The state of Florida is lauded as the “Golf Capital of the World” and the Southwest quadrant of the state, from St. Petersburg to Marco Island sports more golf holes per capita than anywhere else in the United States. Here you will find a myriad of scenic and challenging opportunities to test your game. Varying levels of players will find venues that cater to their requirements, including public, semi-private and private courses with a variety of layouts and costs.
The arrival of winter always brings many additional visitors and residents to Southwest Florida. The lure of this region lies in its pleasurable sub-tropical climate where white sandy beaches, large parks, and entertainment and sports venues all create a perfect spot for vacations as well as permanent residency. And the option of year-round-golfing in the heart of Florida’s natural beauty is the icing on an already delicious cake!
When you come, bring your golfing “wish list” —-scenic landscapes, leisurely courses, challenging courses, championship quality private courses, par 3’s for the weekend duffer, even opportunities for incomparable instruction—- and be ready to “swing” into action. Let’s explore some of the options available both on private and public courses.
Our “Fun-in-the-Sun” tour starts at Calusa Pines, located in the Ritz-Carlton area of Naples, a region placing seventh in Golf Digest’s January issue in the “Best Weather” category and fourth in GolfLink’s ranking of Golf Course Locations. Calusa Pines is recognized for more than great weather, however, as it is on Golf Digest’s list of “Top Ten Best New Private Clubs.”
Designed and developed by architects Hurdzan and Fry, Calusa Pines features dazzling vistas using native plant vegetation and landforms. It is characterized as a “golfer’s course,” meaning you will never get tired of playing it. There is incredible variety in the compass direction that each hole plays. Given a steady wind, nearly every hole will be affected differently, making the wind more than just an interesting factor.
For those who covet an opportunity to play a British Open-style course …firm and fast but without the thick thatch rough….Tiburón offers the ultimate occasion. Located at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, the Tiburón Golf Club is a public facility, certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, with 36 championship holes designed by Greg Norman.
Tiburón is the home of the PGA Tour and The Franklin Templeton Shootout, held annually in December. Both courses at Tiburón, the Black and the Gold Course, are visual and environmental masterpieces known for their water and fast greens. Golfers enjoy the uniqueness of nice technical fairways lined with pine straw instead of conventional rough, stacked sod wall bunkers, and red-orange coquina sand waste bunkers.
Also in the Naples area is Twin Eagles, where a classic country club lifestyle links with the ultimate golf experience. Here you will relish two championship courses, The Talon and The Eagle. The Talon Course, designed by legendary Jack Nicklaus and his son, is widely regarded as the top residential golf course in Southwest Florida. Classic Nicklaus, it offers maximum enjoyment for players of all levels.
The new Eagle Course there takes full advantage of Twin Eagle’s Audubon Signature Sanctuary setting. Designed by Steve Smyers and Patrick Andrews, it has a classic historical design but with modern yardages to accommodate today’s high performance equipment. The course was designed to provide a different experience each time it is played.
In addition to playing in Naples, there are opportunities to “polish” your game. Twin Eagles is the home of “Doc” Jim Suttie’s Golf Academy. According to Jack Nicklaus, Twin Eagles prides itself on “One of the finest practice facilities in the nation.”
Ready to try another course? The Dunes Golf Club in Sanibel offers a practice range and was designed by PGA tour winner Mark McCumber. The Dunes is noted for its exceptional conditioning and playability. Since the course is located on an Audubon Society wildlife preserve, you might first want to consider if the sight of an alligator or occasional osprey might throw off your game!
Or, you could swing into Estero, near Fort Myers, and find another Jack Nicklaus designed course, the elegant Old Corkscrew (actually a misnomer, since it is a newer course). Natural cart-paths take you around Old Corkscrew. The course is always moving, with a lot of hazards in the form of large, sandy waste areas, water carries, deep greenside bunkers and elevated greens that can be surprisingly fast.
While you are in this area, Raptor Bay Golf Club, another course that blends in perfectly with the natural landscape of southwest Florida, can be found in Bonita Springs. A restful round of golf is offered here in a unique environment.
Let’s head in a northerly direction toward the vibrant cultural area around Sarasota. You’ll find plenty of opportunity to golf here. Nearby Osprey offers two championship courses at The Oaks Club. Both The Eagle course, designed by Arthur Hills, and The Heron Course, designed by Willard Byrd, will challenge highly skilled players, yet remain playable for all skill levels.
Registered guests at The Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota have use of the off-site award-winning Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, offering a Tom Fazio-designed 18-hole championship course that gracefully rolls among 12 picturesque lakes and extensive landscape to form a fair and memorable test of golf. The Ritz Carlton Club is hosting 2013 U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier. This club’s recent recognition includes Golf Digest’s Best in State and Zagat’s, America’s Top Golf Courses, Sixth Edition.
Close to Sarasota, the river-laced fairways of Waterlefe, a residential golf course community located in Bradenton, has been rated 4 ½ stars by Golf Digest. A luxury 18-hole course, Waterlefe’s unrivaled natural setting along the Manatee River is composed of a collection of signature golf holes designed by course architect Ted McAnlis. The competitive layout presents a challenge for golfers of all skill levels. Features include five unforgettable holes that touch and border the scenic Manatee River.
Named “Best New Private Course of 2006” by Golf Digest magazine, The Concession Golf Course in Bradenton was designed by Jack Nicklaus in association with Tony Jacklin. The core design of this walkable, relaxed, and friendly 18-hole par 72 course is an atmosphere that offers a natural and uninterrupted golf experience.
The Tampa Bay area will find you playing more stellar courses such as The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort. Golfweek has called this course, with rolling hills and challenging holes, number one in Florida. But novices need not be put off. Each year, 1,000 students flock here for one of the largest resort-owned-and-operated golf schools in North America.
Nearby you’ll find Mangrove Bay Golf Course, in St. Petersburg. It is one of the nation’s top 50 municipal courses. Newly renovated, the course hugs the inlets of Old Tampa Bay and offers 18-hole, par-72 play.
When you “swing” into the Sunshine State for a Winter Golf Adventure, whether you want to play, study with a pro, or be part of the gallery, the options are bountiful. Making the “rounds” in Florida, where many of the golf courses are “private members only,” can be accomplished in diverse ways. Some are affiliated with hotels, which have arrangements for guests to play and there are systems of reciprocity in place with other clubs. Many courses are open for public play during the “off-season,” May to October, a great time as the crowds are gone.
If you would like to compete, opportunities await you in venues such as the Gulfcoast Amateur Association of Florida, the Gulf Coast Gold Senior Tour and the Southwest Amateur Series. And, of course, there is always the option of retiring to the 19th hole.
Any way you slice it, golfing in Southwest Florida tallies up to a Grand Slam!