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Florida's Hidden Golf Resorts

Beth Perkins Florida

Photo: Beth Perkins

A few years ago, Dye was hired to blow up the golf course and start over. The course has an uncertain provenance. Its original designer might have been Barron Collier, who purchased the inn in 1930. But Sharp generally ordered changes to the layout each summer, when the inn was closed, so he might be the closest thing to the old course’s architect. When Dye arrived, the course didn’t drain well and the turf suffered from saltwater flooding.

Dye replanted the course with salt-tolerant paspalum grass. He also redid the drainage, which enabled him to redesign virtually every hole. He removed a thick row of Australian pines that had been planted years ago along the shore of Charlotte Bay to soak up excess water. Suddenly, the inn had a seaside course, with holes fourteen through sixteen playing along the water.

"I wanted to make it a good resort course, one the guests and members would enjoy," Dye says. Indeed, the redesigned course is just what most people would hope for in a winter resort. You reach it from the inn by crossing a bridge that allows tarpon-fishing boats to go from the inn’s marina to the bay at Charlotte Harbor. There’s an impeccable grass-tee practice range and a homey little wood-frame clubhouse.

The palm-lined fairways are wide and the rough is mild. But Dye made the green complexes fairly severe, and although it’s not designed to be the site of a Ryder Cup, the course, at 6,942 yards from the back tees, presents plenty of challenge. One of the toughest holes is among the shortest, number seventeen. It’s only 175 yards from the back tees, but there’s water all along the right side and almost no shot at all from behind the narrow green. It’s hard to pull a club confidently when the wind is gusting, as it often is.

Best of all, the course is so lightly played that golfers (who must be members or inn guests) don’t need a tee time. They just show up when it suits them. If it’s "busy," the starter sends them to the fourth or tenth tees.

The inn could be an ideal site for a winter buddy trip. Half of its 140 rooms are located in cottages that form a horseshoe around the main building. They’re just the right size for a foursome or two. But don’t make reservations if your group’s idea of a golf trip includes a pulsing nightlife. The Gasparilla Inn is miles from the nearest neon. It does have a cocktail lounge, but it’s not one you’d find in the heart of Tampa or Miami Beach.

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