St. Joe/Arvida gets it right by taking environment, design to heart

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The old axiom around here is "so goes St. Joe, so goes Northwest Florida." Considering the Jacksonville based land baron's current direction, the going is getting good.

Since purchasing community development powerhouse Arvida in 1997, St. Joe has authored two of north Florida's most environmentally sensitive, progressively designed communities: SouthWood in Tallahassee and WaterColor in Seagrove Beach.

Together, the communities are reinventing residential development in the Sunshine State.

SouthWood, a 3,200-acre community situated just 10 minutes from Tallahassee's revitalized downtown, features traditionally designed homes and trademark moss-draped oaks. The development caught the eye of Southern Living and earned its prestigious Idea House for 2003. Now, SouthWood has started a trend that is changing the face of development in the Capital City.

WaterColor -- three hours to the west and just a chip shot from Panama City -- is a 499-acre coastal resort and residential community snuggled along south Walton County's Scenic Highway 30A. WaterColor is as chic as SouthWood is cozy. Its pastel colored buildings, angular homes and shiny tin roofs project a surreal, modern aurora hardly in keeping with traditional notions of the Panhandle.

While both communities cater to full-time residents, the traveling golfer won't be disappointed with what St Joe and Arvida bring to the daily fee golf table. The centerpiece of SouthWood is a Gene Bates/Fred Couples designed course that has single-handedly bolstered Tallahassee's spot on the "Emerald Coast" golf map. Meanwhile, WaterColor proudly associates itself with Camp Creek Golf Club, a Tom Fazio designed "core course" heralded as one of the state's best new upscale courses.

"We believe all our major masterplans must have golf at or near the core," says Timothy Edmond, President of Arvida's Capital Region. "Golf fosters the values we want our communities to have and the environmental goals we have as a company."

Such conscientious stewards of precious land aren't easy to find, especially in Florida. St. Joe and Arvida place a priority on environmental sensitivity -- a refreshing attribute in a business that sorely needs to re-evaluate its motives.

For decades, golf course development in Florida was inexorably tied to cookie cutter residential subdivisions created with the sole purpose of selling lots to frostbitten, northern retirees. The end result was an urban and suburban landscape devoid of character and geographic orientation.

St. Joe/Arvida turned this troubling trend on its face by hiring renowned urban designers and land planners to focus on developing communities with a "sense of place," as the buzz phrase goes. Residential designs reflect the character and feel of the area, and the vast majority of projects include well-conceived retail centers, parks, paths and schools.

"Some developers look five or 10 years down the road, but St. Joe designs for your grandchildren's children," says Will Hopkins, director of golf at Camp Creek. "Everything St. Joe does is for the long run."

Including the golf.

Selling tee times in Florida is like peddling cold beer and hotdogs at a baseball game -- the market is always there. But instead of rolling out run-of-the-mill golf courses at SouthWood and Camp Creek, St. Joe/Arvida contracted with two of the industry's top names in Fazio and Bates, to create facilities that will stand the test of time.

Fazio, considered one of the top designers of his time, was given "free roam" at Camp Creek to create a course devoid of housing and commercial development. The result is a stark, raw layout routed through a 1,023-acre pine plantation. To replicate the region's rolling terrain and natural dune lines, Fazio and his shaping crew moved some 1,000,000 cubic yards of earth (suprising, considering its rustic feel).

"There's been so much money and time put into this golf course you could never sell it for a profit," jokes Hopkins. "Every last detail was planned for the long run and a co-existence with the environment."

Indeed, from Camp Creek's maintenance building, which recycles its wash water, to the course's recent Audubon certification for protection of 432-acres of natural wetlands, environmental considerations have taken precedent over everything except the quality of the design.

"All things considered this is what you might call a player's golf course," Hopkins says. "It is a strong test of golf routed through an amazing piece of land. It is by no means a pushover."

Plans are in the works for a second Fazio designed course at Camp Creek that would cater to golfers in search of a more traditional Florida resort golf experience. And it doesn't stop there. The design firm of PGA Tour player Davis Love III is working on community-based, six-hole course at St. Joe/Arvida's WaterSound development. An additional nine-hole course, also designed by Love III, is slated to open in 2006.

Back in Tallahassee, St. Joe/Arvida will lean on SouthWood to stay the course in the years to come. While there are no plans for an additional course, Edmond isn't ruling out a future Arvida golf trail.

"With golf oriented communities all along North Florida I think you will eventually see a golf trail made up of Arvida courses," Edmond says. "We try to appeal to a wide variety of golfers, from our residents to travelers."

St. Joe/Arvida best bets

Stay and Play -- the WaterColor Inn: This seaside, boutique inn at the center of WaterColor's vibrant retail district is one of the truly unique resort experiences in north Florida. Designed by New York artist David Rockwell, the WaterColor Inn is equal parts bed and breakfast, breezy Caribbean resort and full service luxury hotel.

Rooms feature central walk-in showers with views of the Gulf of Mexico, plump beds that swallow you whole, and other subtle amenities like high speed Internet access, DVD players and cherry wood mini-bars. Golf packages with Camp Creek are available (the Inn is located six miles west of the course) and a shuttle is available to whisk you back and forth.

Evening entertainment - Red Bar and Picolo's Restaurant: Located in nearby Grayton Beach, this funky jazz bar is home to the late night crowd and a living legend - Red Bar Jazz Band drummer John "Jabo" Starks. Starks spent the late 1960s and early '70s touring with James Brown and the Famous Flames. Just how good are Starks' chops? The house percussionist was cited by Modern Drummer Magazine as one of the "Godfathers of Funk drumming."

Late evening hangout - The 3-Thirty-1: When Jabo and the boys wind it down around 10 p.m., head for what most locals refer to as the "Blue Bar" on Santa Rosa Beach. The 3-Thirty-1 (named for Highway 331) sports a tasty new look courtesy of Red Bar purveyor Oliver Petite, and often cranks its vibe into the wee hours.

Date night dinner - Fish Out of Water: The FOW is located in the WaterColor Inn and effectively does for seafood what the WCI does for small luxury hotels. Casual chic is the self-described atmosphere and Chef Jason Brumm has garnered quite a local following with his masterful twists on traditional dishes. The Grouper, served Thai style with a crab mango spring roll and lobster coconut broth, was our favorite.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Santa Rosa Beach

    mike wrote on: Mar 25, 2012

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    Reply