Archive for June, 2012

Photo: Rookery at Marco, Naples

Beware the sand traps at the Rookery at Marco, Naples.

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Wild Golf Adventures

Florida’s vast geography encompasses many rugged and beautiful places, so it’s no surprise that the golf courses here reflect this natural landscape. These 10 layouts give you much more than manicured holes of golf; they immerse you in the state’s rich and bountiful flora and fauna.

Old Corkscrew, Estero

You’ll feel as though you stepped back in time to Old Florida as you spy roseate spoonbills and herons stalking prey in the still marshes. Surrounded by cypress trees, palmetto groves and stately pines, this flowing, elegant Jack Nicklaus “Signature Design” features natural cart paths that take you around purple-topped grasses and gracefully contoured fairways.

Panther Lake at Orange County National, Orlando

There’s no development around this course, just rolling meadows, native pines and natural wetlands. Featuring more than 60 feet of elevation changes, this is beautiful, old-school terrain.

Wildwood Country Club, Crawfordville

Situated off a lonesome highway in the middle of the “Forgotten Coast,” Wildwood is surrounded by more than 1,000 square miles of protected land. After golf, explore local waterways the Ochlocknee and Wakulla rivers, and Apalachee Bay. Watch for yellow-billed cuckoos, loons and my favorite Florida birds, purple gallinules.

Perry Golf and Country Club, Perry

The route to this secluded course passes cattle, hunters and open fields that look like they’ve never been touched by the hand of man. Once you arrive, the fairways and vistas blend in perfectly with the wilderness.

Crandon Golf, Key Biscayne

A pristine island environment with seven saltwater lakes, not to mention crocodiles and iguanas, this top-notch, municipal layout is adorned by palms, mangrove and other diverse tropical growth.

Camp Creek Golf Club, Panama City Beach

This work of art sits in a natural coastal setting along Highway 30A in one of the most scenic and pristine areas in Florida. Travel + Leisure Golf magazine named Camp Creek “Florida’s No. 1 Course of the New Millennium.”

Plantation Inn and Golf Resort, Crystal River

The resort sits along the Crystal River, a waterway as beautiful as its name. The area has phenomenal wildlife, including red-wing blackbirds, scissor-tailed flycatchers, sandhill cranes and alligators – and you can see it all from the golf course.

Lost Key Golf Club, Pensacola

Located on a narrow barrier island with sparkling, white dunes, this layout meanders through lush wetlands and murky swamps. The coquina shell cart paths merge seamlessly with the surrounding coastline and sun-speckled woods.

Diamondback Golf Club, Haines City

Set in the wide, open spaces of rural Polk County, Diamondback was cut from virgin terrain of arresting swamps and sandy, rolling hills. The fairways are bordered by thick woods where wild things dwell, including the club’s reptilian namesake.

Rookery at Marco, Naples

Perched on the edge of the Ten Thousand Islands, you’ll play through native, purplish-pink muelhi grass, yellow dune daisies and brilliant red firecracker weed. Wide marsh views offer glimpses of varied wildlife such as lanky wading birds standing statuesque against the pastel backdrop.

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New Smyrna Beach Municipal Course a Classic, Donald Ross Design

To most students of golf architecture, the name Donald Ross stands above all others. Ross is a Scot who emigrated to America and designed around 400 courses in his career, including the famed Pinehurst No. 2 and the highly-acclaimed Seminole Golf Club here in Florida.

One of Ross' designs is the New Smyrna Beach municipal course. The course opened in 1948 and is a classic Ross work, with slightly elevated greens open in front – making them perfect for the bump-and-run. They drop off in the back and on the sides.
In other words, you need to be accurate on your approach shots.
It's a relatively short track at 6,200 yards, so it's ideal for beginners, women and juniors.
It's well-treed but manages to keep an open feel in the interior, and it is very well-kept for a muni; they plowed it under several years back and completely re-done by Bobby Weed.
It's a flat course with palm trees lining the fairways, and the layout is dotted with little creeks.
It's an active facility, with tournaments held throughout the year for both pros and amateurs. They have good practice grounds, and yearly and summer-only memberships are available. Or just show up, pay and play. Cheaper twilight rates are available as well.
Don't forget Tiano's Restaurant; I didn't get a chance to sample it, but the aromas coming from there were delectable, and the locals swear by it.
Be sure to check out my video of the course.

