Happy Trails To You

    By Frank Fenton

    Tee off on the courses of the Emerald Coast Golf Trail.

    Spanning the upper northwest section of Florida is the Emerald Coast Golf Trail, providing four terrific championship layouts for your golfing pleasure. You’ll find Florida-style tracks with plenty of palms and water to negotiate, as well as a links-style course, amazing coastal water views and some of the best greens in the state. You have got to put this trail on your travel agenda.

    The Courses of the Emerald Coast Golf Trail
    Starting just off Interstate 10 in Pensacola, the Emerald Coast Golf Trail begins with Scenic Hills Country Club. This layout opened in 1958 and underwent a freshening redesign by U.S. Open Champion Jerry Pate in 1992. It has the historic credit of being the only course in the State of Florida to host a U.S. Open. In 1969, the U.S. Women’s Open was won by Donna Caponi Young. As a matter of fact, the grill in the beautiful new clubhouse at Scenic Hills is named in her honor and displays some of her golfing memorabilia. The course is only 6,699 yards from the back tees, but plenty strong enough to receive a rating of 73.0 and a slope of 135 for its par 71.

    Hole No. 9 (it was the 18th when Donna Caponi Young won the Open) is still a testing par 4. Imagine playing it with the U.S. Open on the line. With four different sets of tees and undulating fairways and greens, you’ll find a degree of difficulty to suit your game no matter your skill level.
    Next, only 25 miles to the east in Gulf Breeze, is the wonderful Tiger Point Golf Club. This may be the best of the trail. The views of Santa Rosa Sound on the Gulf of Mexico make this a gorgeous place to enjoy the links-style East Course. With the East’s nine holes out and nine holes back in to the newly constructed clubhouse, you get a real Scottish feel. The No. 5 hole is a par 4 with an island green (something that we Floridians like to challenge). Hole No. 3 is a tempting dogleg right par 5 that affords great views of Santa Rosa Sound’s sparkling waters.

    At 7,041 yards from the tips, this par-72 Jerry Pate redesign will surely test your game with its rating of 75.1. The East is sturdy enough to have hosted the PGA Tour’s Pensacola Open. The West Course is a challenging nine holes that measure a strong 3,414 yards, which should make things interesting as you deal with the Gulf breeze.

    Moving on to your next stop in Navarre (a mere 14 miles away), you’ll find The Club at Hidden Creek. Rated four-and-a-half stars by Golf Digest, this 6,862-yard, par-72 track was designed by Florida golf architect Ron Garl. Like many of Ron’s great courses, there are lots of pines, cypress trees and live oaks framing this layout. Another new clubhouse adds to the attractiveness of this golf destination. Hidden Creek has hosted multiple U.S. Open qualifiers (the USGA selects only superior tests of golf for its qualifier sites). Maybe this is the best one on the trail; I can’t decide. You’ll just have to play it and let me know.
    Your final stop on the Emerald Coast Golf Trail will be Shalimar Pointe Country Club, just 28 miles down the road to the Fort Walton Beach area of Shalimar. Shalimar Pointe has also held U.S. Open qualifiers, so you know this is no soft track. A par 72 measuring 6,765 yards, this course was awarded four stars by Golf Digest and is rated/sloped at 72.7/132. Selected by Golfweek magazine as One of the Southeast’s Top 50 Development Courses, it plays fairly from all five sets of tees. You’ll have to deal with influences such as wind from nearby Choctawhatchee Bay, which you can see from the clubhouse. Some slender fairways make this a shot-maker’s course, so you’ll have to sharpen up your iron game to score well here.

    Plan Your Trip to the Trail

    The courses are within easy driving distances of one another, so you may find that you can schedule a morning round at one layout, grab some lunch at one of the marvelous new clubhouses and play a second round in the afternoon the same day.
    If you fly, plan your trip into Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport, or fly into Northwest Florida Regional Airport (near Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach). Either way, you’ll be ready to start your journey on the Emerald Coast Golf Trail.
    Christine Williams, director of sales and marketing for Emerald Coast Golf Trail, will be happy to assist you with your trip. She can set up nearby lodging and golf with a Stay & Play package so your visit to the trail is all enjoyment with no worries. Call her at 850-932-1333 or e-mail her at cwilliams@mggi.com.

    To see more information on all four of the Emerald Coast Golf Trail courses, visit www.emeraldcoastgolftrail.com. You’ll have a terrific time playing some of the best courses Northwest Florida has to offer.