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The Rookery at Marco Golf Club near Naples, Florida provides a leisurely stroll through nature

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer
The Rookery at Marco Golf Club - No. 9
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The fairway of the par-5 ninth hole at The Rookery at Marco Golf Club snakes between water hazards. (Jason Scott Deegan/TravelGolf)

MARCO ISLAND, Fla. -- It seems almost a miracle that The Rookery at Marco Golf Club can look and feel so natural.

The club is tucked inside the large Fiddler's Creek subdivision of private homes and condos south of Naples, just like every other private club in southwest Florida. It's located several miles from the scenic beaches and beautiful sunsets of Marco Island.

Even so, playing The Rookery feels more like a scenic tour through the Everglades than another ho-hum round on a flat Florida resort course. The houses that line several fairways rest well out of play most of the time.

The 7,152-yard layout, a member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, playfully twists through wetlands teeming with wildlife. The golf staff remains fully committed to conserving the ecosystem of the region, focusing on birds and sea turtles in their natural habitats. Rookery means "bird sanctuary."

Members report seeing bald eagles, wood storks, egrets, sand cranes, ospreys and turtles. Be careful of the snakes and alligators, too. The Rookery might be a zoo, but it doesn't feel like one to those playing golf.

"When you are out there, even though there are houses, it's a calm feeling," assistant professional Mike Kenefake said.

In 2003, architect Robert Cupp redesigned the original 1992 Joe Lee design, transforming a three-tee system into five tees on every hole to make it more playable for the retirees who flock to southwest Florida for the sunshine. The renovation also covered the course in Tif-Sport Bermuda grass.

Big greens, wide fairways and the occasional waste bunker characterize The Rookery. Marco Island resident John Khozozian, a member of the club for six years, said the layout plays more difficult than other area courses. The high slope (145) and course rating (75.2) from the tips prove The Rookery can wreck scorecards given the chance.

"It's a lot of fun to play," Khozozian said. "If I am good here, the other courses seem easier. The greens are always in excellent shape."

Members tees and super senior tees, featuring a mix of white (6,415) and yellow (5,870) tees, help everybody find their comfort zone. The course eases into the round with a pair of short par 4s and a par 3 before a meaty stretch starts at the 449-yard fifth, the No. 1 handicap hole. The seventh, a 411-yard par 4, follows a wetland by bending right. The largest lake on the course guards the right side of the fairway on the 578-yard par-5 ninth with more water left of the green.

The Rookery's 472-yard 13th hole, the longest par 4 on the course with water the entire left side, seems a little too cruel.

The forced carry over water at the 441-yard 18th hole mimics the approach shot of the 594-yard 11th hole. The major difference? The approach to the par-5 11th is probably with a wedge, not the long iron or hybrid required to hit the final green. It's a great do-or-die shot to end the day.

The spoils of the $10 million, 21,000-square-foot clubhouse debuted in 2006 as part of the overall $187 million renovation to the resort. The structure offers the Rookery Grille and a members-only area with a warm-up room, library, veranda, dining room, business offices and private boardroom.

The Rookery at Marco Golf Club: The verdict

Like everything in Naples, The Rookery is probably a bit overpriced. Nonetheless, the golf course is always in excellent condition. The handful of really good holes, especially No. 18, more than make up for some of the other less dramatic ones. It's probably on par with the best resort courses in the region: The Naples Grande Golf Club and the Tiburon Black course and Gold course at the Naples Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort and Spa.

Where to stay

The Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa is actually eight miles away from the golf club with a resort shuttle linking the two. The massive $225 million renovation at the resort over the past eight years represents the largest capital investment of any Marriott property.

The Balinese-themed resort sits nestled along three miles of Southwest Florida beaches. The biggest additions from the 2006 renovation include the 24,000-square-foot Spa at Marco Island, a total overhaul of the Quinn's and Tiki pools, and the addition of the 10,000-square-foot Palms Ballroom.

All 727 rooms and suites have been renovated to include HD plasma TVs. The resort restaurants range from the family friendly Tropiks to Kurrents, the dinner stop for steak and seafood. Beach fun highlights the recreation options. Choose from parasailing, sand-dollar painting, riding wave runners or just lounging. Everglade tours and dolphin-watching cruises are day excursions to consider.

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The Rookery at Marco Golf Club - No. 18The Rookery at Marco Golf Club - No. 16

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.

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

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