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Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club: Naples Beach

Naples, FL Public

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Panelists

20 Reviews

Overview

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor Emeritus Ron Whitten:

Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club is the rare public-access course in private-course-clogged Naples, Fla. It’s a 2016 collaborative redesign by John Sanford and Jack Nicklaus. Actually, Sanford is billed as the architect with Jack as his consultant. When John first pursued the contract, he read that Naples Beach was where Jack first broke 40 for nine holes, as an 11-year-old in 1951, a year after he’d taken up the game. Since they’d previously co-designed Trump Golf Links Ferry Point in New York (along with former Nicklaus associate Jim Lipe), Sanford contacted Nicklaus and suggested they team up on this job as well. Jack admitted he didn’t recall much about the course except that he’d double-bogeyed the last hole for a 37.

The course history is worth relating. As the first 18-hole operation in Naples, it opened in 1931 as the daily-fee Naples Golf & Beach Club. Allen Joslin, a Cincinnati realtor, was the course owner. Civil engineer Tom Frederick designed and constructed the course. (He’d previously built Whitfield Estates in Sarasota—now Sara Bay Country Club—for Donald Ross. Sixty years later, some golf writers erroneously concluded Ross had designed Naples Beach.)

The course was making headlines even as it was being built. The first green incorporated a dome-shaped sand dune thought at the time to be an ancient ceremonial mound of the ancient Caloosa Indians. (Try doing that these days and half a dozen regulatory agencies would shut down the project immediately.)

After a decade of operation, Joslin sold the course to local Naples residents. Within months, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and resort golf vanished overnight. The course was closed in 1942 and most of its equipment sold. After the war, a Naples real estate developer, Henry B. Watkins, bought the property and retained Mark Mahannah, then the superintendent at Riviera Country Club in Coral Gables, later a prominent Florida golf architect, to reclaim the golf course. Mahannah got nine holes up and running by the late 1940s (the nine Jack played) and the full 18 in operation by 1953.

Watkins' grandsons Henry B. Watkins III and Michael Watkins now own the place. When Sanford first met with them, he had to park his car on a nearby street, there being no open spaces in the small parking lot by the clubhouse. He examined the tiny driving range, 175 yards long, hard against a city street and ringed with nets. He studied the course and concluded it was pleasant if not memorable, built on only 105 acres. His suggestion: Turn the old range into a parking lot and add a new, full-sized practice range somewhere within the 18 holes.

Therein lies the charm, in my view, of the Naples Beach redesign. The architects resorted to every trick of the trade to fit in the range and yet expand the course from 6,400 yards to its present 6,921 yards, a par 71. Nines were flipped. Holes were shifted to the corners of the property. A pair of double greens safely squeeze holes together. Coquina shell hazards double as cart paths. Tiny back tees are tucked in the far edges of holes to increase yardage. It was an exercise of ingenuity and engineering that wasted no available space and made every square foot count. Playing the course, it feels expansive, not cramped. There’s never a hole where you feel threatened by some shot from another fairway. What a magnificent job.

The new 300-yard-long double-ended range, complete with target greens, now occupies portions of the old 10th and 13th, with one new pond excavated and two others expanded to edge the new second and seventh holes, both Cape-style bite-off-what-you-dare par 4s. Indeed, there is a surprising amount of water on the front nine for a resort course, but much of it is on the left and avoidable by high handicappers.

The new back nine follows many of the original Naples Beach corridors but with a vastly improved set of holes. Frederick’s old near-island seventh green is now a peninsula green for the par-3 16th. Sanford shaped it to cant and slant much in the manner of a Redan green (a reverse Redan, since it slopes left to right). When Nicklaus saw it during a site visit, he dubbed it a “ReJohn” and recommended the green be extended closer to the water’s edge.

Sanford likes to say the landscaping ranges from beachfront to Everglades, but in truth, most of it is clean and playable, with mulch under trees and tightly mowed turf everywhere else, the elaborate “jungle” serving only as accents near some tee boxes.

When I played the course, I found its fairways playing firm with lots of roll, and its greens putting very true. One can’t ask for anything more of a resort layout.

About

Holes 18
Facility Type Public
Year Opened 2016
Designer John Sanford, Jack Nicklaus

Panelists

Ratings from our panel of 1,900 course-ranking panelists

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100 GREATEST/BEST IN STATE SCORES

Shot Options
6.3
Character
5.81
Challenge
6.35
Layout Variety
6.26
Fun
6.5
Aesthetics
5.94
Conditioning
6.09