Florida's Camp Creek, a unique seaside creation
SEAGROVE, Fla. -- Some of the more charming aspects of northwest Florida are found in the string of seaside villages that punctuate the coast between Destin and Panama City Beach. Sunning themselves against the powdery beaches of the Gulf of Mexico these hamlets of angular and colorful homes along old Highway 30A - more Providence than Panhandle - seem almost too clean and perfect to be inhabited. They are places so quaint you find yourself asking, do people really live here?
This almost surreal environment is not an illusion - or maybe it is. Towns like Seaside, Rosemary Beach, WaterSound, and WaterColor are in fact master planned communities where every detail is blueprinted and the lifestyle flows through a choreograph of shops and avenues. There's more than a little irony that "The Truman Show," a movie about a man who's life is scripted for television, was filmed in Seaside, itself a produced, made-for-man creation.
If these towns didn't come about in the organic way that most traditionally do, if the city founders can be reached by telephone rather than researched in history books, they nevertheless reflect everything coastal about the region and are highly modernist visions of living at the beach. Marketing aside, communities such as these are evocative of a peaceful life in a brilliantly beautiful setting.
As an amenity to its concept towns of WaterSound and WaterColor, owner/developer St. Joe/Arvida of Jacksonville hired golf course architect Tom Fazio to construct Camp Creek Golf Club, which opened in spring 2001. Like its neighbors Camp Creek directly relates to the themes of its environment and seems quite at home amid what appear to be extensions of the oceanside dunes. It too, however, is a unique creation.
The course is built on a flat parcel of land originally covered with scrub vegetation, weedy pines, and flatwoods - not at all unlike the topography of a dozen or more nearby courses. While the site's natural landforms were neither invigorating nor distinctive, those were the qualities that St. Joe/Arvida wanted in its golf course.
According to Head Golf Professional Peter Burke the cost of transforming the site into a course worthy of its associated townships was roughly $18 million including infrastructure (roads, temporary clubhouse and maintenance facilities, etc.). When an owner is willing to spend money and shuffle earth around to achieve inspired golf, there are few better returns on the dollar than Tom Fazio.
Burke says the hiring of Fazio also didn't hurt in marketing the course. "They hired Tom Fazio for his reputation. His name brings a lot of interest to a course and that has paid off (at Camp Creek)."
Much of the spindly vegetation on the 550 acres set aside for Camp Creek was stripped away, particularly that to the south side of the property where the first nine was routed. Although the soil was already sand-based more fill was needed to shape the course and create its above grade features: elevated tees and green complexes (notably at numbers three, five, 12, and 13), backdrops to holes, and partitions between holes. This soil came from on-site excavations that were later filled in with water to form nine hazards coming in to play on ten holes.
The overall effect of this engineering is often eerie. Major sections of the course remain purposely raw, resembling a desolate moonscape as much as a golf course. Tendons of green fairway contrast sharply against the almost snow white ridges of sand. Sand washes dotted with mauve-topped pampas grass and spindly pines flank many of the holes. The ocean is over a quarter mile to the south but the atmosphere is more than a little linksy.
Camp Creek is foremost a course of visual prowess but it's good golf too. A blend and balance of fine short and long holes along with slippery, really moving green complexes gives the course an elastic playability. The fairways are wider than they seem and reward long, daring driving. Most greens are angled off the centerline to be receptive to approaches from a certain side of the fairways, usually the hazard side.
When the routing turns away from the low sandy character of the first nine to venture into a more wooded sector, the architect uses the opportunity to create his own brand intriguing holes. Nos. 12-14 form a gallery of clockwise playing holes around a man-made lake, beginning with a reachable par-5 with an elevated tabletop green. Thirteen might be the most memorable hole on the course, a 360-yard par-4 featuring a drive to a crumpled, angled landing area and a short pitch to an even higher (than 12) plateau green with false front. Fourteen is the postcard hole, a downhill medium length par-3 over water to a wide, shallow green with bisecting ridge.
Camp Creek seems to do a far better job of capturing the essence of the nearby Gulf than almost any other course in the region. It's relationship with the coastal setting is elemental to its design and playing characteristics with the broad fairways and open-fronted greens considerate of the coastal elements (however, while most of the greens are slightly elevated it remains questionable whether the soil is compact enough to accept the running shot).
For the time being Camp Creek is open to the public - they have no imminent timetable for going public. A second adjoining course is already staked and permitted, waiting to be green lighted.
Who's It For?
Those seeking one of the state's truly distinctive courses - few Florida layouts so accurately reflect the atmosphere of their setting as Camp Creek. The course is inspired in places and even when it loses some its native mojo as it turns inland toward the sandy pine forest the course doesn't let up on solid golf challenges.
Where To Stay
As exhilarating as Camp Creek can be it's perhaps a greater treat to stay at its affiliated hotel, WaterColor Inn, a 60-room boutique resort designed by architect David Rockwell. It's almost surprising to find something so hip as this airy, multi-colored Inn is in this neck of the state, but hip, airy, and cool it is. The large rooms overlook the dunes and the Gulf and are equipped with dual-head walk-in showers with outward looking window, and entertainment systems with VCR and DVD player. Call 850-534-5000 for more information.
Where To Eat
WaterColor Inn's sheik restaurant, Fish Out of Water would be a wonderful place to start. The underwater theme of the restaurant and the view out over the water creates the appropriate ambiance for fare that includes a sushi bar and fresh local seafood.
For an original experience try Sandors European Cuisine a quick jog down Highway 30 from WaterColor Inn in Seagrove Beach. One tiny room, maybe 20 chairs tops, is all there is but Sandor Zambori, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu with one of the most colorful pasts you could want in a chef, creates remarkable, innovative flavors in his tiny kitchen. There's nothing like it anywhere near.
Camp Creek is located between U.S. 98 and Highway 30A, between Rosemary Beach and WaterColor.
Camp Creek allows walking and has only one prolonged hike between holes.
February 3, 2003