Like playing golf in the sand and water? Then discover Florida's Emerald Coast

DESTIN, Fla. -- Pure white-sand beaches, fresh seafood, plenty of room, mild weather and more good golf courses than you shake a flat stick at: What's not to love if you're a golfer on vacation in the Panama City/Destin area?

Most people think of Orlando, Miami, Naples or Ponte Vedra Beach/Jacksonville. But the northwest coast offers a certain kind of serenity you don't find in the rest of the sunshine state.

Known as the Emerald Coast, this region has some of the whitest beaches in America. And the golf scene has come a long way in the last 30 years as well. Here are five things you should know about the golf in the Destin/Panama City area before you go.

Plenty of resort golf in on the Emerald Coast

If you're planning a golf vacation on the Emerald Coast, you'll probably want to go to the beach, enjoy the pool and spend plenty of time relaxing by the sea. Booking a golf package is probably the way to go.

The largest resort in the area is the 2,400-acre Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort, which offers hundreds of rooms ranging from oceanside condos to the magnificent Grand Sandestin Hotel, which features a Southern-inspired architectural design and lushly landscaped gardens. The resort also offers water sports, biking, tennis, hiking, a marina and the Village of Baytowne Wharf, where you'll find restaurants, shops, night clubs and all sorts of entertainment in a festive atmosphere.

The Water Color Inn and Resort, just a few miles down the coast, is next to where the "The Truman Show" was filmed. And, yes, the community, with its perfect houses and condos minutes from the beach, looks like something out of the movies. Water Color offers golf at three terrific golf courses, including Camp Creek and the private Shark's Tooth, designed by Greg Norman.

Other resorts include the Seascape Golf, Tennis & Beach Resort in Destin as well as the Wyndham Bay Point Resort in Panama City, which offers 36 holes of championship golf next to St. Andrews Bay and the Grand Lagoon.

Winter isn't prime, but it isn't bad

People tend to think of Florida having warm winters, which is true, but it's not like it doesn't get cool in the northern parts of the state.

There are plenty of warm days, but there are some cold ones, too. Average highs in January are in the low '60s, but the '70s aren't that uncommon. And because it's not prime season, rates -- both on courses and accommodations -- tend to be a little lower.

The truth is summer is prime season in this area because of the families who vacation here, not the golf. That means spring and fall are probably the best times to be here. There's more hotel space available because the kids are in school, and the courses are in great shape, especially in the fall.

Emerald Coast features golf's biggest names

As the secret of the pristine white beaches and emerald blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico started to spread, visitors started flocking to this lesser-known area of Florida.

The result is new high-rise condo units and high-end hotels everywhere, and along with them, some mighty fine golf courses. In fact, there are dozens of them, ranging from budget to some of the best golf in Florida.

The courses are also designed by some of the bigger names in the business, such as Camp Creek Golf Club(Tom Fazio), Burnt Pine (Rees Jones), The Raven (Robert Trent Jones Jr.), Emerald Bay Golf Club (Bob Cupp) and Bay Point (Jack Nicklaus). And around the courses are plenty of really good restaurants and other things to do.

True Florida designs, which means water

While most of the courses might not be on the ocean, there is plenty of water in their designs.

For example, at Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort's Links Course, it seems like just about every hole is on water of some kind. The predominant body of water in play here is Choctawhatchee Bay.

The ninth hole, a par 5 that crosses hazards three times, gives you plenty of that. And along the way are some of the best views on the Emerald Coast of Florida. Beyond that, however, there are plenty of lakes and marshes on the links. In fact, there's water on 14 holes, not unusual for courses in the area.

Where there's water, there's wind

Golf on the Emerald Coast of Florida is seaside, which means it's going to be windy most of the time, often very windy.

That means it's a good idea to practice your knock-down shots before your round to keep it out of the wind. Don't have much experience with that shot? Not to worry. Just take an extra club or two and swing easy, but you'll definitely want to get a feel for that before you play.

Of course, when you get a downwind tee shot, you're probably going to want to tee it high and let it fly. There's nothing like hitting it 300 yards when the opportunity presents itself.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Like playing golf in the sand and water? Then discover Florida's Emerald Coast
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