Much as I revere the work of Robert Trent Jones Sr., I believe his son Rees--who has been hired to redesign such courses as The Country Club, Congressional, Bethpage and Sahalee for major championships--will one day be acclaimed as the best golf architect in the family. One of the gems in Jones's diadem is the Naples Grande Golf Club, which offers playing privileges to guests of the Registry Resort, the Edgewater Beach Hotel and the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Starting with a 250-acre tree-studded tract punctuated by twenty acres of lakes and a twenty-five-acre freshwater reservoir, Jones has created a 7,102-yard par-seventy-two parkland masterpiece that promises to redefine resort golf in the region.
At Naples Grande, Jones turns architectural convention on its head while maintaining his patented emphasis on playability. Thanks to the property's bountiful trees and some tactfully constructed barrier mounds, I felt as if I'd been transported from the southwest Florida "wind fields" to a glorious netherworld haunted by the spirits of Donald Ross, A. W. Tillinghast and Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Rees Jones provides a refreshing variety throughout his routing of Naples Grande. The 536-yard par-five ninth is a risk-reward cape hole that doglegs to the right around a crescent-shape pond. An overly ambitious drive will drown in the water or lodge among the grassy mounds lining the far edge of the lake, while a moderately long but more prudently placed tee shot will give you a chance to get home in two. The almost blindingly beautiful 560-yard par-five sixteenth is another cape hole, this one doglegging to the left around the freshwater reservoir. But here you find a visually enticing line of white sand bunkers edging the far side of the water and an angled green perched atop a coral-fortified bulkhead.
Jones also dazzles with his deftly contoured par threes and par fours. Naples Grande's 206-yard fourth launches from an elevated tee to a steeply pitched sunken green fronted by a cross-bunker and backed by a stream. Short knockers have the option of reaching the putting surface via a right-side entrance ramp; long knockers must take care not to overclub and wind up wet. The 421-yard eleventh--whose built-up fairway bends leftward around a pond that also guards the green--offers multiple options off the tee. You can play the hero by cutting the corner with a driver to set up a short-iron approach. You can lay up with a three-wood and resign yourself to a long- or middle-iron approach. Or you can bail out toward the fairway ledge on the right and try for a high-percentage bogey or a hard-scrambling four.
As I played Naples Grande's formidable 423-yard par-four eighteenth, images of the ancient canal-moated island capital called Calos flooded my mind. First I had to hit a half-blind drive to the top of a hill that looks like an enormous burial mound flanked by the shimmering waters of the reservoir. Then I had to deliver a precise middle-iron shot to a steeply pitched green whose upper tier resembles the platform for a temple, avoiding both the water and a high-walled bunker on the left and a gnarly slope on the right. When I somehow managed to come away from the home hole at Naples Grande with a two-putt par, I suddenly knew what it must have felt like to be king of the Calusa.