December 21, 2014

Gasparilla Thrill

Fore, Mr. President!

Chances are you will never get to utter those words. But you can play the very same course President George W. Bush plays during the winter months: Gasparilla on Boca Grande, the sleepy but wealthy island town that lies between the Gulf and Charlotte Harbor.

"Gasparilla. I've never heard of it," most new residents of Southwest Florida will say.

Many golfers who have lived here for a while think Gasparilla Golf Club is a private club just for island residents. If you fall into that category, you are right, as far as membership goes. I was told that you are not allowed to join the club unless you own property in Boca Grande. But you may be surprised to learn that this wonderful course can be played by you and me-the public.

To earn the privilege of driving over the private bridge (in a car or powered cart) connecting the elegantly designed Gasparilla Inn (that looks like something taken from the set of Gone with the Wind) with the splendid 1920s course, and the right to tee up, you must do two things. First, book

1. one of the inn's rooms or take up residence in one of its nearby cottages. The daily cost for a room for two is $458 (through April), inclusive of breakfast, lunch and dinner. The cottage price for two is $536 per night, including three meals. And second, pay

2. a $45-per-person green fee and $18-per-person golf cart fee.

My guest and I chose to stay in one of the quaint cottages located across the street from three of my favorite holes on the golf course: numbers four and five, which are two superb short par fours, and the sixth, a par three that is only short iron distance but requires you to carry a canal and hit a small target.

Gasparilla is an extremely charming and challenging course reminiscent of another favorite island course of mine: Fisher's Island, a links-type course on an island accessible by ferry from New London, Conn., and surrounded by Long Island, Block Island and Fisher's Island sounds.

Gasparilla is also scenic. Many holes run adjacent to or within view of Charlotte Harbor. But what makes the course so very special is that it is comprised of the perfect mix of par three, par four and par five holes. It's also not so tough that you become frustrated and wish you had never visited, as is the case with many long courses today. And though you may not score an eagle, you are likely to see one in the air, while at your feet there may be an iguana that fits just perfectly into the tropical setting.

The Lingo

If you think your fellow players are talking about a rabbit digging a hole when the word "borrow" is mentioned, the futures market when they mutter something about "grain," or alcohol when you hear them talk about a "roadie," then it's time for you to brush up on your golfspeak.

Apron: Synonymous with "fringe," the manicured area of grass bordering the green.

Bite: Backspin imparted on the ball makes it bite, or stop quickly on the green.

Blade: To blade the ball is to hit it with the club's leading edge rather than the center of the clubface.

Borrow: The borrow is the degree of slope in the green that makes the ball curve left or right.

Chili-dip: A faulty "fat" shot that flies only a few feet, because the player jabs the chipping club into the ground behind the ball.

Cut: A cut shot, usually played with an iron club, curves slightly to the right in the air and lands extra-softly on the green.

Fried egg: A partially buried lie in a bunker resembling a fried egg.

Grain: Grain is the direction the grass grows on the putting surface, usually toward the hole, or toward the player.

Roadie: If the player's ball hits a paved road inside the boundary of the course, then he or she goes on to score par, a point for a roadie is awarded.

Sandbagger: A player who regularly scores well below his or handicap is referred to as a sandbagger. As a matter of interest, in England this type of golfer is called a bandit.

Sweet spot: The center of the clubface.

Winning Tips

A few years back, I had the pleasure of playing golf at the Wyndermere Country Club, a splendid private course in Naples, with shot-making virtuoso Chi Chi Rodriguez. During our round, he showed me a unique shot to play when your ball is buried under the lip of a greenside sand bunker and only about 10 to 15 feet of green lies between your ball and the hole. Chi Chi calls the shot The Knife. Here's how to play it using a putter rather than a sand wedge.

When setting up to the ball, aim your feet and body left of the target. This open setup position provides a passage for you to swing the putter freely back and through.

Lean 70 percent of your weight on your left foot, to promote a very steep backswing and extremely sharp downward strike. Just before you're ready to begin your backswing, check that the toe of the putter (preferably a thin-blade model) points at a spot in the sand directly behind the ball.

