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10 reasons for a golf trip to Florida's Panhandle, from great seafood restaurants to great courses

Ed SchmidtBy Ed Schmidt,
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Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort
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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:

1. Diverse golf menu

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.

Play suggestions in the Tallahassee area include St. James Bay Golf Club and Southwood Golf Club at Summerbrooke.

In Destin, tee up at Emerald Bay, Indian Bayou Golf & Country Club, Shalimar Pointe Golf & Country Club or any of the four courses at the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort.

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.

Pensacola-area possibilities include Cypress Lakes Golf Club, Stonebrook Golf Club and Tiger Point Golf & Country Club.

2. Great course designers

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.

3. Exceptional resorts

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.

4. Affordable green fees

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.

5. Phenomenal seafood restaurants

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.

6. Awesome beaches

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.

7. World-class deep-sea fishing

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.

8. Highway 30A

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.

9. Airport Access

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.

10. Fun off-the-course activities

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.

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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.

 
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