Although life on the PGA Tour has taken Bubba Watson to the greatest stages in the world, including Pebble Beach, the Old Course at St. Andrews, Augusta National, and the 2016 Rio Olympics, he will always think of himself as “Bubba from Bagdad”—Florida, that is—a tiny town about twenty miles from Pensacola.
“Growing up, I’d ride my bike to school, and then to the post office to go get mail every day. We played sports and played in the woods. As a kid, I don’t know what else I could’ve asked for,” says Watson, who relocated from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Orlando, Florida, in 2012 to adopt his son, Caleb. In 2016, he and his wife, Angie, and their two kids decided to move home to Pensacola. “The reason we moved back really came down to the roots I had and the quality of life I knew as a kid. I was going through a lot of mental health stuff, and thinking about the rest of my life, we wanted to have a plan for what to do if I wasn’t going to play golf anymore.”
That plan involved investing in the community immediately. “When I was a kid, people donated money, energy, and time to the game of golf,” he says. “They opened doors for kids like me to play in tournaments. Pensacola raised me, and I want to help it get even better.”
He decided the best way he could contribute was to draw people in. “How do you get foot traffic downtown? My first thought was sugar and ice cream.” In the summer of 2016, he opened Bubba’s Sweet Spot, a candy and ice cream shop on Palafox Street. Today, Watson also co-owns a car dealership, a driving range and golf center, and the local minor league baseball team, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. “It’s a little town, but it feels so much bigger when you consider all the things to do.”
Watson’s first book, Up and Down, out November 2, ventures far beyond the golf course into his family life and mental health journey. “I had no interest whatsoever in writing out my life story as an unfolding series of nice, neat chapters that chronicled all my wonderful accomplishments,” he writes in the author’s note. “This book tells the story of the challenges I wrestled with my whole life…and the life I’m still very much in the process of building.”
We chatted with Watson to hear his recommendations for the perfect day in Pensacola.
“Ruby Slipper Café is probably my favorite breakfast in town. It’s right downtown and very old-school,” Watson says. “I love ‘mom’s cooking’ type of food and stick with the basics: scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, and lots and lots of ketchup.”
Blue Wahoos Stadium
“I’m a little biased, but the baseball stadium is obviously a major hotspot,” he says. Situated on a wharf overlooking Pensacola Bay, it’s been dubbed the “best view in Double A baseball.” And if there’s no game, fear not. “It’s so much more than baseball,” Watson says. “It functions as an Airbnb when baseball isn’t in season. They hold football games there, festivals, daddy-daughter nights. There’s so much to do.”
“Palafox Street is our main downtown strip. We have some amazing restaurants,” he says. Watson opened Bubba’s Sweet Spot among the bistros and shops of the thoroughfare. “There’s this salad spot right across from the candy shop called So Chopped. That’s where I go when I want a quick bite downtown and that’s where I send everyone who asks me for a recommendation on where to go for lunch.”
An afternoon on the water
Watson says his family loves the white-sand beaches around Pensacola. “Plus, the Blue Angels are based here, so you get a free air show every week,” Watson says. “When we moved back here, my family and I got a house on the water and we love taking the boat out. If we want to go somewhere to get some food on Pensacola Beach, we typically boat over to Peg Leg Pete’s and park in the slips.”
“McGuire’s is an Irish pub that’s been here for years. It’s the kind of place that if you order an entrée, you can still get bean soup for eighteen cents, and they have dollar bills all over the walls,” Watson says. “When I was a kid and we got to go to McGuire’s, it was the highlight of my life. I have so many memories there, and so it means so much to me. I love being able to take my kids there now.”