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|Windswept Dunes Golf Course is characterized by wide fairways and landing areas. (Tim McDonald/GolfPublisher.com)|
Windswept Dunes Golf Course is an impressive debut by builder and first-time designer Doug O'Rourke, standing up to the best golf clubs in the Destin and Panama City areas.
FREEPORT, Fla. - When Doug O'Rourke visited the Destin, Fla., area, he was blown away by the beauty of the sugar-white sand dunes, like many beach-loving tourists who vacation in this part of the Florida Panhandle.
So when it came time to build his dream Florida golf course, the Michigan man knew he wanted dunes to play a big part. The only problem was the land the course was to be built on was 10 miles from the Gulf of Mexico as the crow flies, through flat, Florida scrubland that was mostly pines.
No problem. O'Rourke has earned the nickname "Dozer" Doug through his work with golf course architects like Rick Smith and Robert Trent Jones Sr., and he climbed up on his bulldozer and plowed up the white sand he found after digging in the area.
The result is a little bit of Destin, 10 miles from the gulf, a dune-lined golf course in the middle of Florida scrubland. Some of the dunes are as high as 20 feet, and though vegetation is starting to cover them now, it gives a little beach-flavor taste to what is essentially inland Florida.
O'Rourke has built many golf courses, mostly in the Midwest, but Windswept Dunes Golf Course is the first course he's both designed and built, and it is an impressive debut.
First and foremost, it is an absolute blast to play if you're one of those golfers who likes to swing from the heels off the tee. Go ahead. The fairways here are wide as gulf beaches, and you have to seriously misfire to land in the pines on most holes.
"We wanted to make it fun to play," O'Rourke said. "People come to the beach to relax. They don't want to get beaten up."
But, it isn't a one-dimensional, bombs-away course. O'Rourke built in plenty of risk-reward options, and there are a few forced carries over scrubland for flavor. The fairways twist and turn, and the green complexes require some finesse.
Also, it is one of the longest golf courses in Florida, at 7,607 yards from the back, championship tees. Move up one set of tees and you're still over 7,000 yards. Even the blue tees are nearly 6,900 yards. There are six sets of tees to accommodate those who might be overwhelmed by the distances from tee to green.
It's a big, Florida Panhandle, Boo Weekley course in other ways. The greens are huge, with a great deal of undulation. They are mostly elevated and protected by excellent bunkering throughout. Still, combined with the ample fairways, their sheer size means your "greens hit in regulation" ratio will be high.
"We just want you to hit the green in regulation, we don't care what you do after that," joked Director of Golf Ron Welch. "Three, four or five-putt."
Hey, it's possible on these greens.
Windswept Dunes is an excellent golf course, better than many in nearby Destin to the south or Panama City's golf scene to the east, and more fun than most in those areas.
Making it even more fun are the relatively cheap green fees, which are never higher than $65.
The problem, from O'Rourke's perspective, is that the course is fairly out of the way, located just outside of tiny Freeport (Motto: "Grit and Grace"), away from the traditional tourist avenues.
The housing slump has affected the development that surrounds the golf course, and its relative isolation has affected traffic.
That's why the planned clubhouse that will overlook the ninth and 18th holes has been put on hold; the pro shop is currently operating in a temporary trailer.
Don't let that deter you. It's definitely worth the drive.
The Water's Edge condos on Okaloosa Island puts you in a great spot for the golf courses of Destin as well as Fort Walton Beach and Freeport.
And - I never thought I'd be saying this - one of the best features about the condos is the parking garage. It goes up four levels and you can practically park in front of your gulf-front condo. No more dragging your baggage up the elevator.
Of course, the gulf view is pretty fine, too, seeing that the building is right on the sand. The condos are well furnished and the complex has two large swimming pools so close to the gulf you can hear the waves lapping on the shore.
It's also close to a variety of restaurants and other non-golf options.
November 27, 2007
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.
There are many stay-and-play options in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C region, but none can match the combination of upscale amenities at a reasonable price, the private-course conditions, the diversity of courses and the Interstate convenience of Turf Valley in Ellicott City, Md.
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