Sandestin is 40!

A Snapshot of the Resort’s Colorful, Storied Past

To start at the beginning, we could venture back to the 17th century, when Spanish explorers discovered what is now the Destin Pass, or the 18th century when — as legend has it — pirates ran amuck.

Or, we could start in middle of the 19th century, when Capt. Leonard Destin landed his ship on the Emerald Coast shores to found what is now known as The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village. We could also start in the 1930s, when the attorney general of Massachusetts purchased some land in the middle of nowhere along the Gulf of Mexico.

But we have another beginning in mind: 1973.

After 40 (official) years, it’s no surprise that the largest resort (2,400 acres) to be situated on Florida’s Gulf Coast, and the only resort to lay claim to waterfront access to both the beach and bay, has one of the most interesting pasts. In celebration of Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort’s anniversary, we take a look back at some of the highlights and happenings during its four-decade history. During that time, Sandestin solidified its place as one of the premier resorts in the Southeast — and we cannot wait to see what the next 40 years will bring.

The Land of Plenty

  • Robert Tyng Bushnell, the Republican Attorney General of Massachusetts, purchased land that is now Sandestin in 1930 for the purpose of raising crops and livestock.
  • During World War II, the U.S. government used the land to test captured German U-2 Buzz bombs. Sandestin’s beach area, adjacent to Four-Mile Village, is where the very first military rocket testing in the nation took place. You can still find intact cement bunkers and launch sites on or near the beach.
  • The Coffeen family sold the land to Winthrop Rockefeller of Little Rock, Ark., in the 1950s. He envisioned a high-toned beach community between the bay and the Gulf to be named Forest by the Sea. After being elected governor of Arkansas in 1966, he changed his plans, but his vision was realized under a new name less than a decade later.
  • Around 1960, Walt Disney reportedly looked at the area as a possible site for a theme park before eventually deciding on Orlando for his project called Disney World.
  • During the 1970s owners of the Indianapolis Speedway offer to purchase parcels of the land for a “seaside racetrack.” The deal got all the way to the closing table before Mrs. Coffeen refused to sell.

History Lesson


  • A ground-breaking ceremony and the first master plan is unveiled
  • The first foursome plays The Links Course on Thanksgiving Day
  • Sandestin Beach Resort (no golf in the name just yet) opens in May 1976 under the management of Chase Manhattan Trust
  • The first homeowners (Walter “Bud” and Carol Lohman and Betty and John Main) live in a bayside neighborhood called Augusta Village


  • Peter Bos, under the name Sandestin Corp., acquires nearly all land parcels from Lakeland BV
  • The resort builds a water tower
  • Negotiations are completed for the sale of Hilton Hotel
  • Sandestin stages The Beach Boys in a “beach party” concert attended by 12,000
  • Baytowne Golf Club, the Bayside Inn, Baytowne Marina, Elephant Walk restaurant, The Market and Beachside II are completed
  • The Elephant Walk Triathlon (now Sandestin Triathlon) is held for the first time in 1987


  • Sandestin becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sime Darby Berhad, a Southeast Asia conglomerate headquartered in Malaysia
  • Burnt Pine Golf Club, designed by Rees Jones, opens
  • Intrawest Corporation, the leading developer and operator of mountain resorts, acquires Sandestin 2000s
  • The Raven Golf Club, The Village of Baytowne Wharf, The Baytowne Conference Center, The Grand Sandestin open
  • The Elephant Walk becomes Finz restaurant
  • Residence Inn Sandestin by Marriott and Courtyard Sandestin by Marriott open in partnership with the Howard Group
  • Grand Boulevard at Sandestin opens in 2003
  • Intrawest Corporation is purchased by Fortress Investment Group in 2006
  • Luau, a mid-rise condo, opens on the beachside in 2006
  • The Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic fishing tournament offers $371,250 in cash awards (today, the purse is more than $1,500,000)


  • Local developer Tom Becnel acquires Sandestin and forms Sandestin Investments, LLC
  • BP (Deepwater Horizon) Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico occurs April 20, 2010
  • In 2012, Done Deal breaks record at 8th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic with a blue marlin weighing 783.6 lbs
  • Sandestin celebrates the 25th annual Sandestin Wine Festival
  • Guinness Book of World Records confirms the largest fishing lure is hung at Baytowne Marina
  • The Bayside Inn is renovated into LeCiel at Sandestin
  • A free resort-wide shuttle service between Sandestin, Grand Boulevard and the Hilton is launched
  • Elephant Walk returns to its stomping ground on the beach under the management of Tom Rice and Wayne Lewis, who operate the Marlin Grill

What’s in a Name?

Sandestin (1970s)
Sandestin Beach Resort (1980s)
Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort (1990s)
Sandestin Resort (1993–96)
The Resort at Sandestin (1996–99)
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort  (1999–present)

Marketing Campaign Taglines

“The First Resort”

Early 1980s
“Nothing Comes Close But the Gulf”

Late 1980s
“Jewel of the Emerald Coast”

Early 1990s
“No matter how long you stay, it’s never enough”

“Destination of a Lifetime”

Late 1990s
“Come Outside and Play”

“Same Time, Next Year”

“In Our World”

Categories: History, News