Golf Series: Mattie’s Legacy Lives On at Kelly Plantation


Visits: 19

Barbara PalmgrenBy Barbara Palmgren

There’s a street in Kelly Plantation called “Mattie’s Way.” It was named after the late Mattie Kelly, whose Irish and southern roots strongly influenced a scenic subdivision with a championship golf course, equestrian center, nature-centered walkways and jogging trails that included a 225-acre nature preserve. Mattie Kelly owned the land and didn’t sell it until she found developers she trusted to plan the community in her name and with her vision.

Unfortunately, within the first few months of beginning the project, Mattie’s life was cut short at only 80 years of age. But her dream continued in 1992 with gracious homes, manicured lawns and community covenants to insure a picture-perfect postcard community. Kelly Plantation Golf Club, the crown jewel in the middle of stunning scenery and designer homes, was fashioned by Fred Couples and Gene Bates. In the early 19th century, the land was part of a large turpentine industry with towering pines along miles of waterfront and intricate bayous. Kelly Plantation Golf Club was built along miles of panoramic views of Choctawhatchee Bay with 7,000 yards of contoured greens, wide manicured fairways, hazards and sand traps.

Kelly Plantation Golf CourseBeyond the golf course itself, the large clubhouse offers diverse menu options to be enjoyed in the clubhouse or on the covered veranda overlooking a beautiful lake with views of the 9th and 18th greens. I remember attending the Blount-Bowden Scholarship award event for local college scholarship winners held one evening at Kelly Plantation Golf Club. Our granddaughter was awarded one of the scholarships. The evening was staged beautifully with large tents framing the veranda and a great sound system for Bobby Bowden to speak and present awards after a delicious meal.

But, let’s talk golf. This semi-private 18-hole golf course, nestled in the heart of Destin, is one of the area’s premium golf experiences. The course stretches 7,099 yards which is a serious driving test for long hitters. Novice golfers enjoy the forward tees with easier layout and scenic appeal. Hole number 4 captivates with a panoramic view of Choctawhatchee Bay. Native flora such as magnolias and palmettos add to the beauty. Other lakes and sand traps often await an errant golf shot. So, the golfer should take ample precautions and keep drives safely in the manicured fairways.

Carts are GPS-equipped, so there is no excuse not to know accurate yardage. The challenge is to execute the perfect golf shot to be on a green in regulation. Prior to teeing off on hole number 1, a golfer can practice at the driving range, and chip and putt around practice bunkers and a lush practice green. Large bins of cold apples await golfers, so vitamins as well as liquid refreshment provide extra energy when needed.

In addition to the main clubhouse, there is also an Owners’ Club House. It has a large patio deck, grill, pool and kids’ playground. The Club House is the heart of Kelly Plantation’s annual social events in addition to the Board and Town Hall meetings throughout the year.

Golf course manager John Townsend, who began his career in various golf management positions for courses both in Georgia and in the Jacksonville and Tallahassee areas, considers Kelly Plantation the pinnacle of golf courses. Graduating from Valdosta State in the late 90’s with a degree in sports medicine, John accepted a unique golf management position and found that golf management was what he truly enjoyed. Now, assisted by Robert Whitt, head golf professional, John tells us that the positive post-pandemic numbers for golfers playing 18 holes at Kelly Plantation has continued with tee times costing between $189 and $129 for an 18-hole round of golf (depending on time of day.) Hole number 7 is John’s favorite, because there are two angles or options from the tee box.
Kelly Plantation gives back to the community with at least several charity tournaments. They take pride in hosting two annual tournaments, one for Children in Crisis and one for the Children’s Advocacy Center.

So, would Mattie be pleased if she looked down from the heavens today at her vision for the old turpentine industry? I can imagine her bright, smiling eyes and sense she would be thrilled with the gated community and the clubhouse at the center of her dream. Perhaps she might be singing,

“When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, ‘tis like a morn’ in spring.
In the lilt of golfers’ laughter
You can hear the songbirds sing.
When golf strokes are rewarded
With pars and birdies, too.
Yes, my course will make you happy,
It may steal your heart away.”