The late Pete Dye once referred to the late Arthur Hills as the “Mayor of Naples,” a friendly quip based on the sheer number of courses Hills designed in Collier and Lee Counties. With this tony town on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast often referred to as the “Golf Capital of the World,” Hills’ de facto leadership title carried even more clout.
However, the fact is that with more than 90 18-hole-equivalent golf facilities stretching from Bonita Springs to Marco Island, almost every golf course architect of the past 50 years has staked a claim along America’s “Paradise Coast.” And while Naples remains a predominantly private club market, there are dozens of daily fee and semi-private courses for traveling golfers to play.
Speaking of traveling, timing is key for trip planning. Peak season winter rates at top courses can easily exceed $250, while the summer months bring deep discounts and significant golf course maintenance throughout the market. The early fall and late spring shoulder seasons are great times to visit, with reasonable rates, fewer crowds and less thunder and lightning.
For those looking to retire or relocate to Southwest Florida, the city of Naples still retains much of the charm (and wealth) that put it on the map many decades ago. Outlying areas like North Naples, Golden Gate, Bonita Springs and Estero offer plenty of modern touches and more affordable price points.
Here’s our breakdown of this eternally sunny Southwestern golf enclave.
Old Corkscrew Golf Club is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course in rapidly growing Estero in southern Lee County. The brawny, 7,393-yard layout sprawls over 275 acres of native grasses, trees and wetlands marked by vast waste bunkers, pristine fairways and the Golden Bear’s signature green complexes.
Unique to the area, Old Corkscrew is a pure golf experience devoid of housing and other distractions. All the better for focusing on the task at hand and managing the course’s eye-popping 151 slope rating from the tips.
Further south, golfers will appreciate the one-two punch of the Gold and Black courses at Tiburon Golf Club. Both tracks were designed by Greg Norman and are home to PGA and LPGA Tour events: the QBE Shootout and CME Group Tour Championship, respectively. The combo sets up perfectly for the relatively long days of late summer and early that can still accommodate 36 holes.
The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort anchors the Naples region’s southern end, and the Hammock Bay Golf and Country Club is the property’s marquee offering. Jim Hardy and former PGA / Champions Tour player turned commentator Peter Jacobsen designed the course, which recently underwent a $4.8 million overhaul that entailed the installation of saltwater tolerant paspalum grass.
Double up with a round at sister course, The Rookery at Marco, a Joe Lee original touched up by Bob Cupp in 2002 and in 2014 by Hardy and Jacobsen. Both courses are private, but guests of the Marriott have access to select tee times. If the southern end of Paradise Coast is your target destination, this is the place to be.
The Lely Resort Golf and Country Club is quintessential Naples golf, with two resort tracks and one private course: The Mustang and Flamingo Island are open to public play, designed by Lee Trevino and Robert Trent Jones Sr., respectively. Both are typically in good to great condition, and practice junkies will appreciate its two full-service practice facilities, including a 54,000-square-foot driving range with target greens.
Golf course aficionados will quickly note that Naples is chock-full of Arthur Hills, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman courses. However, the Club at Olde Cypress stands apart via its affiliation with the Dye family. Owned by luxury home builder Stock Development, it boasts one of the region’s two P.B. Dye-designed courses.
Like his famed father and mother, Alice, P.B. has always had a penchant for crafting courses that appeal to both men and women golfers. Olde Cypress is no exception as witnessed by the sheer number of ladies golf groups, tournaments and events. The club is the centerpiece of a highly sought-after, 450-acre gated enclave with resale homes ranging from $579,000 to over $2.5 million.
Olde Cypress underwent a multi-million-dollar remastering of the golf course in 2021 that has it looking, and playing, better than ever. The expansive project entailed resurfacing all 18 greens, practice green and chipping area; enlarging, leveling and re-grassing tee boxes; installing a new subsurface drainage system and new artificial turf on the driving range.
Additionally, the pro shop was reimagined with interior design upgrades ranging from color palettes, woodwork and lighting to countertops, artwork and flooring. In short, Olde Cypress is perfectly positioned for a continued upswell in golf participation and membership demand forecast to continue into the foreseeable future.
Shadow Wood Country Club in Bonita Springs features 54 holes of championship-caliber golf for those who prefer a multi-course club setup. All three courses have been recently renovated by Rees Jones and provide spectacular playing conditions year-round. Shadow Wood is in the process of building a brand new 3,500-square-foot pro shop that will overlook the expansive practice facilities and feature unique retail opportunities for its members.
Game improvement gurus will love the practice facilities, which boast a double-sided range and numerous short game practice areas. The Shadow Wood Golf Academy is located at the back of the range and offers an indoor hitting bay, club fitting studio, and all the latest technological aids to help members improve their game. After a round of golf, members sip cocktails by the fire pits on the club’s Sunset Terrace or dine at one of Shadow Wood’s many venues.
Fifth Avenue is the Naples “OG” when it comes to a night out on the town. Chic shops, decadent restaurants, vibrant bars, and clubs line this famous street. Anything, and any cuisine, is possible here with eateries ranging from traditional American to sushi and Italian. Further north in Bonita Springs, Coconut Point Shopping Center is stuffed with fast-service, sit-down restaurants, and the ever-popular Tommy Bahama Restaurant. For a taste of Naples tradition, pay a visit to The Bay House along the Cocohatchee River.
Collier and Lee Counties share the Southwest Florida International Airport, and the Naples Area benefits from this optimally-sized, easy-to-access transportation hub’s location in south Lee County just minutes from Estero, Bonita Springs, and Naples. For decades, Midwesterners made their way south on I-75 or U.S. 41 to their Southwestern Florida termini in sunny Naples. Making the trek to Naples has become “a thing” again, what with many folks not ready to return to air travel just yet.
For more information on Paradise Coast golf, lodging and attractions, visit www.paradisecoast.com.