Lemon Bay Golf Club - oh so pretty and the smell so sweet

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ENGLEWOOD, Fla. - Lemon Bay Golf Club, here where big Charlotte Harbor meets the brawny Gulf of Mexico, is cute as a bug. It's like a big, pretty toy; you want to wrap it up and send it to a friend as a Christmas gift.

It's barely longer than an executive course at 6,180 yards from the tips and you never feel totally comfortable whacking it with your driver but it's well-groomed and friendly.

"I like this course," said Bob Daley, a Connecticut native who now makes his home in Charlotte County. "It's a nice, picturesque, enjoyable little course to play."

It has the Southwest Florida look, in terms of all the water - the ponds are all nice and symmetrical and well-tended, with birds that look like they were placed there by the maintenance staff - and palm and pine trees interspersed over the open and sometimes marshy ground. It's very well-maintained, especially for a course that used to be open to the public, now gone semi-private.

Lemon Bay in Englewood is one of those courses in and around Punta Gorda, an area with easy access to a variety of good golf courses at good rates, good enough in fact to be listed by Golf Digest as one of the top metro areas in the country for golf.

Alligators roam freely over the course. In fact, it's an alligator breeding ground where the females can get downright unfriendly at times - females of all species being a tad touchy during breeding season. Then there are the fire ant warnings, so you know you're out in the wilds.

Where it departs from most Florida courses is that it isn't run amuck by condos or homes. It's in a semi-wild setting, between Sarasota to the north and Fort Myers to the south - an area the marketers call Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands.

Architect Jim Petrides took advantage of the terrain and the developers haven't attacked as of yet. There are some homes nearby but they are hard to find and as unobtrusive as you could hope for in such a setting.

The course may be dinky in terms of length but it does have some holes that are fairly demanding, like No. 15.

"This hole is probably one of the toughest par 4s around," Daley said. "You par this hole and you feel like you've made a birdie."

It's a 450-yard par 4, one of the longer par 4s on the course, and you have to be straight down the fairway - otherwise you're in the trees or with an awkward angle into the long, narrow green. But the tough part is you're hitting over a creek with vegetation that grows like wildfire, so much in fact that you can barely see the top of the flag waving in the Gulf breezes. There's no room to the right, but there is a bail-out area left, which you know only after having played the hole.

The Verdict

Lemon Bay is indeed a picturesque, little course, and can be fun to play if you don't mind reeling in your driver a bit; it's a good course for women, even with all the water around, being that there are few forced carries.

The surroundings and lack of housing alone almost makes it worth the effort, but when you consider the green fees - $34 for weekdays and weekends - it's definitely worth a visit.

You might want to do it soon, however, because the course is considering going private at the end of next year.

Stay and Play

Palm Island Resort is one of those resorts that almost meets that marketing slogan all resorts insist on using - the word "unique." First of all, you can only get to it by boat or car ferry, though it does cost a whopping $50 to take the ferry about 75 yards over the waterway - you get a pass if you're staying at the resort.

It's a small, cozy barrier island with sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico right outside your front window. No asphalt here at the resort, and precious few cars: most island residents and guests scoot around the island by golf cart.

At the resort, the roads are made of shell and you can hitch a ride with a passing cart if you don't want to rent one. You rarely see people wearing shoes and there's a slow, relaxing feel to the place.

The villas are privately owned and furnished impeccably, with screened-in porches overlooking the beach, grass-topped dunes and Gulf. Sunsets can be spectacular. You can pretty much do anything concerned with water - kayaks and canoes for the hardy, beach umbrellas and lounges for the melanoma worshippers.

Dining out

The resort has a little breakfast café that serves continental breakfast and for lunch there's the pizzeria. The Rum Bay Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily and has terrific baby back ribs, along with seafood and the kind of wacky drinks you expect from a beach resort.

Since the villas have refrigerator and cooking facilities, there's also the Rum Bay Store next to the restaurant.

If you want to go to the mainland, Johnny Leverock's Seafood House is just a ferry ride away, and overlooks the marina and yacht basin.

Fast Fact

One good thing about a short course like this is it can make you feel like a gorilla - there are several driveable par 4s.

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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