After years of renting condos, my snowbird parents finally bought a place in southwest Florida as a cold weather retreat. My cousin Jason and I immediately seized this opportunity and booked a few days for a fall golf trip. We had no clue about the area or golf options and we intentionally didn’t plan very far ahead, we preferred to get down there, check out the house and area, and then make a plan.
Note that Jason is a bogey golfer and I am 9 strokes worse (but I play fast and have a great time).
We arrived in Punta Gorda, FL on Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 just as Hurricane Michael was barreling through the golf towards my grad school home of Tallahassee. Weather was a dominant force in the impromptu planning throughout our trip.
Coral Oaks Golf Course
Cape Coral, FL | par 72 | rating 68.4 | slope 123
We hopped off of the plane around 1:30pm and wanted to get a round in before dark to get things started, so we looked for the closest course we could find and wound up at Coral Oaks. We grabbed a quick bite in the pub to fuel up and got a full round in just under the wire (around 7pm sunset).
This was our first experience playing a Florida Bermudagrass style course and we were immediately impressed by how easy it was to find our mishits in the extremely forgiving rough compared to our northern Indiana home courses. This revelation made our round very enjoyable and helped us keep up a quick pace.
We found Coral Oaks to be a great value at $30/round inclusive of cart and GPS (which was included at all of the courses we played) compared to our typical city courses in Indiana.
The Mustang at Lely Resort
Naples, FL | par 72 | rating 70.6 | slope 123
The rain came to Punta Gorda on day two, so we drove south to escape the clouds. Based on our experience at Coral Oaks we immediately wanted to step up a level in course design because we found that afternoon tee times in October were such a steal all around the area. After a healthy debate between a few courses in Naples, FL we selected The Mustang at Lely Resort based on it’s reviews, pictures, and discounted price point over it’s typical peak season rate.
We had a really nice round on The Mustang, and we learned that “resort golf” is fun golf with fewer challenges and beautiful views. However, we quickly tired of the common back patio enclosures that are so necessary and redundant in Florida. The consistent housing and patio designs sapped the beauty out of the course.
Jason was in the sand ALL DAY, but it was well-maintained and easy to play, a real treat coming from the north where traps are often neglected and/or concrete hard.
In the end, we found The Mustang to be enjoyable but not remarkable. We thought that Coral Oaks was a better value. We found a rate of $70/round via the GolfNow app and remarked to ourselves that it would have been a good value at $40, but that $70 was a bit high.
Waterlefe Golf & River Club
Bradenton, FL | par 72 | rating 69.4 | slope 128
Day three weather was a repeat from day two, so this time we drove north with the intent to play a course that isn’t really possible in Indiana. Jason found Waterlefe, where every hole has a water feature in play, by reviewing lots of “best course” lists and Golf Advisor reviews. The water on this course terrified me, as my long irons tend to splash whenever there is water nearby.
We started our day on the aqua range, which was awesome. It’s a driving range where you hit floating balls into a pond, providing splash indicators for distance. We could have spent a good deal of time at the range alone, but it was a hot afternoon and we wanted to get our round underway.
As our second resort-ish course we couldn’t help ourselves from comparing it to The Mustang. Waterlefe was an overall better experience; more interesting hole design, better contact with nature, more dynamic surrounding home architecture, and a lower fee.
We really can’t say enough about Waterlefe, it was a top-notch experience and we’ll likely return anytime we’re in the area. We found a rate of $45/round and were impressed by the creature comforts like the best GPS system we experienced and ice machines at each quarter house.
Estero, FL | par 72 | rating 71.1 | slope 138
As soon as we began our trip we asked anyone willing to chat which course we should play and Old Corkscrew was always at the top of the list, so we made a tee time a few days in advance. Our round at Corkscrew ended up being the last round of the trip and it was a great send-off.
First thing’s first. Old Corkscrew is a murderous course; by far the most difficult design (the back tees have a slope rating of 151; compare to this year’s PGA Championship course, Bellerive, at a 141 slope rating) either of us have ever played. It’s a Jack Nicholas signature course (actually designed by Jack) and a rare stand-alone course in Florida (no homes on the course).
We got our cart squared away and headed to the practice range. It was Friday and we noticed that this course was busier than any of the others with more serious players. We were nervous that we’d get paired up, however we were able to work it out with the starter to stay a twosome.
Jack’s design punishes slices (which I hit from time to time) with right-side fairway bunkers and bad angles so we quickly started to curse his name. All of the par 4s and 5s felt like a signature hole at any other course we’re used to playing, which was awesome.
We saw an alligator on 8 before attempting to gamble on the 9th hole approach shot (we both missed, I was closer) that Jack dares you to take to salvage your front.
The back was brutal, but fun. I put my drive on 10 in the most awkward lie I’ve ever played… and I had a smile on my face the entire time.
By the end of the round, in the heat, and at the conclusion of our loops for the trip we were beaten by Corkscrew’s design, but it was a great day on a truly wonderful course.
As we packed up, we noticed that the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s team was taking the course for practice and remarked to ourselves “that’s a hell of a home course advantage.” As we chatted up the operations manager he told us that Jack Nicholas played the first round once the course was completed and “generously shot in the 80’s,” which made us smile.
All of this torture was a steal at $50/round for a 1pm tee time.
We had a great time and learned that if you are flexible with the weather and don’t mind afternoon tee times, there is a wealth of great deals just before the peak season picks up in November.