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Sandestin Resort, Destin, Florida
©Roger Cox

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort

Destin, Florida

By Roger Cox, Editor

Sandestin begins along the sugar-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and extends north across a peninsula to Choctawhatchee Bay. It has devoted attention to tennis ever since it opened in 1975, when it became the first modern resort to give its guests the opportunity to play on grass courts. Although the grass has been replaced by clay, it still has a handsome 15-court tennis complex a short stroll from the Village of Baytowne Wharf, which is a focal point of the resort even though it borders the bay and not the beach.

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The resort and its residential developments now cover some 2,400 acres. It begins as a series of 20-story buildings erected just behind the high sugar-white sand dunes that line this part of the Gulf Coast. From there, the resort extends northward completely across the peninsula to Choctawhatchee Bay. Highway 98 slices through the middle, separating the smaller Beachside development from Linkside and Dockside. Among them these three developments encompass four golf courses, a fitness center with massage rooms, a marina, two complexes of shops and restaurants—the newest of them the Village of Baytowne Wharf—and more. Lodging ranges from rooms at a modest hotel to four-bedroom condos. Also within the complex is a beachfront Hilton hotel.

The opening of the Village of Baytowne Wharf in the summer of 2002 added a new dimension to this already feature-rich resort. Designed for pedestrians, this complex of shops, restaurants, night clubs, condominiums, and a convention center takes its architectural clues from all over the South. Narrow streets, their concrete embedded with sea shells, lace a village tricked out in white-washed brick, cedar, and wood painted in an array of moss green, canary yellow, blood orange, slate blue, gray, and white. There are hints of New Orleans' French Quarter in the grillwork of balconies and of Charleston in brick-lined courtyards. Arcades with ceiling fans shade cedar benches, porches have rocking chairs. Entertainers perform in the streets, clowns paint children's faces, and even many of the shopkeepers seem to have come straight from central casting right down to their appropriate costumes.

By concentrating so many diversions in one place, the village provides an alternative to the beach, including one of the best spots to watch sunsets. It has more nightlife, too, with live music at the Famous Door, a branch of the Bourbon Street landmark, dueling pianos in Rum Runners, and more than half a dozen restaurants and food outlets, including a branch of Starbucks for the latte-addicted. A free on-property shuttles make it easy to commute from the village to anywhere else within the resort, including the nearby tennis complex (though it's a mere five-minute walk away anyway).

Tennis Features

Pro Shop: 850-267-7060 or 850-267-7110

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, Destin, Florida
Photo: ©Roger Cox

The tennis complex has also infused new life into the programs, in large measure because there are now some 200 active local members—many of whom live there year round—to provide continuity. It has also given the staff people to draw on when resort guests need games.

Tennis Staff. Todd Hanson, who joined Sandestin in 2003, directs the tennis operations. He's a local, having grown up in nearby Niceville and played his junior tennis in Florida and then went on to play for part of his tenure at the University of Florida. He'd spent summers teaching tennis, so it is not surprising that he's implemented a strong junior program at the resort, including hiring a pro to be in charge.
Tennis Programs. During the busier March-to-November season, the tennis center offers one or more clinics a day. The staff also runs more than half a dozen men's or women's days or mixers each week, the liveliest of them a Saturday mixer, which often attracts 35 to 40 players. There is also some kind of event each month—a tournament, round robin, exhibition, or club challenge—often geared to members but frequently open to guests. Sandestin also specializes in special packages for teams.
Courts & Fees. A shingled clubhouse, newly painted yellow, has covered decks on both ends and a new, larger one on one the east, overlooking the courts. There are 12 clay and 3 hard courts altogether laid out in 2s and 3s with a pond on the far side. Wooden fence posts, netting rather than chain-link fence, and newly planted palm trees, oleander, and shrubs make it a very appealing place to play. Between each pair of courts are green benches and water jugs in the shade of an overhead awning. The pro shop itself is one of the largest specialty shops in Northwest Florida and carries a full line of racquets, clothing, and accessories. Court fees: $12/person/hour (guests who rent through Sandestin get one free hour/day; however, from Mar. 1-July 31, that free hour is only available after 11 a.m.).
Caveat: Check the Sandestin calendar. Some of their big weekend team tennis events tie up every court from early in the morning until 4 or 5 p.m. from Friday through Sunday noon. If an event is scheduled for the weekend you're planning to visit, phone the pro shop before making reservations to find out what impact the event may have on your ability to book court time, clinics, or lessons.


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Other Recreation

Many activities within the resort are free to guests who book through the resort. That includes complimentary use of on-property transportation, bicycles, boogie boards, kayaks, and special children's, family, and teen programs. It provides one hour of free court time daily, allows adults unlimited access to the health club, and secures discounted resort rates on a variety of activities, including greens fees and additional court time.

