You’ll find Shark’s Tooth Golf Club 20 miles to the north of Panama City – virtually next door to Camp Creek – along the shores of Lake Powell, Florida’s largest Coastal Dune Lake. It will come as no surprise that the Great White Shark, Greg Norman, designed the course, which opened for play in 2002.
Coastal Dune Lakes are not only shallow, but also they are rare and quite unique as their freshwater content lies incredibly close to salty seawater. Developments that abut these environments naturally require sensitivity and Shark’s Tooth was awarded Silver Signature Sanctuary Status by Audubon International. The list of environmental accomplishments required to comply and subsequently receive this award are as long as your arm and it’s an honour that Shark's Tooth share with only a few other Floridian golf courses.
With five holes routed along the shores of Lake Powell, fairways flanked by oaks and pines and wooden bridges crossing protected wetlands, Shark’s Tooth is quite unique. “The site allowed us to use a number of loblolly pines and oaks to frame holes, and, on a number of holes, sand ridges were retained as definition,” said Norman. “These sand ridges add lot of character to the golf course, a characteristic that is often missing on Florida courses. The entire site gives you the feel of a retreat.”The 7,209-yard Shark’s Tooth is part of an 800-acre residential community and the routing makes excellent use of delightful rolling ground, which is ideal for golf but unusual for Florida, especially as the location of the golf course is so close to the Gulf Coast. “This site, as much or more than any other we have had to work with, allows us to follow my long-standing mandate of taking a 'minimalist' approach to the design.” Norman commented. “With the natural undulation of this property, we moved very little earth, which is always an environmental benefit.”
For whatever reason I don't know why Greg Norman has not gotten more attention for a number of the courses he has created. Clearly, Norman has benefited from his former playing days to get a number of high profile projects throughout the globe. But, just because one has plenty of high level contacts one still needs to deliver and demonstrate the wherewithal to produce designs that hit the mark.
His effort at the aptly named "Shark's" Tooth is a quality effort. Much of that rests upon Norman who smartly opted NOT to get carried away and add a whole slew of inane inclusions robbing the course of its natural beauty.
In short -- Norman carried out a "less is more" operation and the end result is that Shark's Tooth succeeds very well. With Florida literally dead flat, for the most part, there are architects who believe they must "create" more "definition" and add a whole slew of elements spicing up the final result. Such inane thinking usually results in hideous results which have a variety of items sticking out quite badly. The key aspect that makes Shark's Tooth a quailty course is how using what the site had already in existence paid off very nicely.
For the golf cognoscenti it's unlikely many will venture to this part of Florida given the amount of hype emanating out of such locales as Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and southwest and southeast Florida. Truth be told, for those who are beachgoers the quality of the sand and the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico makes for some of the best land/water connections in America -- save for when menacing hurricanes are hurdling around.
The facility is part of a residential development but wisely an overall land plan assured golf received top consideration. Make no mistake about it -- there is housing -- but it's shielded vary capably so that the golf experience isn't fundamentally compromised.
Norman designed holes through existing corridors -- with trees flanking -- but with sufficient width almost always included. The bunkering dimension is also used sparingly but with sound placements. There's also the movement of the holes Norman has eschewed -- rather smartly I might add -- the desire to apply the basic (yet always boring) razor cut straight ahead mowing pattern. The holes have movement therefore shot-making skills are accentuated.
The opening two holes get the muscles warmed up and one had best score low quickly because the stretch form hole 3-7 is very strong. Among the standout holes in all of The Sunshine States comes with the par-5 6th -- a dog-leg left involving Lake Powell and has an assortment of risk/reward challenges. At 529 yards the hole allows for those strong enough and accurate enough to go for the green in two blows. But unlike so many par-5's that provide for conventional and fairly routine lay-ups -- the 6th does no such thing. You can't let your guard down and any score from 3-8 is certainly in play. The long par-4 7th that follows is also brilliant. The longer the tee shot the need for greater accuracy is needed as the fairway tapers in from both sides. The green is also well done -- no bunkers and a narrow deep green calling upon a finely played approach. Norman smartly changes gear with the short par-4 8th -- be mindful if the pin is placed in the far right hand corner -- a solitary bunker is there to grab timid shots with a landing area that is quite particular.
The inward half is routed very well. Instead of a clockwise motion as the front -- you go in a counter clockwise direction. In each case Lake Powell enters the picture in the middle section of each side. Holes 13 thru 15 each play near enough to the Lake to provide a scenic and quality golf challenge. The ending includes two stout holes -- the 17th unlike so many par-5 holes is not a readily birdie hole by any means. The closing 18th is a muscle par-4 of 460 yards that draws the round to a fine conclusion.
I was tempted to give Shark's Tooth a five ball rating but there are a few greens, while good, are not as consistently creative as the others. For all the golf that exists in the Panhandle region of Florida -- stretching from the Alabama Stateline and reaching the Tallahassee area -- there's little doubt in my mind Shark's Tooth is at the top of the charts. It's too bad the cookie-cutter layouts that have invaded the Florida golf landscape like a bad zombie movie have not followed the prudent path set by Shark's Tooth.
Residential golf is never an easy proposition to create -- the need for versatility can often set in motion a general dumbing down on the strategic calculations. Having playability and testing golf are not mutually exclusive elements but being able to pull that off is no easy proposition. Norman and the key folks responsible at the facility deserve high marks in doing so here.
M. James Ward