Kelly Plantation Golf Club is billed as “The Crown Jewel of the Emerald Coast” and for once the course matches the hype. Located in Destin on Florida’s “Redneck Riviera" along the Choctawhatchee Bay, Kelly Plantation is the course that Fred Couples designed with Gene Bates, who served with Jack Nicklaus design in the mid 1980s.
Kelly Plantation is laid out on the site of Mattie and Coleman Kelly’s former turpentine plantation and the 7099-yard course opened for play in 2003. With water everywhere, you’d imagine Kelly Plantation to be an exacting test but with generously wide fairways, the challenge centres on the contoured greens where plenty of strokes can quickly slip away, especially on the massive, double greened 7th/11th.
Avoid the “Couples” tees unless you are feeling on top of your game and choose the Plantation, Palmetto, Sterling or Magnolia tees, named after local flora. And keep an eye open for drilled holes at the base of some of the trees on the property, these are old turpentine drain holes.
Kelly Plantation is a Fred Couples design and is on the site of an old turpentine plantation. The first hole welcomes you in and for some reason the par 5 dogleg left 2nd is the number one handicap hole. It is about 500 yards and while there is plenty of sand and trees on the left, 3 mediocre shots should give you a chance at birdie. I will give Couples credit on the par 3 3rd for leveraging a large waste bunker carry instead of the prototypical Florida par 3 water carry that he did use on 8 and 15. For you eye candy golfers, the par 4 4th is the signature hole with a view of Choctawhatchee Bay. The 5th is a par 4 with a water carry to a tight fairway. The par 5 6th is about the same distance as the 2nd with some tight landing areas. Sphincters may pucker on the par 4 7th and 9th. Essentially opposite hand par 4 holes, the 7th has water all the way down the right side to a well protected green. The 9th has water all the way down the left and the green does extend quite a bit into the hazard. If the pin is left, don’t be stupid.
The back side has 3 par 3s and 3par 5s and opens with a short par 5. It is tight and has a large bunker but I do not understand how it can be ranked the 2nd toughest hole on the course. The 11th is another tight par 4 which shares a green with the 7th hole that actually has a pot bunker in the middle. The 13th is a more visually appealing par 5 dogleg right. Favor the left side, big hitters can get home in two but water lurks left. The par 4 a4th is just a longer version of the 7th. The par 4 16th is real tight. Right is better of the tee, you need two really good shots on this hole to make par. The 17th is a so what par 3 and 18 is a good par 5 finishing hole. Possible to get home in two, but you need to be left off the tee with a well protected green with plenty of water.
I have mixed emotions about Kelly Plantation. When is first opened the fanfare was overwhelming. Each time I play it my enthusiasm wains. Having said that, I would play it again, if you paid
A great course if looking for somewhere to play in Destin. A Fred Couples design which I found a lot of fun to play. I've played it a few times and the conditions are always great with pure and receptive greens.
I played Kelly Plantation last month while visiting Tallahassee, largely due to the fact that it’s rated the #1 course in Florida by Golf Advisor. Last October I was at Streamsong and I can tell you now that Kelly Plantation is not the best course in Florida and it’s frankly an insult not only to Streamsong but also Seminole which I played last year for the first time. Locally, I actually preferred Indian Bayou to Kelly Plantation.
I’ll be honest I loathe playing golf through residential developments especially when the $ rate is north of $100. There’s nothing at Kelly P to warrant its current high ranking on this site. The greens were like concrete and wouldn’t hold even the crispest approach shot. I’m afraid I can’t recommend it and was disappointed after hoping for so much more. What on earth is Golf Advisor thinking? Give me any of the courses at Orange County, Sawgrass, Doral or Disney ahead of this one.