Far from the famous beaches of Miami, the excitement of Mickey and all his Disney friends and the mysterious fountain of youth in St Augustine is the often overlooked Florida panhandle.
Situated within a mile of the Gulf of Mexico in Franklin County between Tallahassee and Panama City lies a hidden gem of golf resort, St. James Bay Resort. Just outside the small town of Carrabelle, this is a tranquil and serene spot and this day resplendent with sun and warmth was particularly rewarding.
Recently purchased by the Chicago based Kemper Group, St. James Bay Golf Resort offers an alternative to the hustle and bustle of some of the golfing destinations around the world.
The resort is small and intimate and includes a remarkable, lush tropical 18 golf course with a restaurant, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and handful of quaint cottages. Adjacent to the golf course are stylish condominiums available on a nightly, weekly and monthly basis.
The golf course, designed by golf architect Robert Walker, is situated within a tropical wonderland and may be as rewarding to photograph as it is to play. It has numerous raised wooden paths which wind through a variety of vegetation, shrubs, trees and plants. There are numerous small ponds and lakes and a very unique aspect of this Audubon International Certified Signature Sanctuary designated course are the numerous marshes that have to be carried from the tee boxes and also on approach shots.
The condition of the course is excellent which parallels its design quality, but golfers I must forewarn you. Head to the driving range and work on tee shots that carry from 180 – 220 yards and you will be rewarded.
Upon arrival I went into the Pro Shop to introduce myself to Head Professional, Rob Burlinson, formerly from upstate New York. In spite of having a mountain of paperwork to address, as well as using his office as a tournament prize storage room, Rob was very gracious in taking more than a few minutes to welcome me. He pointed out, before I grabbed my Club Car power cart, that the GPS on the cart had a touchscreen feature on it. On tighter target style courses I find this to be a very helpful tool allowing you to pick the distance to the target and then club accordingly.
Also, it’s worthwhile arriving an hour early as they have a great driving range, 2 putting greens and unique short game practice area completely out of the way with its own bunker. Golf balls are provided at no charge on the range which is another nice little touch. This is target golf at its finest and bombers beware, if you are long and wild your shorter hitting buddy, “the bunter” is going to clean up. Also, if you finish with the ball you start with consider it as significant as breaking par.
There are numerous tees to play from and playing it from the blues which is shy of 6,000 yards will not disappoint you in the least and for shorter hitters – move forward to the green tees.
The Par 3’s are especially fun to play and the 16th requires 2 “target” shots over marshlands, one from the tee and then one from the fairway to the green; it’s an amazing hole.
When you get to the 17th take a moment to recognize the great memorial to Tom Nobles and leave a ball on a tee next to his plaque, the golf gods will reward you down the road. In my mind 17 is the best of the par 3’s, water and sand left says” Stay right, stay right.”
Don’t be greedy on the Par 5 18th and make it 3 shots and you might have an easy 2 putt par like I did.
What better way to convince yourself to come back than parring a great looking finishing hole!
So instead of cramming in 36 holes a day and fighting for a spot in the buffet line at one of the multi course resorts choose to stay and play at the stress free St. James Bay, one of the Florida panhandle’s sweet spots.