Copperhead Golf & Country Club: A surprisingly good course at a great value near Fort Myers

By Katharine Dyson, Special Contributor

LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. -- Tooling through rural Florida past cow-dotted pastures on your way to Copperhead Golf & Country Club near Fort Myers, you'd swear you were in the middle of nowhere.

Copperhead Golf & Country Club - 3rd
Copperhead Golf & Country Club's par 3s are gems.
Copperhead Golf & Country Club - 3rdCopperhead Golf & Country Club - hole 5Copperhead Golf & Country Club - 10thCopperhead Golf & Country Club - practice rangeCopperhead Golf & Country Club - fishing
If you go

Yet you pass JetBlue Park, training grounds for the Boston Red Sox and you soon find the course is just 10 minutes from the Southwest Florida International Airport. Here you are playing amid acres of palmettos and old tropical forests all around, but overhead, a shiny jet streaks across the sky.

Initially targeted as the centerpiece for a residential community, there aren't a whole lot of houses on the property -- yet -- thanks to the 2008 downturn in the economy. On hole no. 8, you can see a road has been established and house lots marked off, but so far, there is little sign of construction.

What you do have is a really solid design by Gordon G. Lewis (2001), a nice clubhouse, eager-to-please staff and a landscape characterized by water, reeds, flowering shrubs, birds and those funny fox squirrels. It's a very pretty, serene place.

In 2011, Bobby Rankin and Allen Collins from Kentucky purchased the course and are working to bring it up to top condition.

Play it today, and you'll find true-rolling TifEagle greens and well maintained bunkers with good sand. The 419 Bermuda fairways are nicely mowed but pocked by clumps of crab grass here and there, a problem the new superintendent, Sam Tafft, is working on "night and day" to resolve.

Copperhead: The golf course

Copperhead Golf & Country Club's first hole gives you a good introduction to what's to come: not too long with a fairway bunker right and left, water on the far right, trees on both side and a slightly elevated, two-level green.

Lewis has positioned his bunkers well, and unless you are deadly accurate, most players will find a few along the way, although they aren't all that bad to dig out of. Lewis also worked in a few elevations and subtle doglegs tucking greens behind water hazards as on no. 16.

Tricky mounding, elevated, multi-tiered greens and sloping fairways create interesting rolls on several holes, such as on 16, where your ball can bounce off the far-left banks, then careen abruptly down to the water on the right. You thought you had a great drive, but now you're faced with a drop and a carry over water to the green. Unfair? Nope. Just challenging.

You can tell a lot of effort has gone into grooming the greens, and some are very large.

Reaching the 17th green, Ray Alexander, renting a vacation condo to escape the Pittsburgh winter, said, "You could build a condo on this one."

Ponds sparkle in the sunlight looking clean and alive. Near the tee on the 11th hole, two fishermen had cast their lines into the pond. When asked what they were fishing for, one replied, "Bass. But we don't eat 'em. We just throw 'em back. One guy caught an eight pounder in the pond over there on the first hole last week."

Copperhead has five tees giving all levels a shot at having an enjoyable round, but the course without question plays a lot harder from the tips, with large carries over wetlands and water as on holes four, five and 18. From the back tee on 14, a par-3, the carry is a brutal 249 yards, while from the forward tee, it's a mere 125 yards.

One of the prettiest holes, no. 5 -- a par 5 and the no. 1-handicap hole -- requires a carry over wetlands then pinches you between water on the left and trees on the right. Severe mounding comes into play as you hit up to a very large elevated green.

"You may hit the dance floor, but you can't hear the music," quipped Alexander.

Kelly Little, general manager and head golf professional says he is committed to building a strong junior program.

"I'm going into schools to work with the baseball and football coaches to get kids into golf," he said, explaining he helped kids with lessons, some free golf and free range balls.

Arrive early to experience Copperhead Golf & Country Club's practice facility. It's unique, as you're hitting over water to four island greens set at different yardages.

Copperhead Golf & Country Club: The verdict

Copperhead Golf & Country Club is a solid, well designed track with several memorable holes, a lot of water, rolling fairways and some elevation changes, along with some good grip-it-and-rip-it holes, such as 13.

The course requires accurate, thoughtful play with many risk-and-reward challenges, but it's nonetheless fair and certainly near the top of the value scale in a market of typically high green fees.

"At the price, you can't beat the deal," Alexander said. "I could play this every day. I could live here."

Katharine DysonKatharine Dyson, Special Contributor

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

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