for building playable, affordable courses.
Marcus Pointe fits that mold: With green fees around $50, including cart and a bucket of range balls, it's an affordable course that, despite the elevation changes and some difficult angles, won't rip you to shreds. It can also be managed fairly easily from the back tees, at 6,737 yards.
It proves the point that you can build a playable course that isn't flat and dull. The greens at Marcus Pointe, though slow, come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and some of them have some fairly severe slope and undulation. Stone pushed up mounds along fairway perimeters and dips and valleys around the greens, making sure that getting up and down is almost always non-routine.
Like No. 11, a short par 5 that will nonetheless be a three-shotter for a lot of players. It's a dogleg right that can only be manhandled by gorillas. If you choose to go the safe route to the middle of the fairway, you're looking at 280-plus into a well-guarded, two-tiered green that slopes off in all directions.
Or No. 12, which is as fun a par 4 as you're likely to find. It's a sharp dogleg left, and your approach is sharply downhill. You need to stay close to the turn, because if you're too far right, a cluster of three oaks guard the right side of the green. Even if you're in good position, you still have to stop your approach shot coming from so high above the green.
This course is a bargain for the price, a well-conditioned, interesting layout that gives you more than your money's worth. It has some drawbacks, such as the slow greens and the fact that many of the houses on the course crowd in too close on some sections of the routing, but overall, it's a very worthwhile experience.
It has good practice facilities and a full-service restaurant, Chef's.
Portofino Island Resort & Spa looms above the waters surrounding Pensacola Beach, with far away, dazzling views of the Gulf of Mexico and Santa Rosa Sound.
It's a huge, $250 million resort spread out over 28 acres, bordering the Gulf Islands National Seashore nature preserve. The resort has 300 luxury accommodations, including two- and three-bedroom "sky homes." All have beautiful views, wrap-around verandas, floor-to-ceiling views of the Sound and Gulf, domed entryways, arched ceilings and whirlpool baths.
The resort has all sorts of amenities - including my favorite, free movies - and each of the five towers has its own underground parking garage.
There is an eight-mile stretch of open beach, away from the crowded development at the other end of the island. There are also eight pools and spas, including a heated, Olympic-size pool overlooking the bay.
The resort has its own "0utdoors adventure" company that offers kayaking, fishing, surfing, sailing, dolphin excursions and banana boat rides.
February 25, 2008
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.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
The term hidden gem is used a lot when talking about golf courses. But in the case of Laughlin Ranch Golf Club, it's more. A whole lot more. This one's like striking gold. Laughlin Ranch, located about 90 minutes south of Las Vegas, is a David Druzisky design that weaves its way over and around desert landscaping. The par-72 course features dramatic elevation changes, more than 70 bunkers and just enough water features to whet (or wet) the appetite.
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