There's a pivotal, golf-related scene in "The Truman Show," the Jim Carrey movie about a guy living in a giant bubble unaware that his life is being filmed as a TV show. Truman Burbank (Carrey's character) and his best friend, Marlon, are sitting on an unfinished bridge one night drinking beer and whacking golf balls into the distance when Truman confides that he's desperate to get off their bucolic little island and explore the world. "Where is there to go?" Marlon asks with a shrug, adding later: "I went all over. I never found a place like this, though."
You might find yourself thinking the same thing after a visit to Seaside, Fla., the panhandle beach town where much of "The Truman Show" was filmed. Although I wouldn't want to stay forever, it is an appealing place for a family vacation.
I visited during the summer, and it was as busy as any resort area I've seen in several years. Of the 12 or so tourists I spoke with, not one was there for the first time. Most had been coming every year for a decade or more. Research by one of the local visitors bureaus supports my anecdotal evidence: Nine out of 10 guests have been there before.
Golfers can pick from more than a dozen courses within an hour of Seaside. The heaviest concentration is in Destin, about 20 miles to the west, where the Sandestin Resort has four courses (three of them with 4½ stars in Golf Digest's Best Places to Play reader ratings). The fourth one, the Links, is no slouch: It gets 4 stars. Nearby Kelly Plantation is a 4½-star Fred Couples design that hugs the Choctawhatchee Bay.
On my visit, I played three courses just east of Seaside: Shark's Tooth, Camp Creek and Origins.
Shark's Tooth, a Greg Norman design that Golf Digest ranks as the eighth-best in all of Florida, was my favorite. It's technically a private club, but it's open to guests of the high-end WaterColor Inn & Resort near Seaside and, in truth, anyone who's a member of a golf club. A call from your pro to its pro will get you a tee time. Even on the hottest days, a pleasant breeze rolls off Lake Powell, which the course traces for several holes. The greens are massive, and the scenery is first-rate, from the towering loblolly pines that line the fairways to the mossy oaks along the lake.
Tom Fazio-designed Camp Creek used to be private but, bowing to recession pressures, recently opened to the public. Camp Creek was in excellent condition when I played, and it felt secluded from the rest of the world -- no easy trick in an area with this many visitors. Unlike many Fazio courses, it can be unforgiving from the tee. Hit the ball off line and, instead of funneling back toward the center, you'll often roll into a hazard or native grasses. Small wonder Camp Creek has a Slope Rating of 152 from its 7,159-yard back tees. (Even the 6,304-yard white tees have a 137 Slope.)
The next morning, I played 16 holes at the nearby Origins Golf Club. That wasn't a partial round. It was actually two rounds. Origins is one of the more unusual -- and entertaining -- courses I've played. There's a 10-hole par-3 course, designed by Davis Love III, and within it there's a six-hole course with three par 3s, two par 4s and a par 5. The two courses share six greens. The starter explained the setup, but I couldn't fully grasp how it worked until I was out on the course(s). I suggest you play the par-3 setup first; you'll get the hang of it. Sixteen holes will take you about two hours. Walking is encouraged, and kids under 13 play for free.