SWFL Golf: Can You Swing It?
The PGA names the area's 9 toughest holes—and local pros tell you how to play them
The difficulty of any golf course typically mirrors the severity of its geography. The flatplan fairways of Texas become taxing only when fried under the scorching Lone Star sun. Scotland’s links are lullabies till a squall rolls in off the North Sea. Pebble Beach’s iconic 18th would be just another two-shot par 5 if the Pacific Ocean wasn’t waiting to devour over-cooked hooks. And Southwest Florida? Well … “We live in paradise,” says Dan Gawronski, head golf professional at Pelican’s Nest Golf Club in Bonita Springs and director of the Southwest Florida chapter of the PGA of America. Other than some afternoon showers come summer, don’t expect too much trouble from Collier and Lee counties’ incessant sunshine. (Though swinging with sunburn is never easy.) Creating meticulously malicious golf courses wouldn’t fit our lifestyle.
But don’t let the climate lull you into a false sense of security. Southwest Florida golf courses do have inherent hazards—wet ones, in particular. Gawronski says real estate developers bought up patches of inland water and swamp because they were cheaper than tracts of solid earth. They then dynamited the ponds and wetlands to create the fairways and greens that now wind through our neighborhoods. The result is a network of courses that invoke target golf, where accuracy is essential to keeping your ball—and your score—afloat.
“If anything, it may just be the style of the golf course,” he says. “Water adds beauty, but it’s also challenging. A forced carry to a fairway could intimidate an intermediate golfer.”
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And not to veer into scare tactics, but forced carries are popular hangouts for our state reptile, the alligator. Plus, Southwest Florida golf, with nearly 200 golf courses, is a numbers game. Multiply that by 18, and there you have it. You shouldn’t have any lack of evidence.
The evidence we went looking for? The nine most difficult holes in Collier and Lee counties. Helping us in our quest was the PGA of Southwest Florida, whose members offered nominations for the meanest holes around. We knew we had a reliable list after noticing the inclusion of a course whose name has been converted to a verb—as in, “I got Corkscrewed”—and another called simply Long Mean. Should you find yourself on the tee box of one of the Nasty Nine, don’t fret. Representatives at each of the courses have outlined the dangers that await you and how to conquer them. Paradise may have potholes, but that doesn’t mean they have to ruin your round.
No. 9, Old Corkscrew Golf Club, Estero
Designer: Jack Nicklaus
Professional tees: 423 yards
Member tees: 357 yards
Women’s tees: 291 yards
This hole generally catches the first-time visitor a little off guard because it’s deceptively benign from the tee. But the approach shot will send your mind reeling, conjuring images of the penultimate hole at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach. The green is built on a retaining bulkhead with water encircling a good portion of it. You can bailout to the left, but that usually means ending up in a sand trap that requires a precisely executed bunker shot. It’s a par or bust for most players. Don’t fret if you happen to land in the latter—the dejected golfer has only a short trek to the beer station.
—Mark Iwinski, director of operations
No. 7, The Club at Olde Cypress, Naples
Designer: P. B. Dye
Championship tees: 228 yards
Tournament tees: 208 yards
Dye/Preserve tees: 191 yards
Pines tee: 168 yards
Cypress tee: 148 yards
The only non-par 4 on the list, its nickname, Dual Sleepers, refers to the two large sand traps that guard the entire right side of the green. A pot bunker in front of the green and two others short-left (a replica of the Principal’s Nose bunkers at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland) are visually intimidating. But bail long and left and your ball will find a collection area. The green favors a left-to-right approach from the tee to the long and narrow green.
—Mike Hulbert, director of golf
No. 16, Fiddlesticks Country Club’s Long Mean course, Fort Myers
Designer: Ron Garl
Championship tees: 464 yards
Blue tees: 430 yards
Member/White tees: 406 yards
Silver tees: 375 yards
Red tees: 300 yards
Aqua: 286 yards
This is the midpoint of five of the best finishing holes in Southwest Florida. A well-struck and long drive is required on this dogleg-right layout that wraps around water. Tee shots that miss left find mounds and formidable rough, making it tough to reach the green in regulation. Should you find the fairway, the approach offers little respite. Left finds two deep bunkers, while right leaves you with a difficult pitch to an elevated and rolling green. A par here usually beats even the strongest opponent.