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Escape to Vinoy Renaissance in St. Pete

The Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg has an "Escape Golf Package" going on now.

The package includes:
- Upgraded luxury bay room with one king or two double beds.
- Round of golf for one or two players and unlimited same day replay.
- Cart rental, unlimited range balls and bag storage.
- 50 percent off rental of new Callaway golf clubs
- Unlimited access to the resort's new state of the art health club and spa facilities.
For more info or to make a reservation, call 888-303-4430.
The resort also has other packages, including the "Family time package" that starts at $179 and includes free meals for up to four kids. It runs through June 30.

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Find Peace and Golf Tranquility at Sanibel Island’s Sanctuary Golf Club

The exclusive Sanctuary on Sanibel Island is clearly one of the classiest golf clubs in southwest Florida, a lush layout in pristine condition that is a joy to play. Riding a golf cart over its fairways is like gliding over a plush carpet. You also get views of the spectacular "Ding" Darling National Wildlife refuge.

It's a straightaway routing, with few surprises or hidden tricks. There are a couple of hidden bunkers on one dogleg, No. 16, and a blind shot into the green if you're out of position on No. 5, but mostly everything else is right in front for you to see.
It's an elegant design by an architect who specializes in elegant designs. Architect Arthur Hills calls the Sanctuary "my island masterpiece," and the property it sits on is as "elegant, exquisite and rare," according to the club's marketing material.
It's also the longest course on the islands, at 6,657 yards.
The practice facilities are excellent, the clubhouse sumptuous and the service is impeccable. I particularly liked posting the green speeds every day; these things are important to golfers.
Check out the video.

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Venetian Bay a Must-Play in New Smyrna Beach

Venetian Bay is a must-play golf course if you're anywhere near the New Smyrna Beach area, especially if you're one of those golfers who loves big, bold layouts where you can swing your driver like you're Babe Ruth.

It's a fairly new (2008) and very interesting design by the Clifton, Ezell and Clifton Golf Design Group, not at all like the average course that sits in a housing development; the holes either have a few houses on only one side and many with no housing at all.
But – and this is a big "but" – the features you really notice as you make your way around the course are its two major obstacles: wind and sand.
The bunkers are everywhere, and the architects weren't afraid to stick them in the middle of fairways, not a unique design point, but pretty rare.
"Just remember there is ample landing area and these are positioned more for low handicappers and drama than to actually kill your round," the architects write on the course's website.
True enough, they are mostly there for visual appeal and, yes, intimidation. They are easily avoided, for the most part, if you are reasonably accurate. Many of the bunkers are elevated, built into mounds, and you can face blind shots into the green if you find yourself behind one.
The wind is part of Venetian Bay's personality, as it comes sweeping across the vast, open expanse, and it must be dealt with. Personally, I enjoy playing in the wind, and regulars out here say it blows steadily most of the time. Bonus: It keeps you cool during the warm months.
The greens are excellent, large and sloped with just enough undulation to keep putts interesting. The architects took what was formerly a flat, piece of land and turned it into flowing, dynamic terrain perfect for golf, especially if you like links-style golf.
Big hitters will love this course. Heck, little hitters will love it if they play from the correct tees. The conditioning is excellent throughout, and the sumptuous clubhouse has great views of the course.
Again, this is a course you should play if you're in New Smyrna Beach, or even if you're not. It's definitely worth the travel time.
Be sure to check the video, and remember, these are drought conditions the course is dealing with. The course greens up beautifully as soon as there's a drop of rain.

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First Coast Golf Specials

Northeast Florida has some good golf packages going on these days – one of which guarantees a sunny day. Here are a few worth your consideration:
- Hilton Garden Inn of Ponte Vedra has a "sunshine guaranteed" package: You get a free future room if it rains over a half inch in any one day. 
Rates start at $99 per room, and the deal is good through September. The Hilton Garden Inn is located at the entrance of TPC Sawgrass.
- The Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, one of the oldest golf resorts in the state, is now going to its offseason rates. June room rates start at $179, and July and August rates dip to $149. The resort is home to two courses, the Ocean and Lagoon.
 - Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort has a three-night package starting at $187. It includes unlimited rounds of golf for two days at the Valley course – not the Stadium where THE PLAYERS Championship is played. The offer is good from July through September.
The resort also has a "Double Play" package that includes a round on the Stadium course.
Call 800-530-5248 for information on any of the above packages.

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