La Playa Golf Course in Naples is muy bonita and easier than it looks

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

NAPLES, Fla. — The La Playa Golf Course in Naples is a treat to look at, a blast to play and easy on your scorecard.

La Playa Golf Course - Water
At La Playa, 14 of the holes are lined with water. The lakes are both natural and man made.
La Playa Golf Course - WaterLa Playa Golf Course - FlowersA.J. Duncan at La Playa
If you go

And while it's not exactly located at la playa — the beach, for our non-Spanish-speaking friends — you can smell the salt air from here and see the para-gliders riding the Gulf currents. La Playa is the resort course for the La Playa Beach and Golf Resort, which is indeed on the beach. Actually, it's almost in the Gulf of Mexico.

The resort course is just a few minutes drive inland, on the site of an old palm tree farm. Didn't know they had such things, did you?

The course used to be known as Palm River, which was built in the 1950s. It wasn't exactly a bad course, according to Head Pro A.J Duncan, but it was rather flat and bland. In fact, you could virtually see across the entire course, from one patio to your neighbor's way on the other side.

That was before the name change and a Bob Cupp re-design in 2001. Cupp and his workers moved about 600,000 cubic yards of earth, creating some very nice elevation changes. Nothing drastic, but now the course is much more dynamic, with mounding on fairways and greens and varying topography.

It's a beautiful course to experience, particularly if you like the color lavender. Groundskeeper Brian Beckner went nuts with the plumbagos, or "Mexican petunias," and it's an obsession that has paid off handsomely. They're everywhere on the course, giving the layout a vibrant color. There are also palm trees, of course, as well as black olive trees.

"Almost everything you see, we planted, except for the big trees," Duncan said. "If somebody had told me we'd take Palm River and turn it into something like this, I wouldn't have believed them."

There are also the mangrove, bougainvillea and native sawgrass to contemplate as you move around the course, and a lot of lakes, both natural and man-made — 14 of the holes are lined with water, though there are only two real carries off the tee of consequence.

It's a strange course in one respect: It plays a lot easier than it looks. Some of the holes can be visually intimidating to the average player trying it for the first time. But, you usually have more room to negotiate than a first look might indicate.

That's the case with the 542-yard 11th hole, with its approach over water into the green. It looks scary.

"But, you don't see the 3,000 square feet of green behind it," Duncan said. "After you play it two or three times, you realize you have more room to work with than you think."

La Playa Golf Course: The verdict

The course is 6,907 yards from the back tees, but this is like so many other courses in that you need to pick the right tees. If you do, you'll enjoy this course as much or more than other Naples courses.

There are a lot of risk-reward options, as well as bail-out areas, and the conditioning is superb, even in the throes of summer. The TiftEagle Bermuda greens were the best I putted on during a recent visit to the area.

To elaborate on the above theme, the visual intimidation factor is also softened by the fact that most of the greens and some of the fairways are mounded, creating a funnel effect toward your target. So if you hit a good drive and get it close, you can score well here.

It's an excellent resort course, one that is walkable and easy on the women, with its minimal forced carries. In fact, the only real walk of any length is between Nos. 9 and 10.

The 10-minute spacing between tee times is a nice touch.

Naples hotels

La Playa Beach and Golf Resort is one of the best-known in Naples, a grand resort that looms high over the Gulf, where you can look right down on the snorkelers making their way through water so clear you can see whatever happens to be swimming through. It's right next to Vanderbilt Bay.

There's an excellent restaurant, Balleen's — "serious food with a whimsical mood" is their motto — as well as a spa and a host of other stuff to make you feel rich and spoiled. The resort has won a number of deserved awards, like inclusion in Conde Naste Traveler's top 100 golf resorts for 2006.

Naples Grande Resort and Club is a newly designed, modern resort looking out over the Gulf, about a half-mile from the beach itself, with shuttles running back and forth to get you all sandy and wet. It's built on 23 acres and overlooks the mangrove swamps that serve as a buffer for Gulf storms.

They've finished a multi-million dollar renovation and are in the middle of expanding even further, redesigning the old Registry Resort and Club into a more modern motif. Plans call for a new spa directly beside the lobby. Its sister property, the Edgewater, a few miles down the road and truly right on the Gulf, is also getting a makeover.

The Ritz-Carlton name has been synonymous with luxury for decades and the Naples golf resort does nothing to tarnish that image. It's a beautiful resort, from the time you turn into the palm-lined entrance. It's a little more casual than in years past, but they still have the blue crystal and cut flowers.

The property recently underwent a $22 million renovation, updating every room and including wood floors in the foyers, flat-screen LCD televisions and sleeper chairs. You're so pampered here you feel guilty. The pool area has personal cabanas have their own refrigerators and TVs.

Naples restaurants

The Naples Grande has a number of restaurants and will soon built the Strip House, with an all-red interior, which will serve dishes like Colorado lamb rack, Maine lobster and sesame-crusted tuna.

The Lemonia at the Ritz is a Tuscan restaurant, where you can eat indoors or on the outside patio that overlooks the golf course: man, you've got to try the salmon and their desserts. There is also the Bella Vista Lobby Lounge, poolside grill and a coffee shop. Downtown restaurants are nearby.

Fast Fact

The course has a David Leadbetter Golf Academy on the grounds, with a double-sided driving range, short-game facility and video swing 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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