I was really looking forward to my assignment to visit a well-established golf resort in a part of Florida that is sometimes overlooked. Located in beautiful northwest Florida near Destin is the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort.
When I was preparing for my visit, I was under the impression that this was a resort with several golf courses and a hotel, as most resorts are set up in this manner. I was greatly surprised when I found out that it is so much more. Once I entered the gates to Sandestin, I felt that I had entered a world unto itself. From the finely manicured lawns to the multiple golf courses, bay and beach views, I couldn’t wait to explore the Sandestin Resort. Over its 2,400 rambling acres, the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort has four terrific championship golf layouts as well as a golf school.
As it turns out, the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort was voted one of the “75 Best Golf Resorts in North America” by Golf Digest in 2012 and one of the “Top 75 Golf Resorts in America” by GOLF Magazine in 2010. Top that off with the shopping and dining complex at the Village of Baytowne Wharf and you’ve got yourself a true Florida golf destination.
The four golf courses are not just some half-baked tracks, but really strong, fun-to-play, championship courses. Craig Falanga, director of resort activities at the time, showed me around while we played the various golf layouts. Rick Hileman is now the PGA director of resort golf at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.
The two original courses are The Links Course and the Baytowne Golf Club. Both were designed by architect Tom Jackson.
Baytowne is the most popular course at Sandestin due to the variety of scenery you’ll encounter during play. You’ll be treated to sweeping views of the Choctawhatchee Bay, pine stands and Gulf of Mexico beach views. If you plan to play all four courses, I’d recommend that you start with this one. They offer five sets of tees, from the inviting Junior/Beginner tees at 3,002 yards and rated at 57.8 with a slope of 92, to the brawny back tees at 6,804 and 73.2/138. You’ll find this perfect for families with kids or true beginners. They even offer free time for juniors after noon with a paying adult, based on availability, during all seasons at Baytowne as well as The Links and the Raven Golf Club.
The Links Course was one of my favorites. The views were tremendous and the course (even though it is the shortest of the four) is a real challenge. It is designed along the banks of the vast Choctawhatchee Bay and on paper doesn’t look that hard. Just wait until you deal with the wind coming off the bay. Depending on the direction of the wind, a hole can play easy or tricky from one minute to the next. It is a shot maker’s course and hitting greens is imperative to a low score. It plays 6,710 yards from the tips (72.2/135) and 4,969 (69.2/115) from the shortest tees so there is a choice for all golfers.
The most famous course at Sandestin is the Raven Golf Club due to its hosting of many PGA events and other tournaments. A real test from the championship tees, it measures 6,838 with a very strong 73.7/139 rating/slope. In fact, the 18th hole, a 431-yard Par 4, was ranked the toughest hole on the entire Champions Tour in 2006. To enjoy this track (and have a better vacation) I’d advise playing from the silver or white tees – 6,361 and 5,891 respectively; you’ll still get to see all the beauty of this Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course as it makes its way through wetlands, pine trees and marshes without losing all your ammunition. Large greens make putting an important part of your skill set for this layout.
The final course is Burnt Pine Golf Club, a private club that allows limited play for Sandestin Resort guests. Designed by Rees Jones, this 7,001-yard course has plenty of tactical bunkers to frame the line of play as it moves along the rolling fairways and through the pine forests of the Emerald Coast. Deer and birds roam the course as you try to fixate on the job at hand, but it is sometimes tough to concentrate with the views of the Choctawhatchee Bay and the gorgeous wildlife roaming about. From the back tees, Burnt Pine is rated a sturdy 74.7 and a tough 144 slope. The next set of tees offers a better day with a yardage of 6,474 and 72.0/138. Since this is a private club, the pace of play is brisker and you’ll see fewer golfers so you might have time for another nine.
- Baytowne Golf Club: 4 ½ Stars, Golf Digest “Places to Play”
- The Links Course: 4 Stars - Golf Digest “Places to Play”, “Top 5 in NW Florida”
- Raven Golf Club: 4 ½ Stars – Golf Digest “Places to Play”, “No. 1 in NW Florida” 2003
- Burnt Pine Golf Club: 4 ½ Stars – Golf Digest “Places to Play”, “No. 1 in NW Florida” 2002
The Sandestin Golf Academy caters to all skill levels of golfers. Instructor Norm Tums is known as one of the top golf instructors.
There are 1,300 rental accommodations available, from great rooms to condos, hotel-style rooms, townhomes and villas. Some overlook the golf courses, a few the bay, and others the beach. Take your pick; they are all fantastic.
If you’re traveling with non-golfers, Sandestin offers miles of the sugar-white sand beaches that the Gulf of Mexico is famous for. There are 19 swimming pools if you are not a fan of salt water. The 113-slip, full-service marina will allow you to park your yacht while you vacation. The slips may be rented on a daily, monthly or yearly basis based on availability. While tied up there, Sandestin offers all the resort’s amenities as well as a concierge service for refueling, water, electric, etc. You may contact the marina up to a year in advance to reserve a slip to fit the size of your boat.
During my visit, I stayed at The Grand Sandestin with incredible views of the bay. Just down the walkway through the courtyards is the 28-acre Village of Baytowne Wharf with more than three dozen shops and restaurants. No need to drive up and down the roads outside Sandestin to locate a decent place to eat when so many options are on-site, from the very upscale Marlin Grill to the more casual Acme Oyster House.
The best time of year to play golf at Sandestin is in the spring (March through May) and the fall to early winter (October, November and December). Temperatures are mild and the quantities of golfers are less than in the summer time. The middle of winter can be brisk, but you’ll probably get some fantastic days with temperatures in the 60 - 70s with no one on the golf courses and lower rates. The summer is very popular with visitors on vacation mainly coming from the southern U.S., so factor that into your formula.
To set up golf groups for play, give Rick Hileman a call at 877-369-6246. He can help you select the right kind of place to stay and courses to play at Sandestin.
The Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort offers an enormous number of enjoyable things to do during your visit, and the resort’s inviting layout makes it seem that no single area ever seems crowded. You should put this on your list of places to vacation in Florida. You can see more about Sandestin at www.sandestin.com.