Great greens make Panther Run Golf Club a bargain just east of Naples

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

AVE MARIA, Fla. -- If sticker shock during high season in southwest Florida has you feeling blue, head for the greens of Panther Run Golf Club.

Panther Run Golf Club - hole 18
Water comes into play on the par-5 18th at Panther Run Golf Club.
Panther Run Golf Club - hole 18Panther Run Golf Club - hole 5Panther Run Golf Club - hole 7
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Panther Run Golf Club

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Located in Ave Maria, Panther Run Golf Club is less than 30 minutes from Naples but it has a much more secluded feel. The course was built with a strong dedication to preserving the landscape's beautiful natural features and significant environmental resources, even as residences started being developed.

18 Holes | Semi-Private golf course | Par: 72 | 7532 yards | Book online | ... details »

Panther Run is just far enough out of the way that lower greens fees help attract golfers to this fine Troon Golf-managed facility roughly 30 minutes inland from Naples.

Director of Golf Jim Simpson said he believes if Panther Run was 20 miles east or west closer to more people that "we would cost $150 without a doubt." The highest rate in 2012 during high season was $89.

"We still get people to say we didn't know you were here, even though we've done heavy marketing," Simpson said. "Geographically, we are at a disadvantage. But we do it better than anyone from guest services to starters and rangers. We try to exceed all expectations, and we price ourselves right."

This Gordon Lewis design opened in 2007 as The Golf Club at Del Webb before a name change in 2010. The club sits within Del Webb Naples, a retirement community for people ages 55 and older that will someday max out at 2,000 homes. Lewis designed the course to cater to this older clientele. Seniors, ladies and higher handicaps appreciate its wide fairways.

Lewis told Simpson that Panther Run is one of the three best golf courses he's designed, a list that includes dozens of local courses. The greens are its biggest treasure. The greens can get up to 13 on the Stimpmeter around the time of the club championship in March and consistently run at a 10 all year long. The slick surfaces come courtesy of superintendent Mike Meisenhelter, who previously worked at The Westin La Cantera Resort in San Antonio, home to a PGA Tour event for many years.

The 29 lakes and ponds on the property are in play from time to time, but more often than not, they're set back on the perimeter.

"We got tired of the courses being so difficult," Simpson said. "That's why we get so much repeat play. They can hit driver on every hole. It is just a fun golf course to play. You don't get stressed out with the broad corridors and big greens."

Anybody who calls Panther Run easy hasn't moved to the back two sets of tees (at 6,695 and 7,532 yards, respectively).

Water squeezes the short par-4 eighth on either side of the fairway. Other dangerous swings come off the tee at the par-4 fifth and 16th, where water pinches the fairway. The day ends strong with No. 17, a long watery par 3 with a huge swale in the middle of the green, and No. 18, a par 5 with water protecting the green.

"This is as good a course as any I've played (in the area)," said Dick Bucci of Naples moments after his round. "It is playable for seniors. Good golfers can find as much challenge as they need. It keeps you interested."

Panther Run Golf Club: The verdict

For the price, this is probably the best value in southwest Florida. Panther Run is also a great place for snowbirds to play in the winter. They can spray the ball while shaking the rust off their swings and still get away with it. The greens are a pure pleasure. They were some of the fastest and purest public-course greens I've putted.

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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