A-Z Golfer’s Guide to Southwest Florida
From Marco Island to Naples and Bonita Springs, more than 90 golf courses cover the landscape of the metro and outlying areas. Naples counts among the nation’s top destinations for golf and recently ranked fifth on the 10 Best Golf Destinations in the World list, after a vote by USA Today readers. Here are 26 reasons why.
The Audubon International Signature Sanctuary Program strives to keep developed land use sustainable and environmentally friendly worldwide. Raptor Bay Golf Club at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Bonita Springs holds the distinction of becoming the first course in the world to receive Audubon International’s Gold Signature Sanctuary Certification. Hammock Bay Golf & Country Club, a Marriott Resort Marco Island course, now claims the same gold certification. Nearly 30 courses in the area have earned Audubon golf course certifications.
Prevalent on Florida greens and in other warm-weather golfing destinations, Bermuda grass promotes medium-to-high ball speed, according to the Golf Academy of America. The grass stands up well to heat and low mowing, the latter of which reportedly increases ball speed.
Naples has as much a reputation for philanthropy as golf, and the two go hand-in-hand at the Franklin Templeton Shootout each December at Tiburón Golf Club. In its twenty-eighth year, the longest running post-season tourney sanctioned by the PGA Tour, it benefits CureSearch for Children’s Cancer. Equally prestigious, the Chubb Classic pro-am tourney takes place in February 2017 at TwinEagles Golf Club. It benefits The First Tee of Naples/Collier, a local youth golf development organization, and other Southwest Florida charities.
Give your swing a tune-up at this respected name in golf instruction. Part of the LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort’s golf club, the facility includes a double-sided driving range, short-game practice area, and classrooms featuring state-of-the-art swing analysis technology. Certified golf instructors help identify and fix problems with your game.
In golfing terminology, it means two under par. In and around Naples, it also means the bald eagles often sighted around golf courses. Eagle Lakes Golf Club actually takes its name from a pair of resident eagles that nests among its abundant bird life. A number of other clubs around the region also take their name from the symbolic American feathered friend.
Golf apparel brands follow trends led by PGA Tour golfers. From the 2015-2016 season, expect to see more prints and camo patterns on slacks and polo shirts for men. Moisture-wicking apparel by Under Armour and Nike is also “hot” for the active male Southwest Florida golfer, says Kevin Knapp, co-manager of the PGA Tour Superstore in Naples. In women’s fashion, the skort—skirt-shorts hybrid—still rules, especially in Naples’ warm climes, as does the fitted polo shirt. Fashions by Jamie Sadock will see the lady golfer from course to the clubhouse to Fifth Avenue South, Knapp adds.
GOLF SCHOOL WITH CLOUT
In addition to David Leadbetter, Impact Zone Golf Academy at Tiburón is inspired by the teaching philosophy of another famous golf pro, PGA Tour winner Bobby Clampett.
It doesn’t get much “holeyer” than Naples. The region ranks number 1 in the National Golf Foundation’s rankings for golf holes per capita. The 2013 Golf Facilities in the U.S. study counted 1,530 holes. For a population of 324,424, that equates to 212 people per hole.
More kudos for regional golf: In November 2014, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators named the Paradise Coast as Golf Destination of the Year-North America. IAGTO, the global trade organization for the golf tourism industry, claims more than 2,000 member companies in 95 countries, including more than 500 golf tour operators. The IAGTO Awards are the official annual awards for the golf tourism industry.
This golfing legend and Naples go way back. As a child, Nicklaus golfed the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club course, where he broke his own personal record in 1951. At age 11, he bested a score of 40 for the first time on nine holes by shooting 37. That history and personal relationship drew Nicklaus to collaborate on the recent renovation of the course, which reopens in December.
It is never too soon to get a club in their hands, even if it’s for a round of mini-golf at Coral Cay Adventure Golf in Naples or Golf Safari Minigolf in Bonita Springs. Glowgolf at Coastland Center adds the attraction of playing in the dark with glow-in-the-dark balls and holes. When youngsters start to get serious about the game, the Naples area offers a wide range of camps and programs. The Junior Golf Performance Academy at Quail Creek Country Club offers long-term and summer-long programs. The First Tee of Naples/Collier provides a number of youth programs that develop core values along with golf skills.
Golf Inc. magazine recently ranked Bear’s Paw Country Club the number one renovated golf course in Florida and third globally. Undercover judges evaluated the course for its aesthetic upgrades and sustainability improvements.
