DESTIN — Kelly Plantation Golf Club has been open for 19 years, but Tuesday was the first time a nationally televised show has ever been set on the picturesque golf course.
Fox Sports program “18 Holes” spent more than six hours golfing and filming for their golf lifestyle show, which will air in mid-to-late May.
Out on the green an entourage of golf carts followed Hanlin, a PGA pro and Fox Sports broadcaster, and well-known golfer Holly Sonders. Sonders rotates in co-hosting the show along with LPGA tour player Natalie Gulbis.
“This is a lot like what I used to do for Golf Channel,” Sonders said of her role in the show, adding that she still has a full schedule of sideline hosting for Fox Sports with college basketball and college football. “This is fun. When I get to get out here — something about being on the golf course when you are talking about it makes it that much more enjoyable.”
Kelly Plantation pro Ashton Crowe said he believes the show chose the course for an episode because of the high ratings the golf course recently received.
“Well, we got ranked No. 1 on Golf Advisor in the state of Florida and then got ranked 10th in the nation on golfadvisor.com, and then about two months after that they approached us asking us if we’d be interested in doing the show,” Crowe said of a 2016 online rating.
The Golf Advisor ratings look at everything from staff friendliness and amenities to course layout and conditions, and ultimately Kelly Plantation landed on Jimmy Hanlin’s radar.
“You know when we go through every year we always try to find places ... you know like little hidden gem places and this came up from multiple people that we had talked to,” Hanlin said of the course. “When we were talking about coming to the northern Florida area, and the Panhandle area, multiple people told us that, 'This is a place you’ve got to come see.’ ”
During the filming, Hanlin and Sonders described and gave tips on how to best approach each hole, and enjoyed a friendly banter as they went.
“We welcome you into a day on the golf course with us, and if you watch the show you will really feel like you’ve golfed 18 holes with us,” Sonders said.
Crowe said viewers will only see a few holes actually played out on the air, but regular golfers at the club will recognize their favorite greens.
“We picked three of our really popular holes that we want you to see on the show in it’s entirety,” Crowe said. “They will play hole number 4, 9 and 18 in its entirety, so you’ll see every golf shot on those three holes, and then what they do is kind of a montage on all the other holes and just play a shot here or there and describe the hole.”
At the end of an unusually cold day of filming, Hanlin gave his take-away of Kelly Plantation.
“It’s great,” he said. “The holes on the water are stunningly beautiful, those are the easy ones to say those are great holes. But Freddie Couples did a great job of really mixing a lot of good short holes with long challenging holes and I think — you know for me — when I see different golf courses, anybody can build a really hard golf course. I think they built a golf course that really challenges the really good golfers but also for the average golfer to come out here, the fairways are big, the greens are big and I think it’s fair for both, and I think that’s what makes it a really good place.”
Sonders offered her take. “It’s beautiful. Right now the grass is dormant, but it has a really nice layout and I can tell that when the grass is green, it’s heaven.”