One of the challenges of playing the Top 100 is getting the timing right. Certain clubs are only open in the winter and certain clubs are only open in the summer. Oddly, at the time of this writing, there are only four courses in Florida that are on the list which means that the options for pursuing my Top 100 quest are fairly limited during the winter months. I played two of the four Top 100s in Florida back in 2007 and I hadn’t been back to the Sunshine State since. 2011 was the year that I was hopeful for a chance to visit the two remaining Florida courses.
When I received an invite to play at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach I decided to try to make the most of my airfare to Florida and set to work on finding a contact at Calusa Pines. The first thing I did was have the pro from my club call there to see if they allowed reciprocal play. The pro at Calusa Pines politely informed my pro that all play at CPGC had to be sponsored by a member. OK, I’m familiar with the needle in a haystack drill, so I got right to work.
Calusa Pines is located in Naples on the west coast of the southern tip of Florida. I knew a couple of people who had winter homes in Florida so I made a few phone calls and sent a few emails to see what I could turn up. As the dates for the trip neared it appeared that I was going to fall short and I would have to return to Florida another time to play Calusa Pines. Just as I was about to throw in the towel I received an email, seemingly out of nowhere, from a friend who was able to help. John had a friend named Tom who was a Calusa Pines member and had agreed to host my buddy Kyle and me on the Sunday before we were set to play Seminole. The good luck I’ve experienced on this odyssey never ceases to amaze me.
Calusa Pines opened in 2001 and was designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry. I was not familiar with either of these guys or their work, so I was interested to see what they were all about. Clearly they know what they’re doing as they have a golf course ranked in the Top 100. A little internet research revealed that they have a healthy list of golf course designs to their name and in addition to Calusa Pines being in the Top 100 they have several other well regarded courses including Erin Hills which was recently chosen as the site of the 2017 U.S. Open.
When we arrived at Calusa Pines on Sunday our host, Tom, had not arrived yet. Tom already had some guests visiting, so he had arranged for us to play as a two ball in front of his group. While we were on the practice green the starter came over and asked us if we would mind having a member and his son join us to make a four ball. Of course we said yes and a few minutes later were introduced to Vince and his son Anthony, both from Chicago.
So once Vince and Anthony joined us we headed over to the first tee. As we walked over Vince says “You guys want to take it all the way back?” We enthusiastically responded “Sure!”, but I couldn’t wait to pick up a scorecard so I could see what I just signed up for. It turns out that “all the way back” at Calusa Pines is 7,203 yards. For a guy like me who is used to playing 6,600-6,800 that’s a fairly significant increase in length, but I didn’t let it bother me. My philosophy when I’m traveling is always go with the flow, so thats just what I did. Over the course of the game I found that I didn’t even really notice the distance except for once or twice.
I didn’t take my camera out too much during the round at Calusa Pines, but I did get a few photos. I’ve included a handful here that should provide a feel for the course.
Below is the green from the 1st hole which is a 421 yard par 4 from the back tees. The bunker styling reminded me of what I’ve seen at a lot of Tom Fazio courses. After a little research this made sense as Dana Fry had spent a number of years working with Fazio’s design firm.
The green pictured below is from the 2nd hole which is a 574 yard par 5 from the tips. Note the wire bushes in sandy areas outside of the green side bunkers. This type of hazard was used in a number of places around the course.
The photo below is of the 3rd hole which plays a short 155 yards from the back tees. Plenty of trouble to be found long and left here.
The 5th hole is a healthy par 4 that we played from 431 yards. Note in the photo of the green below that there is a large bunker behind the green to catch shots that come in long.
The 6th hole, pictured below from the tee, is a par 5 that plays 545 yards from the back tees. The best play is to keep it left of the bunkers on the right. The scrubby vegetation in the foreground of the photo was prevalent in many areas around the course.
I’ve played some pretty long par 3s on my Top 100 quest, but the 7th hole at Calusa Pines may be the longest. At 250 yards I hope it is because I really don’t know if I could handle anything longer. Below is a photo taken from the tee box. There are lots of bunkers surrounding the green to catch tee shots that don’t hit the putting surface.
I love short par 4 holes and the 8th at Calusa Pines is an excellent one. This hole plays 291 yards from the tips and may be driveable for really long (and accurate) hitters, but for most of us it is not. The photo below was taken from the tee. Note the small pot bunker off to the right of the green. This alone may be enough of a deterrent for hitting driver at this hole. A ball that finds this bunker is likely to turn a scoring opportunity into a disaster.
Below is a closer view of the 8th green.
The 10th hole is another long par 4 we played from 428 yards. The photo below is the 10th green and the hole location on this day is one of the most diabolical. Note the slight dip just to the left of the flagstick.
Below is a photo taken from the back of the green that shows the dip I mentioned above. From this angle the dip is to the right of the flagstick and any ball that comes in on that side of the hole is destined to run off the green. We even had one putt in our group that went a little past the hole, caught the dip and rolled off the green and down the hill.
The 11th hole, pictured below, is a lovely little picturesque par 3 that we played from 197 yards.
The 14th hole is another short par 4. This one played 344 yards from the tips. The sandy area off to the left is a very large bunker that can make the hole very difficult if the drive is mishit to that area. As usual, I’m speaking from experience.
The photo below is the 15th green which is a 451 yard par 4. Note the huge hill behind this green. This is the highest point in Collier County and contains the tee boxes for the 9th, 12th and 16th holes.
The 16th hole is a nice little par 3 that plays 185 yards from the tips and is a considerable downhill shot from the elevated tee box.
The golf course closes out in excellent style with a 512 yard par 5 that is reachable with two excellent shots. Below is a photo of the approach shot into the green with the great clubhouse as a backdrop.
After we finished playing we sat out on the porch and had a beer with Vince and Anthony while we waited for Tom’s group to come in. When they did we got a bigger table and continued to enjoy the view of the golf course and a few cold ones until it was time to wrap it up and head back across Florida to the Palm Beach area.
Calusa Pines is a unique golf course for Florida and not at all what I was expecting. I loved the sandy waste areas and the surprising elevation changes. This is a collection of fun and interesting holes that will challenge high handicappers as well as the best golfers. The club has a great laid back vibe and all the members we met were a blast to spend time with. Overall, Calusa Pines is a great course and a great club!