By Scott Kauffman, Contributor, Golf Business
When the St. Joe Company hired Tom Fazio to design Camp Creek Golf Club at the dawn of the new millennium, Fazio’s first private course in the Florida panhandle marked a new era for the Panama City Beach-Destin golf market.
Now, more than 21 years after the critically acclaimed course opened, St. Joe is redefining the region’s private club membership experience. And once again, Fazio’s rare non-residential golf layout is the center of attention.
Indeed, Camp Creek remains an unfettered core golf experience to this day, but the par-72, 7,151-yard course has a few more compelling reasons to visit the property, courtesy of the newly-opened 75-room Camp Creek Inn contiguous to the course. The namesake boutique inn, not far from St. Joe’s renowned WaterColor Inn that helped put this famed stretch of scenic Highway 30-A on the leisure real estate map when it opened in 2002, is just the newest addition to the Camp Creek footprint, or Watersound Club.
In many respects, Camp Creek is now a rare full-blown resort wrapped around a private golf and country club that oh, by the way, also has a private beach club just a few miles away at the namesake Watersound community St. Joe also developed along this picturesque Gulf of Mexico coastline.
However one describes this new Camp Creek destination, St. Joe’s Watersound Club is evolving into one of the most unique private club places in America. And St. Joe knows a thing or two about sophisticated “placemaking,” what with its numerous upscale resort-style communities that have reimagined this part of Florida some once referred to as the “Redneck Riviera.”
To be sure, this is no longer your grandfather’s same Gulf of Mexico, just as Camp Creek, and private golf in general, is no longer just about golf. Case in point is the plethora of leisure destinations and recreational amenities now offered at Camp Creek Inn and its surrounding lifestyle village that caters to every segment of society imaginable.
Of course, the 75,000-square-foot inn, designed by award-winning Kuo Diedrich Chi Architects to overlook the Fazio-designed course and a collection of new Watersound Club amenities that opened earlier this year, is the centerpiece of St. Joe’s recent $52 million Camp Creek makeover.
The main level of the inn, designed in a French-Creole style architecture, exudes the feeling of a member clubhouse with an expanded golf pro shop, and features two dining venues: 1936, a lounge-style bar and restaurant named in commemoration of the year that St. Joe was founded, which greets guests just past the inn’s main entrance; and the upscale dining venue ANR, named in recognition of the historic tie between St. Joe and the Apalachicola Northern Railroad, offering dining room and patio seating for dinner.
An outfitter’s shop, upgraded men’s and women’s locker rooms, and executive meeting rooms are also located on the main level for the exclusive use of Camp Creek Inn guests and Watersound Club members and their guests. Meanwhile, adjacent to the inn, members and guests have access to more new Watersound Club amenities, including an approximately 11,000-square-foot wellness center complete with group exercise rooms, a functional fitness training room, a cardio and strength training area, and locker rooms equipped with men’s and women’s steam rooms and saunas, as well as an adult-only pool area.
Other onsite amenities include eight lighted tennis courts, eight lighted pickleball courts, a hot tub, a family-friendly resort-style zero-entry pool with a waterslide and lazy river, a poolside dining venue called Bark N’ Brine that serves healthy twists on southern BBQ favorites, grass fields for sports and recreation, a half basketball court and a teens’ lounge.
“We’re very proud to bring a resort experience of this caliber to Northwest Florida,” says Dave Merryman, General Manager of Camp Creek Inn. “This is unlike anything else being offered in the region in terms of the quantity and quality of amenities available to our guests. We’re excited to open our doors to guests, and I believe they’re going to be thrilled with the private, elevated experience that Camp Creek Inn provides.”
For St. Joe, the Camp Creek 2.0 investment is already paying dividends. As of June 30, publicly traded St. Joe had 2,853 club members compared to 2,488 club members for the same period in 2022. Catherine Collins, the company’s director of marketing, went on to say, “This year, we have seen a tremendous increase in memberships which we can attribute to the new offerings at Camp Creek.”