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Golfing in Paradise

By Eric Snider

Ninety-three. That’s how many golf courses are in Collier County, home of Florida’s Paradise Coast. That number comes from Cindy Booker-Gatz, who should know. The former LPGA tour player has been a Southwest Florida rep for golf equipment companies for the last 35 years.

Cindy is part of a golfing family, the Bookers , who’ve called Naples home since the early 1970s. They’ve seen the sport grow and flourish on the Paradise Coast. “There was only a handful of courses when we first came down,” Cindy says. “But the courses have kept coming, each one better than the last.”

When course developers try to outdo the facilities that came before them, what do you get? A whole lot of really terrific courses.

Paradise Coast visitors, especially those staying at one of the area’s many fine resorts, have access to courses affiliated with their hotel — plus other courses made available through cooperative agreements between properties. The golf-obsessed vacationer can cover a lot of fairways and greens, and a few roughs and traps as well, with very little driving in between.

The Paradise Coast has a few public courses available to those staying in places other than course-affiliated resorts. Plus — from May to October “members only” facilities normally welcome the general public with reduced greens fees.

“Your best bet is to fly in, stay at a resort and play at a private facility with great golf packages,” says Anthony Schmid, director of golf for the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, whose courses include Hammock Bay and The Rookery.

The JW courses, Anthony says, “get a lot of avid golf groups that belong to private country clubs up north. When the snow starts falling they want to be down here.”

Northerners, especially you first-timer visitors, will enjoy courses that reflect native Florida terrain: pretty flat, with — depending on the course — creative layouts, ample bunkers and water hazards. Plus soft green turf of Florida Bermuda grass. “They’ve really made advances in the grass,” Cindy says. “The greens are fast; the balls sits up. And all of the facilities keep their courses in great shape.”

As golf has grown on the Paradise Coast, a sport that was once concentrated during the “high season” has become a year-round visitor activity. Schmid says that Hammock Bay, for instance, will accommodate around 200 rounds a day during the Winter/Spring tourism season, 120 or so during Summer and Fall. “September and October are really good times to come if playing a whole lot of golf is what’s on your mind,” he adds. 

Each season has different characteristics. “In the summer months, we see a lot of families and dads,” says John Chapman, director of golf at the Naples Grande course, owned by the Naples Grande Beach Resort. “Maybe mom and the kids will go to the beach, dad will play and they’ll meet up for lunch. During the holidays, we get a lot of kids taking lessons. During the peak season, we’re very busy with resort visitors and golf parties, and we get a lot of large corporate groups playing rallies and the like.”

Regardless of your golf desires, you can absolutely get your fix on Florida’s Paradise Coast.