Golf in the Florida Panhandle: Bubba and Boo love it, and so will you

By Travel ArticlesMay 24, 2012, 1:30 am

Northwest Florida is often overlooked as golfers race by to the more publicized peninsula.

My advice: Slow down, stop and play the Panhandle.

There are some exceptional layouts in the region with designer tags such as Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Greg Norman and Fred Couples.

Encompassing beach-framed towns such as Panama City, Destin and Pensacola, the Panhandle is where Masters champion Bubba Watson and PGA Tour pros Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum grew up and groomed their games at layouts such as Tanglewood, Stonebrook and The Moors near Milton, about a 25 minute drive from Pensacola.

Enhancing the experience is a folksy hospitality you'll find from pro-shop attendants to deep-sea fishing captains that's more Old South than New Florida. Sometimes referred to as 'L.A.' (Lower Alabama) because of the large number of vacationers from Birmingham and Montgomery, the Panhandle lifestyle is unpretentious and relaxing where a great round of golf is often celebrated with some body surfing, an ice-cold draft and Apalachicola oysters on the half shell.

The eclectic Panhandle golf menu is comprised of sprawling multi-course resorts, high-end daily-fee layouts and affordably priced public courses. Generally, the farther inland you venture from the beach areas, the cheaper the greens fees.

Panama City golf

If you're a Tom Fazio design fan, put Camp Creek Golf Club on your must-play list.

Lesser known than his other designs, Camp Creek, just west of Panama City Beach on Highway 30A, is one of my Panhandle favorites. With no homes framing the fairways, it exudes an ambiance of seclusion and exclusivity. Undulating white sand dunes, pristine wetland areas and spacious greens dominate the experience.

For the only Nicklaus Design course in the Panhandle, head to Bay Point Resort Golf Club in Panama City Beach near St. Andrews State Park. The feature layout of a 36-hole complex, the Nicklaus Design Course, formerly known as Lagoon Legends, was redesigned and renovated in 2005 and renamed.

Stretching 7,000 yards, the Nicklaus is the quintessential 'risk/reward' course. If you risk too often and fail to execute you might need a calculator to add up your score. The rewards are plentiful, though, even if you don’t play well, especially at the signature No. 5 hole, a 398-yard par 4, which has a stunning, panoramic view of the Grand Lagoon and St. Andrews Bay.

Others play possibilities in the area include the Hombre Golf Club, a 27-hole complex that has hosted the PGA Tour Qualifying School, Holiday Golf Club, which has an 18-hole layout and lighted par three course, and Shark's Tooth Golf Club, a Greg Norman design that winds around Lake Powell.

Destin golf

For the past 27 years, the Southeastern Conference football coaches, men's and women's basketball coaches and athletic directors have convened at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in late May and early June for meetings and golf.

If you happen to visit during that time, no doubt, you'll see Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Les Miles and other coaches roaming the fairways.

A sprawling 2,400-acre resort complex, Sandestin has four championship layouts -- Baytowne Golf Club, Burnt Pine Golf Club, Raven Golf Club and The Links Course. There's not a weak link in the quartet. If you told me I could only play one, my choice is the Rees Jones-designed Burnt Pine, which has a front nine enveloped by pine forests and a back nine with postcard-like views of Choctawhatchee Bay.

Emerald Bay Golf Club and Regatta Bay Golf & Country Club also use the Choctawhatchee Bay and its pristine surroundings as lush settings for their championship courses. Unpredictable winds and multiple water features provide lots of challenge on the Bob Cupp-designed Emerald Bay.

At Regatta Bay, designed by Robert C. Walker, the former lead architect for Arnold Palmer, the experience oozes with private club-style opulence from the lush, immaculately maintained course to the chilled apples on the first and 10th tees and mango-scented iced towels.

Water, water everywhere is an apt description of Seascape Resort Golf Club, a venerable Destin favorite, which has water features on 15 of the 18 holes. You don't need to be long off the tee on this 6,100-yard, par-71 Joe Lee design, but there are enough hazards, much of it liquid, to provide challenge. A great feature for those who want to spend time at the beach is the nine-hole option offered in the afternoon.

Pensacola golf

Bubba Watson isn't the only PGA Tour pro from the Pensacola area; 1976 U.S. Open Champion Jerry Pate and veteran Joe Durant also played area courses as juniors. Pate still resides in the area.

My three favorite layouts are Lost Key Golf Club, a target golf layout that was the first in the world to be certified as an Audubon International Signature Sanctuary, Scenic Hills Country Club, a 54-year-old course dotted with tall pines, and Tiger Point Golf and Country Club, a 27-hole course built along the Santa Rosa Sound.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ed Schmidt has authored two books on Florida golf and has visited the Panhandle annually for more than three decades.

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'Get in the squad car!': Fan ejected for heckling Garcia

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 11:46 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Early Wednesday morning at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about fan behavior in recent weeks.

Although Monahan stressed that anything that impacts play inside the ropes would not be tolerated, he did address an incident like what happened a few weeks ago when a fan yelled for Justin Thomas’ ball to “get in the bunker.”

“That’s part of what our players have to accept,” Monahan said. “In any sport, you go to an away game in any other sport and people aren’t rooting for you. Sometimes out here you’re going to have fans that aren’t rooting for you, but they can’t interfere with what you’re trying to do competitively.”

That theory was put to the test later on Wednesday when Sergio Garcia found himself in a similar situation on the 12th hole at Austin Country Club and the fan was removed from the course.

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“The guy obviously was shouting not very nice things at me. So I pointed him out to my [police] officer and then he decided to get him out of the course because he was being disrespectful not only to me but to everyone around,” said Garcia following his Day 2 match, a 2-up victory over Dylan Frittelli.

“Crowds in our game have gotten bigger. So obviously it's not just golf crowds that you get now. And sometimes unfortunately you get one or two guys that are probably having too much fun and a little bit too much liquid and unfortunately it happens.”

Last weekend at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy suggested the Tour should consider limiting alcohol sales on the course and he was again asked about fan behavior on Thursday.

“What is too much? If they are not shouting in your backswing then it's OK? It all depends,” McIlroy said. “I made my comments last week on St. Patrick's Day when everyone was just a few too many deep. I don't know, I'm all for people coming out here, having a good time. I think what happened to Justin Thomas at the Honda, that went over the line.”

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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.