Lost Key Golf Club is a little bit Pensacola and little bit Melbourne

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

PERDIDO KEY, Fla. - Grass. Sand-filled bunkers. Eighteen holes and 18 tees. Trees, water, wind.

There are wide variations in the presentation of these ingredients but until someone shocks the system and completely breaks away from 150 years ofconformity, it seems like true originality in golf design is obsolete. It'sall been done before.

Most architects, unless staked with a $50 million budget, are better offeschewing attempts at innovation and submitting instead to the peculiaritiesof a given site, working with what's already there. If there's any moneyleft over after grading, irrigation, drainage, and grassing they're free toenliven the design with some personalized shaping, but unless your name isDesmond Muirhead there's little to gain in trying to reinvent the wheel (andeven Muirhead was just playing with shapes).

Perhaps great minds think alike, or perhaps classic combinations are beyondtweaking (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon and a grilled, fatty cut of beef), butcertain landforms are so suited to particular styles of design it doesn'tmake sense not to pair them.

At Lost Key Golf Club in Perdido Key, Fla., near the Alabama border, a forested and sandy site beckoned for something more classic than avant-garde. Arnold Palmer Golf Design responded by using the indigenous elements as keys to create an utterly appropriate course that's a little bit Pensacola and little bit Melbourne.


The property's 150 acres initially consisted of ambient wetlands and vegetation interspersed by swaths of powdery sand, the kind of inland terrain common throughout northwest Florida and the Gulf states.

"That's exactly what about 90 percent of the site was like," says Ed Seay, Senior Partner at Palmer Course Design referring to the tight acreage and imposing vegetation. "You have to have a compass and a chainsaw to get to it, but for the people who know that part of the Panhandle it is a very popular area because it's not that grown up yet."

Limited in their ability to alter the setting, the design team was forcedto route the course around and between the restrictive wetlands. Five yearslater many players overlook the elegant succession of holes and cite theincessantly narrow playing corridors - some so wiry they demand iron shotsoff the tee - as Lost Key's most notorious attribute. It's a fact not loston Seay.

"The golf course, to me, is a bit tougher than we wanted it to be," he says."We were limited, in width, in what we could do in the fairways because ofthe environmental restrictions and the wetlands, [but] I think over the yearsthe golf course will in fact subside into those wet areas and they (theholes) will become wider."


For others, Lost Key's character emanates from the sexy green complexes andbunkering. The low, whispy sand ridges that occur at intervals throughoutsections of the second nine, similar to those near the Gulf of Mexico only aquarter mile to the south, help to give the course its coastal distinction.

"That area was just wonderful to work with because of the pure white sand.That's an old beach ridge sand dune. I wish the whole site had been thatway," Seay recalls.

"When you get sand dunes like that it hands you the creative design youwant. All you've got to do is nestle it in there. It's very much the idealkind of situation you want because the bunkers take on the look of the dunesand that's what we were definitely trying to keep."

The green complexes take their cues from the appearance of the dunes even if they don't connect to them directly.

The irregular cuts, white sand, highflashed faces, and smoothly curved brows of the bunkers, along with theinterjection of the cut nearly into the putting surface (such as at thepar-5 first and the par-3 13th) and courageous green contours (particularthe multitudinous par-3 second, par-4 third, and par-3 17th) that transitionssmoothly from the fairway combine for a presentation reminiscent of the SandBelt courses of Australia.

In fairness, other Sand Belt comparisons fall short. The dead flat land andlack of fairway width provides little option off the tee, and the prevalentwetlands and resistance to driver recovery makes Lost Key often more penalthan strategic.

Seay is not particularly aware of an Australian theme in the bunkering,either. "I don't know that it's a theme as much as it is a natural lookbecause of the dunes," he says. "If you look at the bunkers you see inScotland and Ireland and England, particularly among the coastal areas, theydon't look constructed. They're flashed up where the wind blows them up orthey're blown out-the bunkers can actually change shape over a year.".

Final Thoughts

Bunker inspirations aside, there's little quibbling that Lost Key is aproduct of an environment that displays similarities to several familiarmodels. For their part Seay and crew matched the signifiers with a faithfulyet aggressive representational design. What was surrendered in width wascompensated for in large, convulsive greens and flashed bunkering. Even thetight holes have a strong stylistic presence, witnessed in the intimatechapel-like settings of the par-4 10th and par-3 11th, prohibitively thinbut lovely golf holes.

Note: WCI Communities of Southwest Florida purchased Lost Key in the fall of2003, the company's first acquisition in the region. Tentative plans includecompletion of an aborted development surrounding the course and possibly anearby high-rise resort or condominium structure.


Opened: 1997
Architect: Arnold Palmer Course Design
Par: 36-36-72
Yardage: 4,936 to 6,810 yards, 4 sets of markers

Where To Stay and Eat

Lost Key is one of ten courses belonging to the Gulf Shores Golf Association (the only Florida venue), an organization promoting golf and leisure accommodations in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach region of Alabama.

GSGA partners with 15,000 local resort and hotel rooms, many of which aresteps away from the region's 32-miles of beachfront. The area is also hometo some of the country's best fresh seafood, fishing, and outdoor activity.For information on package deals or accommodations for Lost Key and otherGSGA courses such as Kiva Dunes, call (888) 815-1902 or click onwww.golfgulfshores.com.

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

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