Twin Isles Country Club in Punta Gorda fights diversity to produce worthy golf on the Gulf

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. - Twin Isles Country Club has a bit of a schizophrenic history when it comes to the architectural aspect.

Originally built about 30 years ago with "input" from noted Florida architect Ron Garl, the course underwent a major renovation in 2000 under the brush of golf architect Chip Powell. Among other changes, they re-did the drainage and bunkering and added trees.

Then, Hurricane Charley had its "input," roaring over the course last year, taking out most of the trees Powell put in, not to mention devastating the clubhouse and other buildings - they found air-conditioning units in the parking lot and swimming pool.

Through it all, one of the better courses in the Punta Gorda area - named one of the top metro areas in the U.S. by Golf Digest - somehow emerged. The private course is beautifully laid out, with an interesting mix of yardages and holes. It's challenging enough, but not to the point the average hacker can't have a good round there.

"It's fairly challenging," Head Professional Steve Baisch said. "It's a fair course. Off every tee you have wide landing areas, but there's also some risk-reward out there. It's definitely a good risk-reward golf course."

They don't believe in taking it slow here; the first three holes are among the toughest on the course. The first two holes are doglegs around lakes, one right and one left, and the third is a 419-yard par 4 with water right and left that requires accuracy off the tee.

Some of the holes have greens that sit at angles to the fairway, others are doglegs that can be cut, but you risk getting into trouble at every turn. The course has water in play virtually every hole and bunkers that must be either narrowly avoided or carried to get to the best route to the green.

Twin Isles Country Club: The verdict

Twin Isles C.C. is definitely worth a visit, if you can get on the private club; it has reciprocal arrangements with other area courses, like many private facilities.

The conditioning is excellent and the course will only improve visually once they get into the tree replanting program in more earnest.

The fairways have good movement, there is imagination around the greens and the par 3s aren't throwaways; the course has some tough one-shotters.

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 has 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 100-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 $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 cafe 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.

In Punta Gorda, try Mama Nunzio's for great Italian food. Get the seafood chowder and lasagna.

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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