Luxury Golf on Florida's Forgotten Coast
Maybe you’re like me, and you like to swing the clubs while you’re on vacation. If that’s the case, then St. James Bay in Carabelle is the golf course you must try on your trip to St. George Island. St. James Bay Golf Club is located about 30 miles (~40 minutes) from the St. George Island lighthouse at the center of the island. If you have taken your clubs all the way to your St. George Island vacation home, then make that 40 minute drive to St. James Bay…it’s definitely worth it!
I’d like to provide a little background for our readers. I’ve been playing golf for almost my whole life. My brother and I competed in the Pitch, Putt and Drive competition in Pensacola when we were six and five respectively. I played golf in high school at North Florida Christian in high school (my senior year was the first time our school had ever made the state finals…where we finished dead last…BY A MILE!) :) I then walked onto a D1 golf team for my sophomore and junior years of college.
All of that golf background means nothing anymore. With three kids under 10, I rarely get to play anymore. And let me tell ya…it shows when I play at St. James Bay! If you’re not hitting the ball well at St. James, it will show…as soon as the first hole. St. James is the epitome of target golf. If you’re hitting the ball well, you can score well - the greens are receptive, they typically roll true and the course is not overly long…even from the tips, where my brother and I typically play. If you’re not hitting the ball well though, you better bring a lot of balls. There are at least twelve forced carries at St. James. I’ll admit it - I’ve lost more than a dozen balls at St. James on multiple occasions.
St. James is not only the closest golf course to St. George Island, it’s the area’s only Audubon Signature Sanctuary golf course. The course has carts equipped with GPS, a full-service grill and is open to the public with very affordable rates (the lowest rates I’ve ever seen for a course with GPS on their carts). Audubon International recognizes member golf courses that demonstrate their commitment to the environment by meeting standards for protecting the environment, conserving natural resources and providing wildlife habitats. There are birds and animals all over the place at St. James! There are even alligators! (Please note… signs like the one below are there for a reason. I almost stepped on a little 4-foot baby gator on #9 a few years ago!)
If you can survive the first six holes (including the difficult 4th and 5th holes), you come to first par 5 on the course at #7. This is one of my favorite holes on the course. It is a dogleg right with bunkers on the right off of the tee then water down the entire right side for your second and third shots. If you can hit a good drive over the edge of the bunkers on the right, you have a legitimate shot at a birdie or maybe even an eagle. The green is surrounded by four bunkers and if you hit it right and it doesn’t go into one of the three bunkers on the right side, then your ball is likely going for a swim. It sounds tough, but #7, along with the par-5 8th, are probably the best opportunities for birdie on the front nine.
On our last visit, I played with my dad and my nine-year old came along to ride in the cart. After finishing the front nine (and losing several balls), we decided to stop by the Crooked River Grill to have some lunch. We don’t typically stop for lunch, but this time we did and really enjoyed it. I had the Chicken Philly sandwich with fries and Kaylee had the chicken fingers and fries. As you can see, she’s really happy because there is a lot of food on that plate for a kid’s meal (even after she's eaten several fries)! You can check out the menu for the Crooked River Grill here.
The back nine continues one of the easiest stretches of the golf course. Number 10 is a short par 4 and #11 is a par 3 with a large green (again over another forced carry). But when you arrive at #13, things take a turn because I think #13 is the hardest hole on the golf course. It’s the longest par 4 on the course at 433 yards from the tips. Though the fairway looks narrow from the tee it’s actually fairly wide. You really need to hug the right side of the fairway (where there are several very tall pines) in order to have a decent shot at the green. If you don’t hit it down the right side, you could leave yourself with an uphill second shot in excess of 200 yards over another forced carry. It’s a very difficult hole, and I’ve lost many balls off the tee trying to hit a big drive.
Number 15 is the most unique hole on the course. It’s a double dogleg par 5. The ideal tee shot is over the pot bunker that you see from the tee to get as close to the edge of the fairway as possible (despite being a par 5, you do not want to hit driver on this hole!). If you’re close to the left edge of the fairway, you can gamble and go for the green. It’s about a 200-230 yard shot over marsh to get to the green. It’s a really tough shot, but I must admit that it is an awesome feeling to hit this green in two!
The last par 3 on the course is the beautiful 17th. It’s one of the shortest par 3s on the course, but you must carry the water and bunkers (that always look perfect with that powder white sand) to hit the green.
The par-5 18th is a really tough finishing hole. It’s the longest par 5 on the course and has water running up the entire left side of the hole. There is a large fairway bunker that affects your tee shot and then you must place your second shot between three other fairway bunkers. The green is tough too. You know you’ve had a good day when you can finish with a par!
St. James is an absolutely beautiful golf course. As I would say for any Florida course, I strongly recommend playing in the spring to get the best course conditions. It is hard for any golf course in Florida to sustain strong conditions in the midst of summer when temperatures are approaching 100 degrees. The last time we played was in September and you can see a few brown spots from the hot weather. It didn’t stop us from having a great time (and shooting a really high score!).
Have you played St. James on your trip to St. George Island? If you have, tell us about it in the comment section below. If you haven’t, you need to go check out St. James Bay in Carabelle. You won’t be disappointed!