Islandside at Longboat Key Club boasts great golf, old Florida feel

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Islandside Golf Course at the Longboat Key Club looks like one of those old-time Florida courses you used to see on postcards. You can picture Jackie Gleason teeing off here, martini in hand. Of course, that's back when you could actually see the Gulf of Mexico just to the west.

There are multi-story condo buildings there now, this being Florida, but there are still the palm and banyan trees framing the holes, along with pink and white oleanders blooming along the fairways and canals. Little, wooden bridges take you over the numerous, narrow canals, put there by dredges before the namby-pamby environmentalists got so pushy.

Water is on every hole, and the egrets and herons take full advantage, stalking the narrows like photogenic predators. One of the older courses in the Sarasota area, the 45-year old track sits on the south side of the key, which is a bird sanctuary.

Being a course of a certain age gives Islandside a mature, demure beauty. Sure, there are some rough spots - the green fringes could use a little work, the cart paths aren't in great shape, the grass in some of the tee boxes needs trimming and some of the greens have some rough patches - but the old gal has settled into her age quite nicely. She doesn't feel the need to impress you: no bag boys jumping all over you, fancy flower boxes or "hosts" explaining the obvious.

Designed by Bill Mitchell, the course was built before advancing technology made architects wacko, and stretches out to 6,792 yards. It was also before the wide fairways of many modern courses.

"It's very narrow," said Assistant Professional Bill Tawney. "You've got to hit your tee shot straight."

It doesn't stop there. With all the water, you have to watch your approaches as well. Aside from the water, there aren't many hazards, of the seen or unseen variety, but the water can swallow your ball from a variety of places.

"You always know what's between you and the hole," Tawney said. "You don't always know what's in back or to the side."

The 495-yard second hole gets you into the game quickly. It's framed by palms on both sides, and presents you with an option: to go for it if you hit a decent drive, or lay up short of the canal. The elevated green drops off in front.

Nos. 4 and 18 are nice little risk-reward holes, the former being a driveable par 4.

The Verdict

The Islandside is a must play if you're staying on Longboat Key, particularly if you're staying at the Longboat Key Club resort where you get free green fees.

"I love playing that course," said Wesley Bunnell, a long-time visitor to Sarasota who recently bought a home here. "I played it 20 years ago and I play it today. I scored better back then, but I usually make a point to play it when I'm here."

Stay and Play

The Longboat Key Club sits so close to the Gulf of Mexico you can hear the grouper groaning and literally see the wind blowing patterns over the saltwater. If you fell off the balcony, you'd almost land on the beach. The sun sets in your picture window like a painting.

It's an exclusive resort in an exclusive setting - Longboat Key is home to many rich and famous, and known for its literary lights: John D.MacDonald used to live here.

Water sports are the big deal here, with boating and fishing excursions available, or if you don't want to go that far, the resort has sailboats, kayaks boogie boards and snorkel equipment. If that's still too much activity, umbrellas and cabanas are available, or just lounge by the pool or sit at the outside bar and stare at the Gulf.

Dining Out

Longboat Key Club has no less than six restaurants and lounges, starting with Sands Pointe, with the broad sweep of the Gulf as a backdrop.

The Grill at Harborside serves seafood and steaks for dinner and the Dining Room at Harborside offers a buffet. Barefoots is the poolside lounge where you get the pink drinks with umbrellas, and Spike n' Tees overlooks the golf course.

If you want to make the short drive in to Sarasota, there's a wide variety of restaurants.

Fast Fact

There's a golf school at the resort, which offers private, semi-private or private lessons, with computerized video analysis.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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