—Jim Kurtzeborn, director of golf
No. 15, The Club at Renaissance, Fort Myers
Designer: Arthur Hill
Black tees: 454 yards
Blue tees: 436 yards
Green/White tees: 398 yards
Gold tees: 370 yards
Maroon/Red tees: 327 yards
This long, dogleg-left features a fairway bunker that spans the entire left side of the landing area, and a water hazard lurks up the right, coiling around the back of the green, which is elevated and protected by the smallest bunker on the course. Driving the ball in the fairway is essential, and the approach shot requires pinpoint accuracy as the green falls away on all sides.
—David Kent, assistant general manager and director of golf
No. 9, Wildcat Run Golf & Country Club, Estero
Designer: Arnold Palmer
Blue tees: 441 yards
Gold tees: 415 yards
Green/White tees: 390 yards
Silver/Copper tees: 338 yards
The front nine concludes with two stout par 4s, but No. 8 is slightly easier because it presents zero bunkers and little threat from water. Obstacles on the ninth begin the moment you tee your ball up, the drive needing to be struck toward the left fairway bunker for a better angle on approach. From there, players have anywhere from 215 to 165 yards remaining, depending on the length of the drive. Three well-placed bunkers and a water hazard guard the right side of the green, which is 43 yards deep, affording a number of outstanding hole locations. Make your four, walk away and mentally prepare for the difficult back nine.
—Peter Beringer, head golf professional
No. 16, West Bay Beach & Golf Club, Estero
Designer: Pete and P. B. Dye
Tournament tees: 457 yards
Championship tees: 428 yards
Back/West Bay tees: 383 yards
Masters/Middle tees: 336 yards
Forward tees: 297 yards
The hole doglegs right, so your drive must be on the left side of the fairway if you want to even see the green on your second shot. A good drive leaves you about 175 to 210 yards from the two-tiered green. The top tier is about 10 feet above the bottom. Your approach must carry an environmentally sensitive area that’s about 90 yards short of the green. Two great shots are needed just to sniff par on this hole.
—Jeffrey Raimer, director of golf
No. 15, The Old Collier Golf Club, Naples
Designer: Tom Fazio
Championship tees: 468 yards
Medal tees: 427 yards
Player/Club tees: 404 yards
Intermediate tees: 384 yards
Forward tees: 324 yards
Eight-time major champion Tom Watson called No. 15 the toughest hole here, noting how designer Tom Fazio left nature alone to define course. The tee shot plays uphill, and given the gentle slope of the fairway from right to left, a player can sense that the best tee ball should be shaped in that direction. From the center of the fairway, players are presented with a panorama of the natural scrub habitat surrounding the hole. The approach has to carry this preserved area, yet remain below the hole as the green slopes substantially from back-left to front-right. A shot hit past the cup leaves a dangerous downhill putt.
—Steve Waugh, director of golf, and Brian Yarusevich, head golf professional
No. 2, Tiburon Golf Club’s Black Course, Naples
Designer: Greg Norman
Championship tees: 422 yards
Back tees: 394 yards
Tiburón tees: 365 yards
Middle tees: 350 yards
Forward tees: 306 yards
With trees down the right and trees down the left, if you miss the fairway here there’s a good chance you’ll be shark bit. Though the most demanding on the course, the tee shot is one of the most scenic. Once through the narrow chute of pines, the fairway opens up to an undulating green surrounded by water on the right and bunkers on the left. A par here feels like a birdie.
—Jim Magnusson, director of marketing and membership sales
No. 4, Hunter’s Ridge Golf & Country Club, Bonita Springs
Designer: Gordon Lewis
Championship tees: 630 yards
Men’s tees: 538 yards
Senior men’s tees: 450 yards
Ladies’ tees: 442 yards
Senior ladies’ tees: 432 yards
This monster meets golfers early in the round. It’s a slight dogleg left, but that’s only part of the challenge. From the back tees, a drive must carry 230 yards to reach the fairway, and shots leaning left or right are in danger of finding water hazards. An additional ribbon of water that slices through the fairway at 140 yards makes laying up more than a pro forma 3 wood. A 250-yard drive followed by a 210-yard second leaves 170 to a green featuring a false front sloping right-left and back-front.
—Ron Harpster, director of golf