Describe northwest Florida as the Panhandle or, if you wish, the more marketing-friendly Emerald Coast. Just don't call it the Redneck Riviera. Sure, you'll find plenty of tattoo parlors and T-shirt emporiums along the highways here, but upscale resorts are now the norm, not the exception.
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, about halfway between Pensacola and
Panama City, is the daddy of the bunch. With four golf courses and plenty of
nightlife, Sandestin is all things to all people.
And this resort is about as close
as you'll ever see feuding brothers and architects Rees and Robert Trent Jr.
Jones: their respective courses here actually have holes that touch the other,
though predictably enough they play in opposite directions.
The Raven Golf Club
6,910 yards, par 71
Greens fees: $130
Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Why it's worth it: The high level
of service is manifested in
the mango-scented iced towels
offered to golfers, and this 7-year-old design is equally enticing.
The layout is nearly perfect for
resort play wide fairways allow
rusty golfers to bash away with
the driver, but the huge, heaving
greens, massive bunkers, avenues
of pine trees and a healthy
amount of lakes and wetlands
keep it real throughout the
round. The 203-yard, island
green sixth and the bite-off-as-
much-as-you-dare dogleg par 4s
at 14 and 18 are the holes that
will linger longest in memory.
Baytowne Golf Club
6,804 yards, par 71; Greens fees: $109
Architect: Tom Jackson
Why it's worth it: Recently remodeled
by Jackson, Baytowne shares a club-
house with the Raven, but not much
else. You won't need an oxygen tank,
but Baytowne actually delivers what
passes for elevation change in Florida.
If you've got the kids along, Baytowne
offers free golf and rental clubs and
special tees for children under 12.
The Links Course
6,710 yards, par 72; Greens fees: $99
Architect: Tom Jackson
Why it's worth it: Those nostalgic for
the way the game used to be played
will like Sandestin's original course.
The slender landing areas and multiple
lakes make prudent course manage-
ment a must. Those who rinse a sleeve
can drown their sorrows over excellent
burgers and brews at the Linkside Pub.
Burnt Pine Golf Club
6,996 yards, par 72; Greens fees: $150
Architect: Rees Jones
Why it's worth it: Last July this course
closed to all but members and resort
guests, so the pace of play is better.
Burnt Pine has smaller greens with
more contours than the Raven, and
has three of the best holes on the
property: Nos. 13-15 all have views of
Choctawhatchee Bay. Some of the
mounding looks artificial but it's still
mostly a stroll through nature.
• WHERE TO STAY
Sandestin Resort offers 1,450 rental
accommodations, including homes, villas,
condos and hotels. On the hotel side, opt
for a higher-floor room at the Grand
Sandestin, with views of the pool and of
The 14th hole at Rees Jones' Burnt Pine.
the bay beyond. Rates start at $153.
• WHERE TO EAT
If you're into fresh seafood and views of
the Gulf of Mexico, you can't do any better
than Finz. 850-267-4800
Marlin Grill is the fine-dining experience
at the resort's Village of Baytowne Wharf,
but leave the jacket and tie in the closet.
On tap are great steaks and fresh seafood,
but don't miss the grilled vegetables.
• WHAT TO DO
You don't have to leave the property
thanks to the Village of Baytowne Wharf,
a 28-acre compendium of restaurants,
bars and retail shops in a realistic-looking,
pedestrian-only city block. 800-277-0801,
Baytowne Marina,adjacent to
Choctawhatchee Bay, is the resort's focal
point for boating and fishing; fans of tennis
can play on two natural-grass courts; and
sunbathers can sizzle and then swim at
one of 17 pools or along 7.5 miles of beach
• THE DEAL
Save 20% at Sandestin
Sandestin's Daily Golf Package
includes a rooms at the Bayside
Inn and daily golf on the Links
Course with cart (course
upgrades available). Prices are
$187 through April 21 and $173
from April 22-May 24, per
person, per night, based on
double occupancy. Call 800-470-
7389 or visit sandestin.com