TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Let's get one thing straight right off the bat.
This panhandle city never will be a mainstream golf destination. There are just too many great golf destinations in the sunshine state to compete with - the haven of courses in Naples, the glitz and glamour of the courses around Orlando and the combination of history and beauty of the clubs near Jacksonville.
This town just doesn't have the sheer number of must-play courses, or the big-name drawing power, to stand a chance against the likes of the TPC of Sawgrass and Doral. It also has a smaller, regional airport. Good luck getting a direct flight from anywhere. The airline of choice, Delta, most often has connecting flights through Atlanta.
With that said, chances are you'll visit Florida's capital for one reason or another, so drag the clubs along. Tallahassee gets plenty of visitors from the world of politics and fans of big-time college athletics. Florida State's football program is one of the proudest in the land. And Florida A&M, another local Division I school, has its own loyal fan-base, too.
Residents say they enjoy the fact that Tallahassee still feels like a small town, even though it's very important to Florida.
"I would never live anywhere else, and I'm not saying that just because I have to. It's true," said Mike Bristol, president and CEO of the Tallahassee Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The golf options are more like a small town than a tourist destination, but don't look down on area golf. After all, not many cities in America have challenged the best male and female players in the world for tournaments. If Tallahassee was good enough to host the PGA Tour's Tallahassee Open and the LPGA's Centel Classic for many years, then it's golf is certainly good enough for you and me.
Not many people realize that the private Killearn Country Club is actually available for public play (see how below). If it's your dream to play where the pros once teed it up, Killearn is for you.
Killearn hosted the Tallahassee Open 20 times and LPGA's Centel Class for four,giving it quite a tournament history. It also might be one of the most reasonably priced chances you'll get to walk in the footsteps of champions. A two-person golf package costs $129 a night.
Designed by William Amick, the original 18 (the south and east nines) plays to6,998 yards. Many pros came to fear the fourth hole on the south, a 467-yardpar-4. From the two back tees, players must lay up short of water that threatensthe fairway, leaving a long iron to the green.
The third nine, the 3,226-yard north nine, opened 11 years ago. Althoughmembers have a nasty nickname for it - "the narrows" (thanks to the houses tooclose to the course) - assistant golf pro Matt Harper enjoys this test the best.
"The fairways are the same width as the other nines," he said. "To me the northis the best in terms of club selections. You can't pull out the driver all thetime and bombs away. It's more target golf."
During a recent visit to Tallahassee, pro Fred Couples talked fondly of hismemories of playing at Killearn. A wall near the pro shop is dedicated to pastchampions, including Hubert Green.
"That was nice to hear from a player as prominent as Couples," said Killearnhead pro Michael Durst.
Couples and design partner Gene Bates created a new buzz in the local golfscene with the grand opening of the 7,172-yard SouthWood Golf Club last fall.The semiprivate layout is the centerpiece of a 3,200-acre St. Joe/Arvida housingdevelopment.
The land seems handcrafted for a course, as the topography rises and fallselegantly, creating some tough, but scenic, holes. Golf Magazine named it one ofthe best courses in the nation to open in 2002. Couples said it has the potential to be a "premire course in the Southeast."
"The land at SouthWood is one of the most ideal settings we have ever had theopportunity to work with," Couples told the audience at the grand openingceremony. "We have the perfect palette from which to sculpt the course - rollinghills and wide open pasture lands combined with stands of awesome moss-drapedlive oaks."
Most residents know the venerable layouts, the Don Veller Seminole and Hilaman Golf Clubs, well. Seminole, open since 1962, has undergone a recent $7 million upgrade.
The Players Club at Summerbrooke, a Dean Refram design opened in 1988, is what some locals call a "diamond in the rough" that just isn't being polished. The course has a solid layout, but management doesn't sink enough money into it to keep it in top playing shape.
Tallahassee, established in 1823, lists 122 properties on the National Registry of Historic Places. The Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science (tallahasseemuseum.org), located on 52 acres around a chain of lakes, features many animals that call the area home, including the Florida panther.
The Tallahassee Antique Car Museum (tacm.com) boasts a rare private collection of cars, including two Batmobiles, and the world's most expensive piano. For the curious, the Knott House that Rhymes (850-488-3901) is filled with eccentric rhymes attached to furniture throughout a mansion, built in 1840.
The area between Tallahassee and Thomasville, Ga., just 28 miles away, boasts the largest concentration of plantations (71) in America. The Pebble Hill Plantation (229-377-4408), in Thomasville, will give you a taste of the Old South with its 40-room mansion, carriage collection and log cabin schoolhouse.
The Nicholson Farmhouse (NicholsonFarmhouse.com, 539-5931) on State Road 12 in nearby Havana not only has good food, but an interesting history. Paul Nicholson purchased the 45-acre piece of land in 1987 and renovated the three original structures (circa 1828) - the smoke house, main residence and tobabcco barn - into a steakhouse restaurant with an open-air kitchen. Over the years, he has purchased four more old farmhouse buildings and moved them onto the property.
Chez Pierre (chezpierre.com) has tasty French cuisine in an elegant atmosphere and a popular Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre. Owned by Karen Cooley and Eric Favier, Chez Pierre has been serving since 1976.
For breakfast, get up early and beat the crowd to Jenny's Lunchbox (850-942-9766), a tiny local hotspot.
The best bet for golfers is to stay at Killearn's 29-room inn. To land a tee time at Killearn, public players must either stay at the inn or be a member (or guest of a member) at SouthWood, which is a relationship that was recently formed.
Although they aren't glitzy, many of Killearn's rooms have been upgraded. They are also within walking distance of the Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis courts, the inn's restaurant and the golf course.
The Radisson Hotel near downtown features good accommodations and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies daily, but no real golf packages.
December 8, 2003