At Rotonda's Palms course in Port Charlotte, golfers make the challenge

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ROTONDA, Fla. - Residents of the Rotonda housing development in southwest Florida have their choice of four golf courses to choose from, but like the homes in the development itself, there doesn't appear to be that much difference. It takes a few times playing each to discern the subtleties.

The three 18-hole courses - there is also an executive course - all offer fairly easy layouts with superb conditioning, good service and a handful each of interesting holes.

The Palms course at Port Charlotte is an attractive layout, with a lot of ponds and small, marshy areas and more mounding. It's probably a little more aesthetically pleasing than the others and a little more demanding.

"I like this one the best," said golfer Bob Evans. "It's got more water and it's a little harder."

The Rotonda courses are all within easy driving distance of Punta Gorda, which Golf Digest has called one of the top metro areas in the country for golf.

With a slope of 127 from the back tees, the Palms course winds through quite a bit of housing, some of it a little too close for comfort, and the rough around the greens is deeper and more unforgiving than Long Marsh, another of the Rotonda courses.

Like the others, stay in the fairway and you'll be happy in your heart and low on the scorecard.

"It's fairly user-friendly," said Head Professional Robbie Currie. "I don't think there's much challenge out there. It's fairly open. Play it the way it was designed. The only way you can get in trouble is if you take some risks."

When there isn't much challenge, you challenge yourself, and the Palms comes through in that regard - there are several par 4s that are driveable, and there isn't a hacker alive who doesn't get a thrill out of driving a par 4, allowing brief, delusional comparisons to the long hitters on the PGA Tour.

No. 4 is a 388-yard sharp dogleg right - where most hackers hit anyway. If you can clear the bunker and the trees, you'll have a short iron in or - happy days - find yourself on the green. If you do find yourself on holy ground, you'll likely be near the hole; the green is convex, funneling to the front center, where the flag was one September day (Yes, I drove it, thank you very much).

No. 6 is a short three-shotter, as is No. 7, a 316-yarder with a fairway at nearly a 90-degree angle to the end of the fairway. If you go for it off the tee, remember water runs up almost to the green on the right, and a bunker must be carried.

No. 13 can be reached off the tee at 333 yards, but beware the two fairways that almost meet in the center of the fairway a short distance from the green.

The verdict

The Palms at Rotonda can be a fun play: you can play it safe and score well or go against Currie's advice and take some risks. Aside from the short par 4s, there are also some par 5s easily reachable in two, giving even more birdie opportunities.

Stay and play

For those bed-and-breakfast, walk-around types, the Virginia House Bed and Breakfast in downtown Punta Gorda might be right up your alley. The place was built in the late 1880s as a place for Methodists to worship.

It's been restored to close to its original condition, after a series of ownership changes, and the result is what bed and breakfast enthusiasts would call quaint and charming: hardwood floors and walls, canopy beds, a working fireplace in the living room and antique fixtures. The claw-foot bath tub in the Chancel Suite is a treat. It's in a hundred-year-old neighborhood, and within a few blocks of the riverfront area, with small shops, museums and the downtown marina.

For you beach types, Palm Harbor 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

The Palms course was designed by D.J. Devictor, based in Roswell, Ga.

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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