Double the fun at Tiburόn Golf Club

 

“Will it be the beach or the golf course today sir?”

Anyone old enough to remember the Wrigley’s Doublemint gum commercials from the 60’s and 70’s might recall the jingle that urged viewers to, “Double your pleasure, double your fun.”

That same iconic phrase could easily be applied to the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida where there are two spectacular Greg Norman golf courses and two fabulous Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort

I had the pleasure of visiting last spring and played both the original Gold course and the slightly newer Black. Norman’s initial offering, built in 1998, is the site of the annual QBE Shootout every December (formerly Shark Shootout, Franklin Templeton Shootout, Merrill Lynch Shootout, etc) and since 2013 has played host to the LPGA’s season ending CME Group Tour Championship too.

As arguably the best driver of the golf ball ever and one of the straightest, Greg Norman’s course designs put a maximum premium on driving. His angles are always intriguing and finding the right line off the tee will usually provide a huge advantage on the next shot. That’s especially true on the Gold course, which has a lot of water and fairways often hug the shorelines. With no rough to slow down the ball, it’s particularly crucial to find the proper line.

The green complexes are large with dramatically contoured putting surfaces and steep surrounds that are cut to fairway height so the ball will run away on you. Or run into one of the many deep stacked sod-wall bunkers. Putting these greens is a challenge all its own but fun too, as it should be.

Stacked sod-wall bunkers protect the greens on the Gold course

The Black course, which opened in 2001, is tighter than the Gold and has smaller greens. Maybe it was my ball striking but the surrounding mangrove swamp and trees framing the fairways ate up a lot of my tee shots. The ponds got the rest of them.

I really appreciated the short game aspects of the Black course, which demanded crisp pitch shots and neat little bump-and-runs.

Shortly after my visit, the Black course was closed for some extensive renovations with a plan to re-open this November. The sod-wall bunkers were going to be replaced with more conventional traps and the contouring of the greens softened a bit. That’s not to say made easier, more like give the Black course its own identity. Norman’s new design also called for the addition of an intermediate cut of rough.

I was curious to know how the two courses, especially the Black, had weathered Hurricane Irma, which struck the Florida coast in early September just south of Naples. Reports of massive wind damage and significant flooding following the category 5 hurricane were rampant all over the region, so I reached out to golf course superintendent Jeff Cathey for an update.

He reports that things went much better than expected.

“There’s not much you can do to prepare for a hurricane anyway. You just have to keep your fingers crossed, wait it out, then see what kind of damage there is.”

The winds took out 8-900 trees and they will have to “fix” 3-400 more. Fixing includes everything from replanting trees that were blown over to pruning or removing branches. The loss of trees mostly occurred on the perimeter of the course and precipitated a massive clean-up.  About 98% of the Black course had been grassed prior to the storm so damage to the fairways, tees and greens from erosion was minimal.

Ironically, it was lack of water that caused the most problems. Following the storm, the golf course was without power to run the irrigation system for four days and once Irma moved to the north, the Naples area was hit with hot, dry weather. As Cathey explained, when you’re trying to grow new grass, water is critical. Once the power came back on though, it only took a few days to bring the renovation back on schedule, which will see the “new” Black course open in early November.

The 800 acre property is certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary

The two Tiburόn courses occupy over 800 acres and have been certified an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. There are large swaths of mangrove and forest teeming with birds and maybe other critters too. Each hole stands on its own and most of the time you’re not aware of the houses lining the course or the bustling town of Naples all around. It’s a beautiful natural preserve and especially quiet and relaxing.

And a magnificent backdrop for the Ritz-Carlton Golf Hotel, where we stayed.

What can you say about Ritz-Carlton that hasn’t already been said? The Golf Resort and its sister property, the Beach Resort, are magnificent, offering a level of service that is unsurpassed in my experience. And a tough decision for anyone looking for a winter get-away. The good news is that there’s no wrong decision. A short 20 minute shuttle ride between the two properties provides easy transit from golf to beach and back again. And opens up plenty of opportunities for dining.

The cozy Lemonia Bistro at the Golf Resort

Naples has long been the winter playground for the rich and famous and the town is bristling with old established restaurants and newer chic eateries and bistros. However, it would be pretty hard for any of them to top a cocktail reception on the beach, followed by a private dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Beach House, complete with gorgeous sunset views over the Gulf of Mexico; or the sumptuous menu offered at Lemonia, a cozy bistro at the Golf Resort with international and contemporary cuisine; or a casual dinner at the Bella Vista Lounge overlooking the 18th hole.

Perhaps the best spot to eat at the resort isn’t even formally a restaurant. It’s a lounge on the second floor of the Golf Resort that overlooks the golf course and features light meals, drinks and most importantly, dessert, all day long. Nobody will ever starve at Ritz-Carlton!

Both hotels offer a long list of activities for adults and kids that’s best viewed on their website but my ideal day is to start with a relaxing breakfast poolside, followed by a round of golf. After a quick refreshment, it’s time to head over to the beach for a swim in the Gulf or a massage at the Spa before dinner. Enjoy some excellent wine and watch the sunset too. Repeat daily for as long as you like!

For more information about the Tiburόn Golf Club, click HERE.

Gorgeous sunset on the Gulf of Mexico from the Beach Resort.

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