Private golf courses in Naples open up to traveling golfers

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

NAPLES, Fla. – Times are changing in this swanky golf mecca in southwest Florida along the Gulf of Mexico.

Naples Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort & Spa
The Naples Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort & Spa and its sister Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort several miles away afford access to Tiburon Golf Club, home of The Shark Shootout.
Naples Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort & SpaGolf Lodge at the Quarry in Naples - hole 15Old Corkscrew G.C. in EsteroNaples Grande golf course - 16th hole
If you go

The gates leading to private golf clubs that once were locked are more likely than ever to swing open for anybody willing to pay a green fee. The economic meltdown of the real estate market has changed the business model for private clubs in a zip code that has more golf courses per capital than anywhere in the world.

Resort courses at Tiburon Golf Club and Naples Grande Golf Club remain the most popular spots for traveling golfers visiting Naples, but savvy players who want more could be just a phone call away from getting a tee time at a spectacular private club.

Outside play at private golf clubs? It doesn't hurt to ask

For example, Matt Russell, the director of golf at the Golf Lodge at the Quarry, said his private club will accept outside play if a hotel concierge calls to make the tee time. The Quarry, a private Michael Hurdzan-Dana Fry design that opened in 2007, will host the 2010 ACE Group Classic on the Champion's Tour Feb. 12-14. Likewise, the TPC at Treviso Bay, the former home of the event, has a "member for a day" program that allows outside play. Not every private club has relaxed its rules, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

Gary Wilcox, the general manager of Tiburon, said his club now allows some outside play, although priority goes to members and guests of the two affiliated Ritz-Carlton hotels.

"In these economically challenging times, some clubs have allowed some amount of outside play," Wilcox said. "There are a lot of courses in the area. Is the golf market oversaturated? It's close. We really focus on the quality of the facility, and despite this difficult economic time, if you have a great course and conditions and great amenities and treat the customer well, you'll win."

It's the golfer who can claim the ultimate victory. They've got more choices than ever.

Golf courses in Naples: Where to play

The 36-hole Tiburon Golf Club still sets the standard for resort golf in Naples. The lack of rough on Tiburon's Gold course and Black course defines a unique playground. The wall-to-wall short grass can be both a blessing and a curse. Stray shots always seem to find precarious lies in the hazards lining the fairway. Both tracks are certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries by Audubon International for their natural surroundings.

Many players come looking to tackle the Gold course, host of the Shark Shootout, a casual silly season event for PGA Tour pros. By the time they leave, they end up loving the tougher, more strategic Black course.

"The Black gives you more variety of holes and different looks," Wilcox said.

Architect Rees Jones did a bang-up job making the Naples Grande Golf Club a fun place to play. The golf course starts softly with five non-descript holes. The layout climaxes with several holes along a 30-acre lake on the back nine. The par-5 16th features a risk-reward shot off the tee, depending on the angle of the carry over the water, and on the second shot to a green perched atop rock pilings.

North of Naples in Estero, the Old Corkscrew Golf Club by Jack Nicklaus gets high marks for a tough layout that caters best to low handicappers. Water seems to be lurking at every turn.

The same principle applies at the Golf Lodge at the Quarry. The water prominent on every hole of the yardage card looks daunting, but wide fairways and big greens keep the course enjoyable. After a round, spend some time in the "golf lodge," a roomy, modern clubhouse overlooking the 18th green.

The TPC of Treviso Bay is designed by Arthur Hills, who has been called "the Mayor of Naples" for his extensive work in designing golf courses in the area. It's one of the last developments before Alligator Alley, the road that cuts through the Everglades.

Naples lodging

Naples is the only golf destination with two Ritz-Carlton properties: The 295-room, Mediterranean-themed Naples Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort within walking distance of Tiburon Golf Club and the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort, a high-rise with 450 rooms three miles away. The beach-front property boasts a much larger pool scene and three miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico.

The Naples Grande Beach Resort and the Edgewater Hotel provide the only access to Naples Grande. Both properties have undergone extensive transformations in recent years. The Naples Grande Beach Resort, formerly known as the The Registry Resort & Club from 1986-2006, received a multimillion-dollar renovation during a rebranding. New are the modern lobby, Strip House steakhouse, Golden Door Spa, 474 retooled guestrooms and 50 refurbished Bungalow suites.

Several other properties, such as the renovated Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, the LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, and the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa, offer golf packages as well. The Lely Resort Golf & Country Club boasts two courses and on-site vacation homes and condos.

Naples dining

For such a seasonal town, Naples has an incredible array of dining choices.

The Ruth's Chris and Don Shula chains have high-end steak houses in the area. Several P.F. Chang's highlight the Asian offerings.

Cruise down the main drag, the Tamiami Trail, to find what best fits your budget and taste buds.

Golf in Naples: The verdict

Naples doesn't have that one must-play course that other Florida golf destinations have – such as the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, the Stadium course at the TPC Sawgrass near Jacksonville and the Blue Monster at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami.

From November to April, though, there may be no better golf destination in Florida than Naples. The mostly predictable warm weather during high season is unbeatable for snowbirds seeking refuge from the cold.

The high costs that used to scare some visitors away have come down a bit, so there's no better time than now to visit.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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