NAPLES, Fla. --- Of all the golf destinations in the world, Naples is the one I’ve frequented the most.
My grandparents used to live there, and, for the past 20 years, I’ve made the spring trip to north Naples with my family. Golf has been a big part of our stays.
I made my first birdie at Cypress Woods (when it was still public), crushed many post-round double gulps from 7-Eleven (the losing team always bought) and got my teeth kicked in repeatedly by Old Corkscrew in Estero. All that to say, I have a range of Naples golf experiences from being a 10-year-old, to a decent Division-III college golfer, to a washed up almost 30-year-old. So, I guess you could call me an expert. Here’s my beginner’s guide for a trip to Naples:
Ranked the fourth-best winter destination in continental America by GolfPass, Naples is also a great spring break and late fall destination because warm weather is a guarantee in southwest Florida. It’s far enough south that you don’t have to worry about the mid-60s spring day like you do in central and north Florida that can make going to the beach less desirable. I’ve only been there once in the summer and the weather was brutal. Hot and muggy always. But the golf is cheaper!
The public golf courses
There are plenty of great public golf options (amid all the private ones) within a 30-to-45-minute drive of Naples. Depending on how many rounds you have planned for your trip, here are few courses I recommend.
Raptor Bay is located about 20 miles north of Naples in Bonita Springs. It's a fun track to get any vacation started. The first hole is a par-5 with 75 yards of space on the right side. What’s not to like? The layout tips out at just more than 6,400 yards and has a great variety of open tee shots and tight ones. The greens are in great shape but not overly quick. There are plenty of scorable holes that afford the opportunity to start feeling good about your game. Arrowhead in Naples is a forgiving golf course off the tee (for Florida standards) and has a nice blend of straight forward holes and quirky ones. The third hole is a boomerang 311-yard par 4 that is drivable with an iron for longer hitters who take an aggressive line.
Off the beaten path all the way out in Ave Maria, we finally made a trip out to Panther Run last year. It’s a longer drive but with that comes lower greens fees for a course that is on par with the ones above. It’s a big golf course on a huge piece of land. If you’re looking for the toughest test of golf in Naples, you can find it at Old Corkscrew. The Jack Nicklaus design opened in 2007, and I played it for the first time a few years after that. It’s an exciting layout that is always in great shape. The extreme greens lead to a bunch of tough lag putts and difficult approach shots for anyone with a lower ball flight. As a sprayer of the golf ball, I would recommend packing an extra sleeve. For those alligator enthusiasts, there is no surer bet to see a gator up close than the stretch of holes 3-5. Despite its challenges, I have always enjoyed my rounds at Old Corkscrew and recommend it, but maybe move a tee box up and enjoy your vacation. The course recently changed ownership on April 1, 2022. It’s the third course owned by The Hoffmann Family of Companies, which plans to do some renovations that should be completed in June, including ‘major clearing and trimming of trees and underbrush on the course that impede line of sight and playability'.
The golf resorts
There are couple golf resorts in Naples worthy of consideration. Raptor Bay is part of the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa. The Lely Resort is closest to downtown Naples and has two courses, the Mustang (a Lee Trevino design) and Flamingo Island (a Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design). If you’re looking to play at one of the two Greg Norman-designed Tiburon courses, where they host the QBE Shootout in December, there are stay & play packages at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. There is also an oceanfront Ritz-Carlton on Vanderbilt Beach that gets you access to the course. The Naples Grand Beach Resort and LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort are two other properties that allow guests access to their private clubs.
To-do list in Naples
My to-do list has changed drastically since I was a 10-year-old who just wanted to play golf and knock-down-the-men sandcastle style, although I do highly recommend that still.
1. Celebration Park food trucks – Okay I haven’t actually been, but it comes highly recommended by three different local couples who it said was the best thing to do on a weekend night in Naples. A great variety of food trucks and live music makes for a great time.
2. Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens – The zoo is great place to spend a half day. It’s easy to get to and has a great collection of animals and experiences such as feeding giraffes, which is a cooler experience than you would think.
3. Favorite Restaurants – The Turtle Club on Vanderbilt Beach is as good as it gets if you’re looking for a great steak/seafood dinner on the beach as the sun sets. In downtown Naples, Campiello is an Italian restaurant that is a favorite. Head there early before your reservation to walk around and explore the shops.
My personal favorites
If I’m playing three rounds in Naples I would start at Raptor Bay, then play Panther Run second, and finish with Old Corkscrew when my game has had a tune-up. I would swing by the Turtle Club for lunch on a beach day, where tables are given on a first-come, first-serve basis. For dinner one weekend night I would try out the food trucks at celebration park. That's high on the to-do list for our next trip to Naples.