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At Play on the Calusa Coast

The architectural provenance of the 6,488-yard par-seventy-two Naples Beach golf course has been lost in the mists of history, but the layout has undergone no fewer than three face-lifts by designer Ron Garl and one by Hurricane Andrew, which claimed some 350 trees in 1992. The remaining groves of pine, palm, oak, banyan and cypress continue to preserve a semisheltered parkland feel.

Annual host to the South Florida PGA Open, the Florida State Senior's Open and a regular schedule of junior-golf tournaments, Naples Beach reminds you that accuracy is far more important than power. There are seven ponds on the property that serve as water hazards on twelve of the eighteen holes, and there are out-of-bounds stakes on ten holes. The par fives on the front nine present nerve-rattling risk-reward options off the tee, and the 349-yard ninth, when playing downwind, is a potentially drivable par four for even modestly long hitters.

The key to navigating Naples Beach is staying high and dry on the front-nine par threes and on the treacherous home hole. The 398-yard eighteenth is a dogleg right that often plays against a quartering wind off the Gulf. Your tee shot must bisect a pair of ponds bordering either side of the fairway or you'll be playing your second with an aluminum-handled ball retriever. Even with a well-placed drive, you still face a tricky approach to a triple-bunkered green that is buffeted by gusts swirling around the new pro shop/grill/convention center behind it.

Naples Beach is the kind of short, old-time course that low-handicappers expect to burn up and middle- and high-handicappers expect to cruise around without loss of face and/or a small bucket of balls. But the easygoing charm of this tree-shaded, pond-pocked little track masks a deceptively difficult challenge that can only be met with consistently precise shot making--or that must be forgotten about while guzzling post-round Rumrunners at the poolside cabana bar across the street.

If you've ever wondered why Robert Trent Jones Sr. is regarded with such high esteem among modern golf architects, just take a gander at the 7,171-yard par-seventy-two Lely Flamingo Island Club (at Lely Resort Golf & Country Club). In a recent listing of the world's one hundred best holes, Jones Sr.'s accounted for thirteen--more than any other designer, living or dead. Although none of the holes at Lely Flamingo made the cut in the world rankings, several of them deserve to be on any legitimate list of the best holes in North America. I toured the track with three other veteran pros, and by the time we made the turn, we sounded like a foursome of parrots chirping. ("Damn good golf course! Damn good golf course!")

Jones Sr. warms you up with three solid opening holes, then throws water in your face at the fourth, a 424-yard par four with a three-tiered green surrounded by a pond on two sides. The 213-yard par-three fifth, appropriately named the Island Hole, has a four-sectioned sparkling gem of a green surrounded by water on all sides. The 422-yard par-four ninth personifies Jones Sr.'s trademark heroic/strategic style with its split-level landing areas partitioned by an enormous fairway bunker. You have the option of taking the longer, safer high road off the tee or taking the shorter, riskier low road to an angled green fronted by a pond.

The best hole is the 422-yard par-four seventeenth, which fuses architectural elegance with strategic challenge. A dogleg left with a mounded fairway guarded by three outside corner bunkers, the seventeenth requires you to work the ball in two opposite directions. First, you must hit a draw off the tee to avoid the fairway bunkers. Then you must reverse your shot shape and hit a high-fade approach to a triple-tiered green protected by a pond rimmed with coral.


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