Over the past several years, the Panama City Beach area has really cleaned up its act. No longer is it college’s spring destination for uninhibited college kids. The real estate market is booming, area businesses are rebounding nicely, and the hotel industry is once again beginning to flourish. All is good in Florida’s panhandle.
And all is good at the Sheraton Bay Point Resort – Panama City Beach’s premier golf destination. The resort is situated on historic St. Andrews Bay and is a perfect getaway destination for couples, families and golfers. Yes, golfers. The property, which is home to 36 holes of bay front golf including the panhandle’s only Nicklaus design, recently underwent a complete remodel of the lodging, restaurants and golf clubhouse and the final results are nothing short of amazing. Sheraton Bay Point is the only AAA 4-Diamond franchise hotel along the Emerald Coast, with 320 sharply appointed guest rooms, 65 of which are one-bedroom suites. Located about a 7-iron away from the main hotel and on the fairway of the Nicklaus Course’s 3rd and 6th holes is a collection of golf villas that feature both hotel style rooms as well as one-bedroom suites that can sleep up to four golfers comfortably.
Sheraton Bay Point also features several dining options, including the ultra-casual Flip-Flops Pool Bar, where you can enjoy custom crafted cocktails and craft beers while dining on Mahi Mahi Tacos and Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches. If you’re looking for something more upscale, Tides Restaurant offers spectacular views of St. Andrews Bay, which are only outdone by the culinary staff’s creativity. They’ve recently added a Chop House menu, which includes cuts of high-end beef such as the Wagyu Filet and a 26-oz. porterhouse steak. Another great choice for breakfast or lunch is Bar 72, located at the golf course clubhouse. Bar 72 is a little more than your typical burgers and dogs clubhouse fare. Try the shepherd’s pie or the meatloaf stack and you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
On property and a short cart ride away from the hotel are two of northwest Florida’s finest golf courses: The Willard Byrd designed Meadows Course and the Nicklaus Course. The Nicklaus Course is the crown jewel at Bay Point and plays 7,152 yards from the back tees with a rating of 74.3 and a slope of 143. Most golfers will be challenged from Tee 2 (6,430/70.7/132) and still leave with a little dignity intact. Ladies will be tested from a distance of 4,974 yards, yet still enjoy themselves.
The first five holes of the Nicklaus Course set the tone for your round. The first hole showcases the water that can become your nemesis on 17 of the next 18 holes. It’s a dogleg right around a lake that requires an accurate shot off the tee up around the 150-yard marker. From there, you’ll have a slightly uphill approach to a green protected in the front by two deep bunkers. Number 2 is a tough par 3 that plays 171 yards (Tee 2) over water to a green protected on the left by water and front right by a large deep bunker. The water on Number 3 shouldn’t come into play; if it does, check with the pro shop about getting a lesson. It’s a modest par 4, dogleg left with the most dramatic false-fronted green I have ever seen; it has to be at least a 6-foot drop. The green features a lot of undulation and a two-putt or better is a good thing.
Number 4 is a par 4, that plays 384 yards (Tee 2) and features a green abutted by water on the left. All of this leads up to Number 5, the most scenic and demanding hole on the course and by far the most interesting. Play your tee shot about 225 yards over wetlands to an “island” fairway. From there’ you’ll have a long iron shot over more wetlands to a long narrow green with not much room behind it. Par is a good score here.
Two of the three remaining par 3s require you to choose the right club and trust your distance; knowing the pin position is also critical. Numbers 7 and 17 are both fairly long with blind shots into the green. Choose the right club, hit your best shot and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
The back nine also features several intriguing holes including the drivable Number 13 which plays 281 yards from Tee 2. Beware of the small grove of pine trees if you push your drive right; the green is protected by water to the left and a deep bunker to the right. Number 14 is the course’s #1 handicapped hole; a long dogleg right that plays over water and sand off the tee. Your approach shot plays over a lake which also guards the right side of the green. There’s a bunker back left that catches anything long. This hole takes four solid shots to make par.
Number 18 is a great finishing hole and is almost the mirror image of the opening hole. It requires a forced carry over water that plays all the way down the left side, with more of the wet stuff short and right of the green. A tee shot over the water and slightly left of the fairway bunker will leave a short pitch shot into an elevated triangular green protected on all three sides by sand. A great end to a great round.
The Meadows Course dates back to 1965 and uses the original 328 Bermuda pushup greens. They’re still in great shape, a lasting testament to a good grounds crew. The Meadows plays 6,913 yards from the back tees. Tee 2 plays about 550 yards shorter and is still a challenge for most. This course has stood the test of time and can play tough – especially if you tend to spray the ball. Case in point is Number 4, a narrow par 4 (372 yards from Tee 2), slight dogleg right that is the course’s #1 handicap. Center or just left of center off the tee is the preferred shot, just be sure to avoid the fairway bunker on the left. From there, trust your club selection into a small, elevated, triangular green protected on all sides by sand.
Number 5 is the course’s first par 5 (480 yards from Tee 2) and is also a narrow driving hole, however, with a good tee shot, it is reachable on two. Water comes into play on the left side about 250 yards off the tee, so favor the right. For most players, it’s a three-shot hole and an approach from the left side takes a few of the infringing pines on the right side out of play. The green is small and well protected. Number 9 (509 yards from Tee 2) is the second par 5 on the outward 9 and this double dogleg is a good test of your shotmaking ability. Water short and left of the green sees a lot of action and the elevated green is large and may require an extra club, depending on pin position.
Number 10 is a long par 4 (409 yards from Tee 2) with water on the right off the tee that creeps into the fairway and catches unsuspecting players. Most players will need to hit a long approach shot into a shallow green. Par is a good score here. Number 13 is the most picturesque hole on the course, a short par 3 (132 yards from Tee 2) over water into a well-protected green. Choose the right club off the tee and a low score is possible.
The Meadows also finishes with one of the layout’s most memorable holes, a 384-yard (Tee 2) dogleg right par 4 with bunkers on either side off the tee right at the bend. A good drive will leave a mid to long iron into a small green protected on the right with water and sand on either side. Another strong finishing hole.
The winter months are a great time to visit the resort and take advantage of everything Bay Point has to offer. And, since Northwest Florida’s seasonality peaks in the summer, a great value can be had between January and March.
If you’re coming down from the northern states during the winter to play golf, here’s something to consider. Yes, you can get about 5 degrees warmer in February if you go down to the Orlando area, but is 6 hours of drive time each way worth it? Go to Panama City and you can use that 12 hours of windshield time and get in two or three extra rounds of golf. Couple that with the money you’ll be saving on a round of golf and the decision is easy.