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A “hearts and souls” comeback

Bay Point GC shows resilience after Hurricane Michael punch

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — It’s been just over a since a Category 5 storm tore through the eastern tip of Panama City Beach and had its way with the Bay Point neighborhood. Much was lost to the ferocity of Hurricane Michael, including two golf courses at Bay Point Golf Club.

Trees were toppled, bunkers were ravaged, fairways were tattered … it wasn’t pretty. Not only were structures damaged, jobs were lost. The Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa had to lay off some 75 percent of its workforce.

But all these months later, the memory is not just a sobering snapshot, it’s a comeback story.

In March, after 155 days of cleanup and restoration, the Bay Point Golf Club reopened the Nicklaus Course, one the premier golf destinations in the Florida Panhandle and the only Jack Nicklaus design in the Northwest section of the state.

Bay Point Golf Club | Nicklaus Course | Hole No. 5
The par-4 fifth hole is considered the signature due to two shots over a marsh and its setting. The second is an approach into a green that is protected by trees and St. Andrew's Bay.

The rebirth included the removal of downed trees and extensive debris, repairs to the clubhouse and storage facilities, costs running into seven figures and lots of tender loving care.

The Meadows, the property’s second course, also suffered extensive damage and remains closed. But the Nicklaus Course, with its renovated greens, salt-white bunkers and classic Nicklaus Design nuance, represents a shining example of unyielding resilience.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Ryan Mulvey, Bay Point’s golf general manager. “The work our team has put in at Bay Point to get the Nicklaus Course back into premier playing shape has been phenomenal. The storm created a very difficult time for the community last October, but this golf course has been a tremendous rallying point for both our team and the area. Over the past months, I think it helped provide a sense of normalcy for all of us.”

Frankly, you would never know the Nicklaus Course experienced such adversity. Formerly known as Lagoon Legend, the course opened in 1986, designed by Bruce Devlin and regarded among the most difficult in Florida. During 2004-05, Nicklaus Design performed a major reboot, restructuring tees, greens, bunkers and attitude.

And in the summer of 2018, all 18 greens underwent a conversion to Tif-Eagle Bermudagrass, improving playability, green speeds and receptiveness year round. On a steamy morning in late August, the greens were rolling true and consistent.

With a slope of 143 and course rating of 75.3, the golf test retains some of its bite from the Devlin days. The environment of scrub oaks, towering pines and saltwater marshes dictates as much. But the Nicklaus Design version — supervised by Gary Nicklaus — has a more inviting, and forgiving personality.

Put it this way — you don’t have to be a scratch player to enjoy yourself at Bay Point, it doesn’t hurt mind you, but it’s not required.

While Florida courses can be monotonously similar, Bay Point has some character, infiltrated by 12 lakes and spread over some rolling elevation changes. Marvelous views of St. Andrew’s Bay add to the serenity.

As with many Nicklaus Design works, the fairways allow room to “release the Kraken!” But that gratuity comes with responsibilities — hitting the fairway is one thing, hitting it in the right place is another. The proof is not in the pounding at the Nicklaus Course, but in the second approach. Strategically bunkers and swirling green-side surrounds make you pay for imprecision. One would do well to wear a thinking cap at Bay Point, and bring a short game with it. There is risk, there is reward, and for those who stray there are lost balls in between.

No. 5, a par 4 that plays between 335-398 yards, is considered the signature on the course, and underscores the point. The tee shot has to carry between 190-230 yards over a marsh. The second shot is another carry over marsh to a green protected by trees and the Bay. The par-3 17th, which plays 159 and 234 yards to a recessed green, carries a similar mantra — stay don’t stray.

Greens fees at the Nicklaus Course in late summer were between $45-$85 depending on the time of day and day of the week. There are numerous places to stay nearby, including the aforementioned Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort on the grounds, which features a private beach, rooms villas and lots of amenities.

There have been casualties over the past year, no question. The Meadows will not be restored as it once was and the fate of the property remains undetermined. But the rebound of the Nicklaus Course, and the future at Bay Point, is unmistakably positive.

“Since we reopened on March 1st, the response has been tremendous,” Mulvey added. “Our guys really put their hearts and souls into getting the Nicklaus Course back open, and with the support of our ownership, the course is in the best shape it’s ever been. That has carried over to the play we’ve seen and are very excited about the future.”

Bay Point Golf Club
Location: Panama City Beach, Fla.
Phone: 850.235.6950
Website: BayPointGolf.com
Facebook: @BayPointGolfClub
Instagram: @baypointgolf
Twitter: @BayPointGolf