In swinging the club back, allow your wrists to hinge freely, to further promote a very upright angle of ascent.

Pull the club down hard, allowing your wrists to un-hinge right away, so that the toe-end of the putter strikes the sand a half inch behind the ball. You'll see, the ball will pop out of the buried lie, float over the bunker's lip, and land softly next to the hole.

The Rules

It's not surprising that so many golfers violate the rules, considering that the legalese in the Rules of Golf, published by the United States Golf Association, can make the average amateur desperate to call someone from Harvard Law School for a correct interpretation.

Yet golfers must play by the rules to turn in an honest score and establish an honest handicap. Here are some simple procedures to follow in two common and perplexing situations.

Ball Moves: Once you address the ball and it moves out of position, you should penalize yourself one stroke. Next, you must place the ball back in its original position to avoid being penalized a total of two strokes.

Water Hazard: Assume you hit a ball over a pond fronting the green. The ball lands on the bank, inside the yellow stakes marking the hazard, then rolls back down into shallow water. Here are your options:

Play the ball out of the hazard, under no penalty, making sure, at address, not to let the bottom of the club head touch the shallow water. (Don't even try this shot unless at least half of the ball is above the surface of the water.)

Go back and play a shot from the original spot from which you last hit the ball, and penalize yourself one stroke.

Keep the point where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard between you and the hole, and go back as far as you like on that line. Drop the ball and, again, penalize yourself one stroke.

Star Gazing

PGA Tour pro Peter Jacobsen, who considers himself a part-time resident of Naples since he's been in town so often to design the new Hammock Bay course (previewed in our January issue), was born on March 4, 1954, under the sign of Pisces.

Should you share the same birth sign, I recommend you take this advice from Mark Oman, author of Golf Astrology:

1. "Your imagination allows you to see all kinds of ways to play the most difficult shots. Trust it. Use it."

2. "You can learn a lot about course management playing with a Virgo."

3. "Get your head out of the stars. When you address the down-to-earth nature of golf-as it is and not as you wish it to be-you can do more for yourself and others who need your imagination and inspiration."

4. "Play alone sometimes. It will do your body, soul and handicap good. You need that quiet time on the course to nourish all your many golfing selves swimming in the dark water hazard of your soul."

Fun and Games

In most matches, the better player gives the opponent strokes that amount to the difference in their handicaps. For example, if you are an eight-handicap player who is going against a 14 handicapper, you must give that player six strokes, according to the six most difficult holes designated on the scorecard. If you are familiar with this format, and tired of it, give the game Play It Again, Sam a shot. Here's how it works.

Instead of the lesser player being awarded handicap strokes, the better player must, at the request of the opponent, replay certain shots. Say, for example, just like the case above, an eight-handicap player is competing against a 14 handicapper. The higher handicap player must make the lower handicap player replay six shots-the difference in their handicaps. This can get interesting if the opportunities are used wisely, such as to force the replay of a great putt or a successful trouble shot.

Specialty of the Clubhouse

If you never get the chance to visit Scotland for a British Open championship and experience the pub atmosphere, don't worry. Instead, soak up the atmosphere of the brand new British Open Restaurant and Pub on U.S. 41 in Bonita Springs. Mark Burdis, the general manager, will give you more help than a Scottish caddy when it comes time to decide whether to have the Royal Birkdale pizza, or other pies named after famous courses that have hosted the British Open: St. Andrews, Royal Troon, and Turnberry. You will also have to make decisions on what to drink. For example, to choose between a Black and Tan (Guinness Stout and Bass Ale) or Half and Half (Guinness Stout and Harp Lager).

You can't go wrong, no matter what you order, sitting among golf memorabilia-everything from statues and photographs of famous players, to golf bags, clubs and silver replicas of the famous claret jug that's presented each year to the winner of what the Brits call The Open Championship.

By the way, the hottest pizza-both literally and figuratively-is the Turnberry Pizza which includes very hot Italian sausage and jalapeno peppers.

Southwest Florida's John Andrisani is the former senior editor of instruction at GOLF Magazine and the author ofThink Like Tiger. Send questions and comments to John at jagolf3238@aol.com.