The Destin drive-in market isn’t known for great golf sites or great golf courses. Real estate is king here, and the only reason golf courses exist at all is to help sell homes.
Even though Kelly Plantation is one of the more sophisticated planned developments in the area, that’s barely a saving grace. I usually respect what architect Gene Bates does, but his work here is clearly a case of having to serve two masters.
No architect would route a course this way on their own volition, with holes spanning over a mile from one end of the property to the other, circling without aim through forests and residential pockets. The tradeoff, apparently, was a small amount of shorefront exposure along Choctawhatchee Bay, but the only hole that really gets near the water is one of the dullest on the course.
There are some interesting moments, including the 6th, 13th and 18th, all par-5’s that ping left and right off bunkers as you advance toward their greens, and a few of the par-3’s (3, 8 and 17) require expert shots to get all the way to back pins tucked behind bunkers. But there’s also a double green connecting two holes for no obvious reason other than an outdated photo op, and it’s difficult to get past the lackluster land and absence of any kind of cohesion connectivity throughout the course.
Fewer forced carries and slightly wider fairways means Kelly Plantation plays a few strokes easier than its neighbor, Regatta Bay, but it could also use more of that course’s panache. Its reputation for strong conditioning and some nice surface contour around the greens keep rounds from being too much of a disappointment, but overall there’s little here you can’t find at dozens of upscale real estate courses in Florida. (85)
Destin/Panama City Beach
Architects: Gene Bates, with Fred Couples