The majority of golf clubs in the Naples area are private—either reserved for registered resort guests or members only.
In the summer-fall off-season, the rules sometimes relax and nonmembers can often get tee times at private clubs.
Some, however, remain exclusive year-round. Calusa Pines Golf Club, the only regional course listed on “100 Greatest Golf Courses in America” by Golf Digest, limits its membership to 275, by invitation only. Likewise, the Country Club of Naples tops off at 290 members. The member-owned club has been in operation since the 1960s.
Links of Naples takes your game into the after-hours with stadium lighting at its executive course, which stays open until 11 p.m.
Naples Grande Golf Club, open to guests of the Naples Grande Beach Resort, reports a family of otters living in one of the course’s lakes. The club underwent an $8 million transformation that debuted in June 2016 and includes a new clubhouse with restaurant and golf course improvements.
PGA TOUR SUPERSTORE
More than just a store stocked with all the golfing equipment and apparel you may ever need, the Naples outlet features indoor simulated driving ranges and offers lessons, clinics, and seminars for kids and adults.
Nothing sparks a thirst like 18 holes on a balmy Southwest Florida day. Here are a couple of suggestions for celebrating a hole-in-one or drowning your slicing sorrows. A bucket of beer will do the job at The Pub at Arrowhead. At Braxton’s Bar & Grill at Raptor Bay, they like to say that the Transfusion cocktail works miracles on a golfer’s handicap.
RESTAURANTS FOR LUNCH
Whether or not you’re a golfer, lunch overlooking the fairways makes for the most pleasant—and often entertaining—repast. The Pub at ArrowHead Golf Course has a view of the ninth green and 10th tee for entertainment value. Don’t be fooled by the name of the Junior Clubhouse; it’ll feed a major appetite. Sam Snead’s Oak Grill & Tavern at Lely Resort Golf & Country Club overlooks two golf courses and claims it serves “Naples’ best burgers.”
Most golf clubs have their own pro shops, and many golfers prefer them for the best selection, style, and prices on golfing apparel. Other favorites: For the Love of Golf in Naples for apparel and The Golf Guys in Bonita Springs for clothing and both new and used equipment. Check out Ecco Outlet at Miramar Outlets for high-end golf shoes value-priced.
Often golf’s sidekick at Naples-area country clubs, tennis courts and other sporting pastimes widen the appeal. The private Collier Reserve County Club boasts four Har-Tru courts. For public golfing with tennis facilities, Cypress Wood has four lighted courts, plus a swimming pool and bocce court.
Most golf courses these days are part of a housing development or resort, meaning that buildings of one sort or another hold the greens in their clutches. A precious few, however, keep the Old Florida feel with native landscape surroundings. Olde Florida Golf Club (239-353-7667) is one such private club with no homes, tennis courts, or swimming pools. Old Corkscrew Golf Club, east of Estero, too, keeps its natural wetlands, scrub, and pinelands intact.
VALUING THE DEAL
Through December 31, 2016, get your best deal on golfing at the Tiburón Golf Course with overnight accommodations at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples. Included: unlimited golf, complimentary club rental or storage, and golf cart.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE
One defining characteristic of Naples’ regional golf courses, ponds and lakes beautify the greens while presenting a challenge to the golfer. Some have more water than others. Take TPC Treviso Bay, for instance, where “Finishing the round with the same ball is quite an accomplishment,” according to golfadvisor.com, a golf course rating and review website. Water is in on play on all 18 holes at Cedar Hammock Golf & Country Club.
Sand, naturally, also prevails on local golf courses. In the form of sand traps, it is less welcome here than on the beaches, however. Hammock Bay Golf & Country Club near Marco Island has a reputation for its pretty, but tricky, wide sand dunes. Tiburón is also known for its ball-nabbing sand traps.
The beauty of golf in Southwest Florida: It’s a 365-day sport. Granted, summer months drive golfers out in the early morning to beat the midday heat. Some courses close for a portion of the summer to do repair work, but you can always find somewhere to golf year-round in Naples.
Check out local resorts for fall golf staycation packages. Marriott Resort Marco Island is offering a special for a two-night minimum that includes daily breakfast for two, daily golf and same-day replay, complimentary bag storage and range balls, kids play free (restrictions apply), and 10 percent discount in the Golf Pro Shop.