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Old Corkscrew Golf Club in Estero might be the best course in southwest Florida

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Old Corkscrew Golf Club
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Old Corkscrew Golf Club is a stand-alone Jack Nicklaus work. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

Old Corkscrew Golf Club is an elegant Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course in an old Florida golf setting, a stand-alone gem that should win more than its share of awards.

ESTERO, Fla. -- The Old Corkscrew Golf Club is a misnomer. It's practically brand new, having opened in February of this year. They're still putting the finishing touches on the clubhouse and the carts sit under a temporary, open-air tent.

That hasn't stopped the Jack Nicklaus track from already winning an award. The National Association of Golf Course Owners named Old Corkscrew the Florida golf course of the year.

Officials here should save some space on the wall; there will surely be more awards to come.

Old Corkscrew is named after the nearby, meandering river. It's about seven miles west of Interstate-75 in southwest Florida, in the town of Estero, where a man named Cyrus Teed once tried to establish a utopian city at the turn of the 20th century. His goal was 10 million people with streets 400 feet wide.

Ultimately, he managed to attract only around 250 followers to the city. The streets are, well, just streets. In any case, the effort was interesting enough that town officials turned the spot into a park.

It's unlikely the Koreshans, as they were called, were duffers, but if they had been, they might have believed they came closer to utopia with the construction of Old Corkscrew.

First of all, it sits unmolested in a classic, old-Florida setting, a stand-alone course with no real estate to mar the views or feeling of splendid isolation. You'll see beautiful wading birds like roseate spoonbills, herons and egrets stalking food in the marshes surrounded by cypress trees, palmetto groves and tall pines. There is some empty farmland on parts of the golf course.

It's a touch under 7,400 yards from the back tees, with a hardy slope rating of 142, so bring your "A" game along with the binoculars.

Oddly enough, this land so suited to a great golf course was rejected by Bonita Bay, a big developer in Naples and surrounding areas. It was originally due to be a golf course called The Retreat, but the group had difficulty attracting members and sold the 275-acre parcel.

Nicklaus stuck around during the transition and golfers everywhere should be glad. This is one of his better designs, a flowing, elegant track that will test you from the middle tees as well as the back.

"That's a beautiful course," said Florida resident Jackson Pauwells. "I think it may be the best in southwest Florida. I know it's the best I've played."

Natural cart paths take you around Old Corkscrew, around purple-topped natural grasses and the marsh that juts into the gracefully-contoured fairways.

The course is always moving, with a lot of hazards in the form of large, sandy waste areas, water carries, deep greenside bunkers and beautiful bunkering.

The TifEagle greens are elevated, radically sloped and undulating, and you have to hit to certain spots in order to avoid putting all day long. Some of the pin placements can be devilish, even bordering on unfair. Nicklaus isn't a sadist, though; he usually leaves you bail-out areas and the chipping areas are closely mown.

Like most good Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses, there is an interesting variety of holes and enough risk-reward chances to cause a wide disparity on your scorecard.

Old Corkscrew Golf Club: The verdict

Old Corkscrew is clearly one of the best courses in southwest Florida, and all of Florida for that matter. Those who have played the exclusive Calusa Pines in Naples say that's the only course around that can compare.

Don't try it from the back tees unless you're a pro or low-handicapper. Move to the blues at 6,617 yards or whites at 6,262.

One more word: Old Corkscrew has the most sophisticated GPS system I've encountered. It's like going to an IMAX theater.

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Old Corkscrew Golf Club - BunkersOld Corkscrew Golf Club - greens

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.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Not for wimps!

    wsj wrote on: Aug 22, 2011

    It is a real course for real players. Wimps and whiners will hate it!


  • Golf Enthusiast

    S wrote on: Jul 5, 2010

    This target golf with a high degree of difficulty. Pros love it, including Stewart Cink. You must carefully plan every shot. Working the ball is highly reccomended. If you like challenging golf courses that are also beautiful, then this is the course for you.
    If your ego bruises easily, you may want to stay home or try some wide open course where you can claim you are a true 10 handicap to your friends.
    Kudos to Jack's team and the course management for building and maintaining one of Florida's best courses. Worthy of a PGA event!


  • Wonderful

    Andrea Z wrote on: Apr 20, 2009

    We just played Old Corkscrew yesterday. It was magnificent. We played later in the afternoon, and by the end of the round, the sun was starting to set, the birds were chirping and it was simply wonderful. The course is magnificent -- tough, but magnificent. We had read of its Audobon Silver certification, and it's ranking as Number 1 in the Southwest Florida grouping and both are well earned. It is interesting and challenging. It was great that it was not marred by houses throughout, although there were a few outbuildings in a couple of places along the course. The greens were very undulating, and without knowing the course at all, it was very difficult to land the ball and know you'd be staying right where you landed it. It cried out, therefore, for "If I played this again, I'd know better".
    We continue to explore and try out courses in the Sarasota area, and while this is about 2 hours south, it is a definite play course for anyone interested in special courses in Southwest Florida -- for that matter, in all of Florida.
    If this called for 5 stars as top notch, I'd give this 8-10 stars, it's that special.


  • Old Corkscrew, NAPLES-FT. MYERS

    Elliot DeBear wrote on: Jan 21, 2009

    Old Corkscrew Golf Club in Estero, Florida. Designed by Jack Nicklaus and his son, Steve. Was originally offered to another high end designer who turned it down due to the location. Nicklaus saw the land and knew what he could do with it. WOW! A beautifully designed track and one of the nicest and certainly most interesting and challenging I have ever played in Florida. 7393 from the tips with a 76.9/148 slope rating. 6617 from the Blues with a rating of 73.4/140 slope...this is in Florida folks. The course has everything, wild terrain, multiple lakes separating holes, tall pines framing most holes, wild flowers, fescue and the most multi-tiered, undulating greens I have ever seen. So far, no development so there are no buildings in sight bordering the course with the exception of one hole where you see a large equipment shed. At $80 for the round with cart and access to the practice facilities, it was a bargain. Compared to Tiberon at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, this was half the price and twice the course. If you are travelling to Naples, play this course. The course is located just south of Ft. Myers Airport, the airport used to fly into Naples, FL. The course is about 8 miles inland from the highway in the middle of nowwhere. What a find.You will not be disappointed. Staff is great and takes great pride in how you enjoyed yourself. Mark in the pro shop helps in any way. Cart girls are knock outs.


  • Old Corkscrew

    fdeluca wrote on: Jun 7, 2008

    Beautiful course, very very punitive. Good shots are not rewarded, bad shots are severely punished. Greens have many lumps and bumps that knock good shots off line. Putting is a real chore.
    Clearly not my favorite course in SW Fla.
    An average golfer will struggle mightly.
    I've played literally every course in SW and the east coast of Fla. I will not play this course again if I can help it.
    No fun at all.