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|Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort in Destin is among the Panhandle's many exceptional vacation spots. (Courtesy of Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort)|
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. -- Southern hospitality, superb golf courses with big-name designer tags and some of Florida's most pristine beaches make the Panhandle an appealing golf getaway destination.
Play 18 holes by noon, head to the sugar-white-sand beaches for some rays, then enjoy ultra-fresh seafood at a rustic oyster bar, and you'll quickly understand the Panhandle good life.
Here are 10 reasons to plan a golf vacation to Florida's Panhandle:
From inland, parkland-style courses in tree-dotted Tallahassee to bayside and seaside gems near beach towns, the Panhandle offers a wide range of venues.
In Panama City, try Hombre Golf Club. In Lynn Haven, just 15 minutes or so north of Panama City, you'll find public Nature Walk Golf Club and Panama Country Club, which is private but does offer limited public play.
While the Florida Panhandle often gets overlooked as golfers race to the peninsula, rest assured, big-name architects have fully discovered the northwest corner of the state. Course designers such as Tom Fazio, Greg Norman, Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones Jr., Fred Couples, Davis Love III and Jerry Pate have fashioned layouts in the Panhandle.
Golf is the focus at resorts such as the Bay Point Wyndham Resort in Panama City Beach, with two 18-hole championship layouts, the Nicklaus Course and Meadows Course; Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort in Destin, with the Baytowne Course, Burnt Pine Course, Raven Course and Links Course; Bluewater Bay near Fort Walton Beach, where 27 holes of Tom Fazio/Jerry Pate golf is the draw; and Seascape Resort in Destin, home to the Joe Lee-designed Seascape Golf Club is a venerable favorite.
Your golf dollar goes a long way in the Panhandle where green fees are economically priced. There are a slew of courses to play in the less than $40 category. For instance, Defuniak Springs Country Club and Eglin Golf Course near Fort Walton Beach Golf Club are great picks for budget conscious golfers.
You'll be in hush puppy heaven in the Panhandle, which has a great line-up of waterfront seafood restaurants, oyster bars and crab shacks. Whether you want Apalachicola oysters on the half shell, a grilled grouper sandwich or jumbo shrimp steamed in lemon/garlic seasoning, you'll find it in this area of the Sunshine State.
Miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches framed by turquoise waters offer lots of opportunities to refresh and recharge after a day on the course. Some outstanding beaches include Perdido Key State Park near Pensacola, Grayton Beach State Park near Destin, and Panama City Beach.
The fishing crazy town of Destin affords quick access to deep water with an offshore shelf that descends to 100 feet within 10 miles of the marinas. Big-game fish such as white and blue marlin and sailfish are possible, as well as red snapper, grouper and king mackerel.
Winding 26 miles along the Gulf of Mexico just west of Panama City Beach, this road is framed by dune lakes, state parks, upscale resorts and condos, artsy coastal villages, and funky beach bars and restaurants. Walkable modern coastal towns designed in the New Urbanist style such as Seaside, WaterColor and Rosemary Beach offer visitors relaxing places to shop and dine. The courses to play in the area include Camp Creek Golf Club, Sharks Tooth Golf Club and Origins Golf Club.
Air access to the Panhandle increased with the 2010 opening of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, which is situated in West Bay about a 10-minute drive from Panama City Beach. It's served by Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines with daily flights from Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, Nashville and St. Louis.
From sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving in the Gulf of Mexico to enjoying a cool libation at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe in Panama City Beach, there's a lot to do in the Panhandle after the last putt drops.
August 29, 2014
Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.
Do you like to practice? If you're a two- or three-bucket golfer who can chip and putt till the sun goes down, there are several great places to practice in Florida. Bonus: These practice facilities are situated at top-notch golf courses and resorts.
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