The Marriott at Bay Point sits in a 1,100-acre wildlife sanctuary on the edge of St. Andrews Bay and offers 36 holes of very good golf - the Nicklaus course and the Meadows course. The Marriott has 320 individually appointed guestrooms including 60 one and two bedroom golf villas, a spa, restaurant, and other amenities.
The Meadow Course epitomizes golf in the classic country club tradition - very friendly, some narrow dogleg fairways, good conditions, plenty of water, and numerous bunkers - all of which make for an enjoyable relaxing round. But we came to play the Nicklaus Course which is the only Nicklaus designed course in Northwest Florida. The course has plateaus, uncharacteristic elevation changes unique to the Florida Panhandle region, stunning panoramic views of the Grand Lagoon and St. Andrews Bay, and an excellent layout that is both fun and challenging. The Nicklaus Course meanders through the resort, along the bay, past some beautiful homes, across wetlands and along the natural terrain of majestic scrub oaks, towering Florida pine trees, sandy-white waste areas and salt-water marshes.
Apparently, the original design was very challenging and the typical resort duffers would whine and complain after their round and most likely not return to play again. As such the Nicklaus course was completely redesigned in 2004-2005. According to Gary Nicklaus, the redesign was to "add playability where it needed it but to keep the difficulty where it belonged and remove the mystery from your next shot but keep the strategy in every golf shot." We don't know what the course was like before, but they seem to have exceeded their goal with the redesign. In fact, Travel & Leisure Golf named Bay Point as one of the most worthy redesigns and notable debuts in 2005.
The course is very playable for all skill levels, but still very challenging requiring excellent course management and strategic shot making. You'll find lots of risk/reward opportunities tempting you to go-for-it, plenty of water (12 lakes plus the St. Andrews Bay), and some very unique and memorable holes. Take #5 for example, this signature hole is the #2 handicap at 398 yards. Yeah, it's short but your tee shot has to carry 190 to 230 yards over a salt water marsh to a relatively small landing zone - undershot it and you're swimming and a long shot puts you in the trees or in St. Andrews Bay. Survive that with a relatively good shot and you have a 125 to 228 yard carry over another large salt water marsh to an oblong landing zone and green protected by the Bay and trees. Don't ask how many balls we lost and we weren't playing from the tips! A costly but fun and memorable hole that we all wanted to play again.
We played in late December and found the fairways to be in excellent condition and the rough was cut thin making it playable. Most of the fairways are wide and sweeping but your tee shot needs to be accurate and land in a certain area to give you the proper angle onto the green. There is lots of water but it's not that difficult to avoid, unless your really spray the ball. There aren't a lot of fairway bunkers but there a few huge natural sand areas that can cause a problem. A lot of dirt and sand must have been moved to create mounds, some rolling and sloping fairways, and some uncharacteristic elevation changes. Take the really fun #8 for example - a short 393 yard par 4 with an uphill blind shot to a dog leg right downhill green. What makes this hole fun, and challenging, is not only the blind tee shot and the elevation changes but the wanta-go-for-it opportunity where you're tempted to want to fly a huge natural sand area to cut off the dog leg or try a huge slice to carry the hill and roll down the backside and very close to the green. Miss and you're in the trap, over the left side into the trees or brush, or in a fairway bunker. Survive that and you've got a fun second shot to a downhill green which is surrounded on one side by water (of course the green slopes back to the water) and by a tall hill (in Florida?) which slopes to the trap and green.
Speaking of the greens, they were also in excellent condition when we played and very challenging with plenty of both slope and undulation. Most seemed above average size, some had a slope back to the green, and others a severe slope off the green. Most of the 42 soft white sand traps are protecting the greens. Corporate & Incentive Travel awarded Bay Point with the prestigious "Greens of Distinction" award and a customer survey rated Bay Point as "Best Greens in Bay County." Practice putting before you head out or you'll be whining about how hard the greens are to one or two putt.
Although challenging, the Nicklaus course is well worth the money and if you're in the area a must play. The Marriott also has a reasonably priced Stay & Play Package and if you look hard you might find some e-specials to save you some money on your round of golf.
Rates: $89.00 to $109.00
Service is excellent - the staff is freiendly and helpful and the cart lady shows up frequently and just when your drink needs refreshing!
Here's How Texas Outside Determines the Scorecard Rating
The Texas Outside rating scale ranges from 1 to 10 – a perfect 10 course would be something like this: links along a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean and bordered by tall trees; lush fairways on rolling hills with lots of natural hazards; water (which is crystal clear) on most of the holes; immaculate greens (but they are undulating and tough); lots of variety and character (each hole is completely different and includes blind shots, elevation changes, doglegs, and significant challenges); perfectly manicured traps with the whitest and prettiest sand you’ve ever seen; a nice club house with great food and a 19th hole; a GPS; plenty of beverage carts or your own cooler and ice; and it only costs $40 bucks! What this means is that you probably won’t find any 10s in Texas – try Cabo San Lucas, Pebble Beach, or some of the Hawaii courses!
All of the above determines the overall score for the golf course. In other words, we like courses that are pretty, fun, very challenging with a lot of variety, and fairways and greens in excellent condition – all for $40. We also tend to play the courses that are affordable for the masses, which means in the $30 to $80 range. We rate hard and we haven’t found a 10 in Texas yet – don’t worry we haven’t given up and we’re still looking.