Ahead of the Curve

How to Play Southwest Florida’s Best Golf Courses

Thanks to summer rules, golfers at local private clubs get to play at most of the other club courses they’d like to try.

BY July 25, 2017


Variety is the spice of life. You probably heard that from your grandmother, your home economics teacher and your college fling sophomore year. And you know what? They were right. Doing the same thing day in and day out can be detrimental to your well-being. Burger and fries every day for lunch? Lame. Same hairstyle since 1982? Sad. Bought a green Lincoln every other year since the Eisenhower administration? Ugh. You need an intervention. And while golf isn’t exactly exciting (send your letters to the publisher), there is a little-known perk for members of most private clubs in Southwest Florida that not only makes staying local during the summer bearable, but also adds a little spice to a sport whose most famous player hasn’t won a major since his wife drove a wedge through the side window of his Cadillac Escalade in 2009. And that perk comes in the form of something called the reciprocal list. Virtually every private club in Southwest Florida has one.

It seems that once season is over and the snowbird members have flocked north, the private clubs offer their remaining members the chance to play at other area clubs to which they don’t belong. That means if you have a membership at Pelican Marsh Golf Club, you can play at more than three dozen other local private golf clubs as though you have memberships there, too. Want to check out Mediterra Golf Club? You can. How about teeing it up at LaPlaya Golf Club or Royal Poinciana Golf Club? You bet.

The fact that most golfers put more miles on their golf carts than they do their actual automobiles should tell you that they need to get out more. Especially when the alternative is sitting home and literally watching the grass grow.

After all, when you move to Southwest Florida, and Naples in particular, one of the main draws is the quality of golf. Naples is regularly recognized as the Golf Capital of the United States because it has more private holes per capita than any other city. And so you join one or two clubs and get to know them like the back of your hand. But no one belongs to three dozen private clubs. After all, some of these clubs cost in excess of $200,000 just to join. And then there are yearly fees, etc. Pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

But if you’re capable of staying locally for a stretch between May 1 and Oct. 31, you get to sample some of the finest courses in the area at significantly reduced rates. Of course, this is not purely altruistic. Courses in Florida get such heavy use during season that they require significant maintenance in the off-season. For example, Collier’s Reserve Country Club aerifies its greens and fairways four times a year (in May, June, July and August), and each time it’s forced to close down the course for at least a week. Having clubs be part of reciprocal programs means members will still be able to tee it up somewhere else, avoiding the dreaded atrophy that has claimed so many in other parts of the country.

The point is, you need to get out there and play. A study in Sweden found that people who golf regularly live on average five years longer than non-golfers. And research shows that golf helps your cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic health. At least that’s what Bing Crosby told me. (Crosby died on a golf course in Spain, but don’t worry—that course isn’t on the list.)

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David McQuade, director of golf at Collier’s Reserve Country Club, says it’s the perfect alternative to leaving his members unable to play.

Best of all, it gives them the opportunity to play what are arguably the best holes in Southwest Florida during a time of year when most courses are ghost towns. Now, I don’t know about you, but having a foursome breathing down my neck isn’t cool.

For example, there’s the 18th on TwinEagles’ Talon course designed by Jack Nicklaus and his son Jack II, or the 10th at Talis Park, which was laid out by Greg Norman and Pete Dye. Both are terrific and regularly mentioned as highlights of local links. Or how about the Arthur Kills-designed Colliers Reserve sixth hole that, thanks to what feels like the longest lake in the world, makes slicers wish they were never born? And if you don’t belong to the clubs, you might not get the chance to experience them.

But if all of the clubs are aerifying regularly over the summer, won’t you just run into the same problem somewhere else? Not really.

“It works pretty well because there are places like TwinEagles and others, such as Bonita (Bay Club) East and West that have two or three or four (or five) courses and they’ll stagger maintenance,” says Dick Heend, a member of Collier’s Reserve Country Club who takes full advantage of the reciprocal program. “So that works out well.

“Sure, because we have friends at other places, during the winter, on a limited basis, you might play other courses,” he adds. “But nothing like this. One, they reduce the prices significantly so it doesn’t cost a lot to play a reciprocal course. Two, there is always limited availability in the winter, so it’s hard to get on. (But not so in the summer months.) … Plus, we utilize the course, which is good for it. And we always have lunch at the reciprocal club, so that gives them revenue. And we have a place to play so it works out great.”

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But what if you’re saying to yourself, “Maybe I’ve been golfing too much. Maybe I just need some time to unwind.” Well, first, no golfer has ever said that. However, it’s still a legitimate point, especially when many of these reciprocals include beach and yachts clubs such as The Club at Barefoot Beach, Hamilton Harbor Yacht Club or LaPlaya Beach Club. Get yourself some lunch or dinner, walk on the beach, bring a wedge and pretend it’s the world’s biggest sand trap next to the world’s largest water hazard.

And though I’ve mentioned numerous Naples-area clubs and courses, the same holds true in Lee County, where top-notch courses such as Fiddlesticks in Fort Myers (which also has two courses—the Long Mean and Wee Friendly), Bonita Bay Club in Bonita Springs with its aforementioned five courses, or Old Corkscrew in Estero (just to name a few) also take full advantage of reciprocals. (Again, check with your club to learn which clubs are included on your reciprocal list.) All you have to do to take advantage of this is call the director of golf at your club and ask him or her to schedule your game. You can then pack up your clubs, head out and kiss your balls goodbye. (It’s the law of averages. You’re bound to lose some balls.)