Beach. Towering dunes, some almost 30 feet high, border a broad white-sand beach along this stretch of the Florida Panhandle. On calm days when the Gulf of Mexico is aquamarine in color the beach is even more beautiful. All of the construction within Sandestin has taken place behind the primary dune line; unfortunately, that includes nine 8-to-21-story structures that loom above the dunes and leave no illusions about the proximity of civilization. Chairs, umbrellas, cabanas, watersports equipment (including kayaks and boogie boards) are available from a shack on the beach. Note, however, that there are no lifeguards, either here or at any of the other resorts along this coast.

Golf Courses. There are four golf courses within the resort as well as a golf learning and performance center and an 18-hole family oriented putting course designed to reflect Florida's various natural environments.

Links Golf Club: Located along Choctawhatchee Bay, this oldest and most scenic of the Sandestin courses has five holes that border the bay—wind can thus be an issue—and water on 13 of 18. Still it is manageable if you play smart golf, and it has great sunset views and opportunities to spot dolphins.
Baytowne Golf Club: These 18 holes wind through a variety of terrain, from elevated views of the Gulf of Mexico to fairways carved from pine forests. This is the most forgiving of the four, making it the best choice for high handicap golfers.
Burnt Pine Golf Club: A Rees Jones-designed private course (available to guests only on a limited basis), these 18 holes are challenging but fair. Its rolling fairways and strategically placed bunkers invite golfers to craft an approach for every hole. Golf Digest named it one of the Top 30 courses in Florida.
Raven Golf Club: Robert Trent Jones, Jr. designed this newest of the Sandestin courses, riddling it with bunkers and fast greens.
The Dunes at Sandestin: An 18-hole, Astroturf putting course located just north of the beachside towers and intended for family fun.

Spa & Fitness Center. The Sandestin Fitness Center has three rooms: one outfitted with a selection of some two dozen pieces of cardiovascular equipment, including Nordic Tracks, treadmills, Stairmasters, and Precor Elliptical trainers. Another room holds an extensive exercise circuit of some 15 Nautilus stations as well as dumbbells and limited freeweights; and the third, an aerobics studio, is used for yoga, stretch, and exercise classes. One-on-one training is available and so are massages.

And ... Two complimentary bicycles rentals are available each day of your stay for four hours and there is an extensive network of bike paths connecting both sides of the resort (including a bicycle/golf cart tunnel under Hwy. 98). Kids can look forward to an ocean sailing school, a nature park, a treehouse, and nature walk. Add catch-and-release fishing, kayaking, waverunners, parasailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing charters, shopping in the Village, and sunset and lobster cruises and there's little reason to leave the resort—unless it's to visit the 100+-store Silver Sands Premium Outlets, 2 miles to the west.

Children's Programs

Club KZ takes children ages 4-12 for a 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. program focused on letting kids explore the natural environment around them. Activities include arts & crafts, beach and pool games, bingo, biking, fishing, scavenger hunts, and more. There is also a teen program during the summer months with volleyball on the beach, evening socials, movies, and other activities. In addition,there is a Children's Evening Out that entertains those 4-12 with games, stargazing, pizza, a movie, and more.


There are some 1,200 units for rent in Sandestin, including condos, villas, and homes ranging in size up to four bedrooms. There are also 175 hotel rooms available at the Bayside Inn, another 250 at the Hotel Effie, and 600 rooms and suites at the Hilton on the beach.


There are numerous restaurants operated by the resort and two more in the Hilton, chief among them Seagar's, a pricey but locally well regarded place for fine dining. The resort's own dining options include the upscale cuisine of Elephant Walk overlooking the beach, the sumptuous and unpretentious Marlin Grill in the Village of Baytowne Wharf, and Ovide in the Hotel Effie overseen by award-winning Georgia chef Hugh Acheson. Between the Market Shops and Village there are more than a dozen other options, from casual snacks, ice cream, and pizza to Italian cuisine, seafood, and New Orleans specialties.

See Also

For comparison's sake, also check out:

Rates and Reservations

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort

Rates on request.

Visit the website for current rates

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
9300 Emerald Coast Parkway West
Destin, FL 32550-7268
Toll-free: 877-852-6318
Web Link: Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa

Rooms and suites available; rates vary seasonally. Check the website for rates for the specific dates you want to travel.

Visit the website for current rates

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa
4000 Sandestin Blvd. South
Destin, FL 32550-4214
Toll-free: 800-HILTONS
Web Link: Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa

Travel Essentials

Seasons. Year-round but busiest from March through October. Keep in mind that even those this is Florida, this is northern Florida and winters can be chilly—too chilly for the beach but often fine for golf and tennis.

Rates. There are two options: renting a room, condo, or home through the resort itself; or renting a room at the convention-oriented Hilton.

Travel Instructions. By Air: Although there are regional airports in Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport(VPS), 30 minutes west, Pensacola Regional (PNS), 90 minutes west, and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), roughly an hour's drive to the east in Panama City. Rental cars are available at all three.

General Tourist Information. Visit the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau website or contact them at 1540 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, P.O. Box 609, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32549-0609; phone 850-651-7131, toll-free 800-322-3319, or Fax: 850-651-7149.