When a region dubs itself “The Golf Capital of the World,” you know it’s worthy of the “Golf Town USA” distinction. Idyllic Naples, perfectly placed along Florida’s Southwestern “Paradise Coast,” has long been home to a collection of resort courses and private clubs to rival (or exceed) any U.S.-based golf stronghold.
In the 80s, 90s and early 00s the mix of venues was predominantly “members only,” and uber exclusive at that. Clubs like Old Collier, Olde Florida and Calusa Pines were invitation only, and not many invites were issued. While the greater Naples area still lays claim to 60-plus country clubs, it’s also home to more than 30 public access courses ranging from upscale daily fee to affordable public access.
Timing is everything when planning a Naples golf trip. Peak season winter rates at top courses can easily exceed $250, while the summer months bring deep discounts but also a significant amount of golf course maintenance throughout the market. The early fall and late spring shoulder seasons are sneaky good times to plan a visit, with reasonable rates, fewer crowds and less thunder and lightning.
For those looking to retire or relocate to Southwest Florida, the city of Naples still retains much of the charm (and wealth) that put it on the map many decades ago. Outlying areas like North Naples, Golden Gate, Bonita Springs and Estero offer plenty of modern touches and more affordable price points.
Without further ado, here’s our breakdown of this eternally sunny Southwestern golf enclave.
Must Plays: Old Corkscrew Golf Club is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course in rapidly growing Estero in southern Lee County. The brawny, 7,393-yard layout sprawls over 275 acres of native, grasses, trees and wetlands marked by vast waste bunkers, pristine fairways and the Golden Bear’s signature green complexes.
Unique to the area, Old Corkscrew is a pure golf experience devoid of housing and other distractions. All the better for focusing on the task at hand and managing the course’s eye-popping 151 slope rating from the tips.
Further south, golfers will appreciate the one-two punch of the Gold and Black courses at Tiburon Golf Club. Both tracks were designed by Greg Norman and are home to PGA and LPGA Tour events: the QBE Shootout and CME Group Tour Championship, respectively. The combo sets up perfectly for the relatively long days of late summer and early that can still accommodate 36 holes.
Solid Second (s): The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort anchors the Naples region’s southern end, and the Hammock Bay Golf and Country Club is the property’s marquee offering. Jim Hardy and former PGA / Champions Tour player turned commentator Peter Jacobsen designed the course, which recently underwent a $4.8 million overhaul that entailed the installation of saltwater tolerant paspalum grass.
Double up with a round at sister course, The Rookery at Marco, a Joe Lee original that was touched up by Bob Cupp in 2002 and in 2014 by Hardy and Jacobsen. Both courses are private, but guests of the Marriott have access to select tee times. If the south side of Paradise coast is your target destination, this is the place to be.
Hidden Gem: The Lely Resort Golf and Country Club is quintessential Naples golf, with two resort tracks and one private course: The Mustang and Flamingo Island are open to public play, designed by Lee Trevino and Robert Trent Jones Sr., respectively. Both are typically in good to great condition, and practice junkies will appreciate its two full-service practice facilities, including a 54,000-square-foot driving range with target greens.
Preferred Private (s): Golf course aficionados will quickly note that Naples is chock-full of Arthur Hills, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman courses. The Club at Olde Cypress, however, zigs where others clubs zag. Owned by luxury home builder Stock Development, it boasts one of only two Dye family designs in the region with an 18-hole offering from Pete Dye’s youngest son, P.B.
Like his famed father and mother, Alice, P.B. has always had a penchant for crafting courses that appeal to both men and women golfers. Olde Cypress is no exception as witnessed by the sheer number of ladies golf groups, tournaments and events. The club is the centerpiece of a highly sought-after, 450-acre gated enclave with resale homes ranging from $550,000 to over $1 million.
“Have clubs, will relocate” golfers take note: Olde Cypress is wrapping up a multi-million-dollar remastering of the golf course this fall. The expansive project entailed the resurfacing of all 18 greens, practice green and chipping area; enlarging, leveling and re-grassing tee boxes; installation of a new subsurface drainage system and new artificial turf on the driving range.
Additionally, the pro shop was reimagined with interior design upgrades ranging from color pallets, woodwork and lighting to countertops, artwork and flooring. In short, Olde Cypress is perfectly positioned for the uptick in golf participation and membership demand that’s forecast to continue into the foreseeable future.
For diehards who prefer a multi-course club setup, Shadow Wood Country Club in Bonita Springs features 54 holes of championship caliber golf. All three courses have been recently renovated by Rees Jones and provide spectacular playing conditions year-round. Shadow Wood is in the process of building a brand new 3,500-square-foot pro shop which will overlook the expansive practice facilities and feature unique retail opportunities for its members.
Game improvement gurus will love the practice facilities, which boast a double-sided range and numerous short game practice areas. The Shadow Wood Golf Academy is located at the back of the range and offers an indoor hitting bay, club fitting studio, and all the latest technological aids to help members improve their game. After a round of golf, members sip cocktails by the firepits on the club’s Sunset Terrace or dine at one of Shadow Wood’s many venues.
Dine out: Fifth Avenue is the Naples “OG” when it comes to a night out on the town. Chic shops, decadent restaurants and vibrant bars and clubs line this famous street. Anything, and any cuisine, is possible, here with eateries ranging from traditional American to sushi and Italian. Further north in Bonita Springs, Coconut Point Shopping Center is stuffed with fast-service and sit-down restaurants, as well as the ever-popular Tommy Bahama Restaurant. For a true taste of Naples tradition, pay a visit to The Bay House along the Cocohatchee River.
411: Collier and Lee Counties share the Southwest Florida International Airport, and the Naples Area benefits from this optimally-sized, easy-to-access transportation hub’s location in south Lee County just minutes from Estero, Bonita Springs, and Naples. For decades, Midwesterners made their way south on I-75 or U.S. 41 to their Southwestern Florida termini in sunny Naples. Making the trek to Naples has become “a thing” again, what with many folks not ready to return to air travel just yet.