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Move over Orlando and Tampa, Naples golf has got game

Joel ZuckermanBy Joel Zuckerman,
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Naples Grande Golf Club
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Designed by Rees Jones, Naples Grande Golf Club is a rolling, parkland track that's serene and lovely. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

NAPLES, Fla. - Drive through virtually any commercial district in Naples and you can't help but notice the proliferation of banks, brokers and financial institutions. This ritzy enclave on Florida's southwest coast is awash in money, as evidenced by the gleaming boutiques, trendy eateries, exotic convertibles and stupefying mega-mansions.

The golf scene is rich as well. Twenty years ago there were very few golf courses available for the vacationer or public player, but the selection and quality of public access and resort facilities currently available now rivals better known Florida golf destinations like Orlando and Tampa.

Naples Grande Golf Club

Naples Grande Golf Club affords a fine example. This Rees Jones design has garnered plenty of attention since it debuted nearly 10 years ago. A private club that's also available to guests of the nearby Registry Resort and Edgewater Beach Hotel, the Grande sets conventional wisdom about Florida golf on its ear.

While most golf courses in the state are flat, condo-lined and riddled with water hazards, Naples Grande is none of the above. It's a rolling, parkland track that's serene and lovely. Perhaps a tad over-sloped at 135 from the middle-backs, there's room to drive the ball on most holes, but wayward approach shots will settle in sand, swales or the intermittent lake.

Filled with bougainvillea and oleander, with holes framed by pines, oaks, palmettos and some amazing cypress trees, the course is a veritable Garden of Good or Evil, depending on how the golf ball's behaving.

The minimal use of water has maximum effect. A man-made brook babbles innocuously on several holes, but the fear factor comes into play because of the occasional lake. The most memorable hole on the property is the par-5 16th, which requires a tee shot over water and an approach to a tiny green buttressed on three sides by rock walls that lead to 20-foot drop into a quarry. Not exactly your typical Florida panorama.

Tiburon Golf Club

Greg Norman's Tiburon Golf Club is yet another exceptional course in the Naples area. At Tiburon, a 36-hole facility adjacent to a magnificent Ritz-Carlton hotel, you're either in the fairway or in the flowers.

Norman designed Tiburon's Black Course and Gold Course to play like a British Open venue. It's firm and fast, with little rough to speak of. It's the type of courses where you can putt from well off the green, which is a boon to those who are chipping challenged. But the combination buzz cut and sloping contours are maddening. Approach shots and simple pitches from around the green that are played a hair aggressively can pick up speed past the hole, trickle off of the putting surface and end up in thicket, sand or out-of-bounds.

Raptor Bay Golf Club

Another multiple Major champion turned course designer is Raymond Floyd, who has produced a delightfully organic facility called Raptor Bay Golf Club in the nearby town of Bonita Springs.

Florida, much like Arizona, is not a place where you want to be chasing wayward balls into the underbrush. Spiders, snakes, birds and reptiles rule the roost in this part of the world, and Raptor Bay might well be their capital city. This is the world's first golf course to receive Audubon International's Gold Signature Certification, representing environmental stewardship and sustainable practices.

This is a super golf playground with wide open fairways and sandy native areas adjacent to greens and fairways. No blasting required; the sand is hard packed, and the cerebral play is to putt or chip onto the green from the coquina shell waste areas.

Surrounded by more than 200 acres of native vegetation, Raptor Bay is a wild and wonderful walk through a green and teeming wasteland.

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Black course at Tiburon Golf ClubRaptor Bay Golf Club
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Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

 
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