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Okaloosa County, Florida: Tee Off on the Emerald Greens

17 Feb, 2015

By: Peter Francesconi

Whether skirting the sugar-white sand beaches or wandering through a grove of live oak, pine and tropical vegetation, competitors—and their families and fans—will have a great time playing the many championship golf courses and country clubs in the heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast.

The Emerald Coast, in Northwest Florida, consists of three distinct destinations—Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island—all situated on a 24-mile ribbon of coastline in Okaloosa County, but each with its own unique identity, qualities and characteristics.

“It’s hard to beat what we have here in Okaloosa County when it comes to sports,” says Shantelle Dedicke, marketing manager for the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. “But golf on the Emerald Coast is something else entirely. Since this area has long been a popular vacation destination, we have amazing golf facilities. Whether you’re looking to simply enjoy time on the course yourself, or whether you’re managing, operating or playing in a golf tournament or event, this is just a perfect destination.”

Located along the Gulf of Mexico, between Pensacola to the west and Panama City to the east, the Emerald Coast is easy to reach by air and within easy driving distance from many major metropolitan areas.      

“Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island are the heart of the Emerald Coast,” says Dedicke. “Once you ‘get a little sand in your soul,’ you’ll understand what #emeraldcoasting is all about. And you’ll want to continue to come back. These three distinct and wonderful areas each have so much to offer.”

Just like the area itself, the Emerald Coast’s golf courses are unique in many ways, offering challenging courses for a multitude of skill levels, along with the natural beauty of the area as a backdrop. With professional staffs skilled at hosting events, running tournaments and helping tournament owners and organizers with every detail, golf events along the Emerald Coast will be memorable and successful for players, fans, and families. Once golf event organizers have made the decision to bring their tournament to the area, the only difficulty left will be in deciding exactly which of the first-class facilities will be the host. Here are some of the choices:

Opened in 2009, the 18-hole Blackstone Golf Course was carved through rolling terrain, giving golfers a unique experience they will not soon forget. The course architect, Bill Amick, designed the course to provide an enjoyable experience for all skill levels of golfers. A meandering stream comes into play on a number of holes. The course provides a great experience by demanding accurate tee shots but will allow for short irons into most of the holes.

Few facilities can match Bluewater Bay's 27 holes of championship golf designed by world-renowned architects Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate. Bluewater Bay is arranged into three nine-hole courses—the Bay Course, Marsh Course and Lake Course—each offering a unique layout that takes advantage of the terrain, from shoreline to woodlands to wetlands. Bluewater Bay’s professional golf staff is experienced in facilitating all types of golf events and tournaments. Along with golf, Bluewater Bay also offers a full range of amenities including an excellent tennis complex, a 120-slip full-service marina, biking and hiking trails throughout the lush, manicured landscape, two swimming pools and playground areas and even the option of casual dining.   

The Eglin Air Force Base Golf Course offers 36 holes of championship golf. Open year-round, it’s ranked first by the Air Force Materiel Command among USAF golf courses, third in U.S. military courses and 61st among the thousands of great Florida courses. The Golf Course Complex, which hosts many special events and tournaments, consists of 450 acres, with 250 acres of fairways and greens and two separate championship courses—the Eagle and the Falcon. Eglin Golf Course’s professional staff offers services to suit golf events and tournaments of any size.

Emerald Bay Golf Club in Destin offers a premier, full-service, championship 18-hole course designed by Bob Cupp, who recently returned to oversee the completion of a major redesign. The course includes multiple water features and views of the bay as it winds through the exclusive community of Emerald Bay.

The City of Fort Walton Beach is committed to offering quality golf for visitors, and the Fort Walton Beach Golf Club has two 18-hole championship golf courses just a few miles from the area’s emerald green water and sugar-white sand beaches. The Pines Course offers a challenging layout of more than 6,800 yards through an upland pine forest. The Oaks Course features more than 6,400 yards of narrow, oak-lined fairways and challenging water hazards. Both courses are experienced with groups, events and tournaments.

Recently renovated and updated, Indian Bayou Golf Club offers a total of 27 holes in three nine-hole courses, which are both enjoyable and challenging for golfers of every skill level. The courses feature wide, forgiving fairways with beautiful, lush, undulating greens, majestic pines, sparkling lakes and water features. The Choctaw Course rewards distance and control, the Creek Course offers beautiful views yet tests golfers with natural hazards, and the Seminole Course has wide fairways, with water coming into play on a number of holes.

Set along the Choctawhatchee Bay, the semiprivate Kelly Plantation Golf Club features 18 captivating holes built on the former site of a turpentine plantation. Designers Fred Couples and Gene Bates fashioned an impressive championship golf course with more than 7,000 yards of large contoured greens, wide-manicured fairways, an array of strategically placed hazards and picturesque views. The course, visually impressive and one of the most environmentally sensitive courses in Northwest Florida, was rated 4.5 stars by Golf Digest and termed “One of the Emerald Coast’s best groomed and most acclaimed layouts” by Golf Magazine.

Nestled among breathtaking nature preserves along the Choctawhatchee Bay is Regatta Bay Golf and Country Club, with its 6,894-yard, par-72 course that was designed by Robert C. Walker, the former lead architect for Arnold Palmer. Among the accolades the Regatta Bay course has received is being named one of Golf Digest's "Top Places to Play in North America,” being voted "the #1 Favorite Golf Course in Northwest Florida” by readers of Florida Golf News magazine, and being named “Best of the Emerald Coast” by Emerald Coast Magazine. The Regatta Bay golf staff is experienced at hosting golf events.

One of the best-kept golf secrets in Northwest Florida is the 18-hole Pete Dye/Joseph Finger-designed Shalimar Pointe Country Club, located on the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay. The club, which has hosted U.S. Open Qualifiers in its storied past, is home to a comprehensive practice facility featuring a spacious driving range, putting green and chipping green.

There’s more to site selection than outstanding sports facilities, though, and options abound for those who are looking for diversions, or whose friends and family will be following them to tournaments. There is much to do along the Emerald Coast—from deep-sea fishing, to shopping, to the many attractions in the area, to simply enjoying beaches that are some of the best in the world.

“Event and tournament organizers will love that we have so much happening here,” Dedicke says. “There are hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets, and athletes and golfers and their families will find plenty of activities, sights and attractions when not competing.”

It’s no wonder the Emerald Coast has won raves. Good Morning America named the area one of the “Top 10 Most Beautiful Places in America.” The Travel Channel voted it the “Best Family Beach of 2013,” and Boating Magazine says the Destin/Fort Walton Beach/Okaloosa Island area is one of the “10 Best Places to Boat and Live.”

Bring your event to Northwest Florida and find out why the heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast was named a “Top Place to Visit” by National Geographic.

To plan your event or tournament, or request a travel guide, visit EmeraldCoasting.com or call 800-322-3319.

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