Regatta Bay Golf and Country Club: Straighten Up and Fly Right

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

DESTIN, FL - Sometimes to stand out in a crowd you have to wear something loud. The same is true for golf courses. To catch the attention of the typical American player, a golf course often needs to be flashy and attractive, especially in locations ripe with public and semi-private clubs.

Regatta Bay Golf & Country Club in Destin is no exception. There are now nearly 1,100 golf holes on Florida's Emerald Coast, an area along the Gulf of Mexico encompassing Destin between Panama City Beach to Pensacola, with more added each year. Drawing the visiting golfer to one course over another can be a fierce business and a lackluster course is likely to be on the outside looking in. A flamboyant golf course such as Regatta Bay, on the other hand, can do wonders for marketing and recognition.

As architect Robert Walker says, "You've got to try to outdo the guy next door."

Walker, a resident of Neptune Beach and former associate with Palmer Course Design from 1974 to 1986, designed Regatta Bay to be eye-catching and entertaining. No two holes better demonstrate that than the par four 7th and the par five 18th. Both showcase greens encompassed in elaborate bunkering perched on bulkheads over reflective water hazards. It's no accident either that these two holes are readily visible to traffic on busy Highway 98 that cuts through the heart of Destin. The drive-by impression could not be more exclamatory.

"The owner wanted every hole to be unique, challenging, and dramatic," Walker says, noting that the goal was to create a course with no two holes alike and something new presented at every tee. "I can't understand why some (architects) continue to build the same holes over and over."

While Walker's Regatta Bay comes across as a Florida-style exhibition of flair (which means numerous wetland crossings, plenty of dense underbrush, stock water hazards, and bunkers galore) it's not all just window dressing. The presentation of these obstacles can be severe to the player not on top of his or her game, while the advanced player also has full hands as the 73.8 rating and 148 slope attests, especially considering it tips out at only 6,864 yards.

The recurring theme at Regatta Bay is the omnipresent wetlands. These pre-existing swampy areas must be directly traversed no less than nine times, most frequently with the tee shot.

"We had an abundance of wetland and wetland crossings," Walker explains. "They were the biggest issue we faced. Every wetland had to be closely delineated and we couldn't go into them or put any fill in them. It was a challenge to work them into the design." In fact, he says, if there were any more wetland areas on the site, "the course would probably be too penal for the average golfer."

As it stands the wetlands are implemented almost exclusively as cross hazards. As to why they weren't used in different orientations, Walker says, "I actually believe that they're more forgiving to play across. The wetlands are really nothing more than intimidating."

"You do have to play over (them) on a number of holes but then we used water and bunkers to create diagonal hazards. I really think the diagonal hazards offer the most interesting and strategic challenge because it varies depending on your own game. You can choose how you want to play across it."

There are seven such influential water hazards affecting play on nine holes. Additionally, Walker has intermittently marked his landscape with massive freeform bunkers. For many of these bunkers - busy with fingers, capes, and bays - will immediately call to mind something from the George Thomas school of trapping. For others they will simply elevate blood pressure.

Such highly detailed sand hazards, however, are expensive to maintain on a daily basis. Walker says the owner, Destin-based developer Legendary, Inc., and particularly Dwight Lorenzen and Peter Bos (one of the original developers of Sandestin Resort), were willing to pay the expenditure in order to keep the impressionistic bunkers. Walker, in turn, handcrafted them to provide a vivid and lasting impression.

"My bunkering is based on maintenance and what the owner wants to achieve both visually and strategically. I personally design each and every bunker, from marking it on the ground to building it so that it's exactly as we want it. I'm there when we cut it and when we edge it, and every bunker is there for a reason."

"In this case, when you're an upscale daily fee course, if you don't provide those kinds of bells and whistles you've missed an opportunity. If I could, I'd do bunkers like that on every course I build."

While the maintenance for this type of bunkering may be more costly than others, that's the price of doing business in a competitive market. Yet overall the budget for Regatta Bay was relatively small, just $4.5 million.

The routing makes liberal use of the development's 500-plus acres, stretched with holes that border Highway 98 to the south to the 11th green and 12th tee that near Choctawhatchee Bay on the north. Though most golfers will be drawn (or repelled) by the oft-occurring hazards and bunkers of Regatta Bay, those who look closely will find a variety of holes, if not a great variety of presentation.

Standouts such as the gut-wrenching 191-yard 8th that mandates a full carry across a lake if one hopes to putt for birdie and the three-shot 18th snaking right around another lake (only the longest of the long can carry the second shot over the hazard to the green) are certainly the conversation pieces. Others, such as the short bunkerless 14th (308 to 352 yards with a green tucked behind mounds) are likely to appeal more to that traditionalist set.

Criticisms of the course, however, concern not only the repetitive forced carries but also the structure of many of the fairways. Though Walker insists there is ample room to land the ball, many fairways are (out of necessity) built up above grade. Off-line shots that flirt with the edges of the course almost invariably kick off the side slopes into the brush that plays as a continuous lateral hazard. Of course the object is to keep the ball in the fairway, but when borderline shots are repeatedly punished in this fashion, Regatta Bay can be most frustrating.

The upside is that only two or three greens possess fronting hazards so if the player can get off the tee safely, the chance to score well increases exponentially.

Regatta Bay Golf & Country Club
465 Regatta Bay Blvd.
Destin, FL 32541
Phone: (850)650-7800
Tee Times: (850)337-8080

Who's It For?

Advanced players who like to play the aerial game and those who drive the ball accurately. Also, any golfers who desire a well-conditioned course with top-level service and a full-amenity clubhouse will appreciate Regatta Bay.


Opened: 1998
Architect: Robert Walker
Par: 36-36-72
Yardage: 6,864 yards; 6,490; 5,910; 5,092


Regatta Bay is located just east of the Destin strip on Highway 98. The entrance is to the north side of the highway.


Green fees are $114 before noon, $89 between noon and 4pm, and $59 after 4pm.


Walking is not permitted, nor would it be an enjoyable walk due to the space between holes and the routing's numerous road crossings.


Conditions: 3.5 (out of 5)
Scenery: 2.5
Layout: 2.5
Par 3's: 3
Par 4's: 3.5
Par 5's: 3
Service: 4
Practice Facilities: 3
Club House/Pro Shop: 4
Pace of Play: 3
Value: 2.5
Overall Rating: 3

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in,,,, 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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment