The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club: A haven for public players
NAPLES, Fla. -- The golf course at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club dates to the late 1920s, long before this Gulf Coast town led the world in golf courses per capita.
There were no gated communities, no fancy, high-rise hotels and no country clubs back then. The first paved road, the Tamiami Trail, connecting Florida's largest cities -– Tampa Bay and Miami -– had just been completed in 1926.
In the 85 years since, Naples morphed into a country-club mecca. Private clubs hide inside almost every gated community. Through it all, the Golf Club -- the original 18-hole golf course in Naples -- remained true to its roots, allowing anybody who loves the game to tee it up. Driving into Naples from the north, the golf course is visible along the right side of the Tamiami Trail, a reminder for every passerby to visit again.
Development has hemmed in the golf course, which can't expand to accommodate today's super-sized layouts. But the Watkins family, which has owned the course since the 1950s, continues to invest in this historical treasure.
The golf course reopened in September 2010 after a two-month renovation resurfaced 12 greens and all 18 tees. The tee boxes were also leveled and squared off. Naples resident Gerry Kane, who used to teach at the resort's golf school, describes it as a "dramatic change."
"The playability and conditions are much more consistent," he said. "The tee boxes used to crowned. Now they're level and flat."
The 6,448-yard golf course serves as a haven for families, women, seniors and resort guests from snowy climates who haven't played in a while. It features a handful of difficult holes, but this is pretty straightforward golf that will do more to pad your ego than bruise it. The golf course is considered the best public venue in Naples (though there isn't much competition).
It annually hosts the Florida State Senior Men's Open Championship and Florida State Senior Women's Golf Association Championship.
The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club's history reads like a fairytale, filled with legendary heroes and tales of rebirth. The original layout was redesigned in 1948 by Mark Mahanna. Three years later, 11-year-old Jack Nicklaus vacationed with his family at the hotel when he broke 40 for the first time, shooting a 37.
In 1963, then-Head Professional Paul Bell shot the course-record 63 while playing with legend Gene Sarazen, club founder Henry B. Watkins Sr. and Patty Berg, a 15-time major champion.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed more than 400 of the resort's mature trees, causing substantial damage to the golf course. As part of a $13 million renovation, Ron Garl restored the golf course, planting more than 700 native trees on the resort's grounds.
A 74,000-square-foot clubhouse was erected in 2000, housing a pro shop, the resort's spa and fitness center and Broadwell's, a restaurant open seasonally for lunch with its Totch Brown's Bar.
Today, the golf course lags behind local competition when it comes to conditioning, but the layout retains good character.
The 176-yard third hole requires a solid strike over water and a narrow bunker. The par-5 fifth, a 518-yard test and the No. 1 handicap, bends right with water up the left side. The fairway of the 345-yard 10th hole doglegs left around more water. And the 398-yard 18th saves the best for last as water lines the fairway and dips in front of the green, setting up a daunting, long approach shot.
Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club: The verdict
If you're a hotshot with a handicap lower than 5 or a golf-course snob -– someone who plays only at the best -– a tee time here will probably leave you disappointed. But if you don't have the connections or thick wallet necessary to play the area's higher-profile private or resort golf courses, this is a suitable substitute. It's most ideal for families, vacationing couples and northerners looking to scratch a golf itch in winter.
Where to stay
The Watkins family has spent roughly $55 million since 2000 to upgrade its resort, the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, the city's only full-service beachfront resort. Guests will love the new $5 million beachfront pool complex surrounded by palm trees. It features two pools, including one for adults only, two whirlpools, eight cabanas, a pool bar with food service and a pool shop. Just a few steps away sits the 1,000-foot private beach. All 316 rooms and suites were recently redone, adding flat-screen TVs, plus new furniture and decor.
The best spot to sit in the whole place? The bar stools of the Sunset Bar, overlooking the beach with a drink in hand.
February 8, 2011