Calusa Pines is an absolute blast and that’s official. You’ll need to befriend a member to get a game here on this intensely private Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry designed layout but persevere because this pine-sheltered course is dynamite. The course is perched on the highest land point in south Florida. It’s actually set some 60 feet up so perched is perhaps an exaggeration!
The dynamite bill alone reached $1m as they blasted through tons of rock to create huge, deep lakes and the fill was then used to create rare Floridian elevation changes. The earth certainly moved at Calusa Pines where numerous sand and waste bunkers connect the playing surfaces to the water hazards in a surprisingly natural manner. The planting of more than 100 mature Oak trees alongside indigenous Sable palms and mature pines has created maturity way beyond its 2001 birth date.With membership numbers set below 300 and a joining fee of around $150,000 Calusa Pines is a high-end facility so get networking and perhaps one day you’ll be fortunate enough to sample the club’s slippery TifEagle greens.
Unlike other courses in Florida, Calusa Pines has hilly terrain and lacks water on most holes, which in my book are two positives. Playing the course feels more like you are in the Carolina pines than you are in Southwest Florida. The par threes were memorable, especially the short third hole. The 7th is technically a par 3 and a half hole, playing 250 yards, but it is a beauty. The course is among the best maintained I have ever played. Small membership, tough to get on, but worth the effort if you can.
Calusa Pines is your typical Hurdzan/Fry with wide fairways, raised greens, and gigantic bunkers. The conditions are spectacular and you won't find a more photogenic course in Florida. If you like eye-candy over architecture, you'll rate this higher than Seminole. If you like brilliant architecture over eye-candy, Calusa isn't in the ballpark of Seminole.
The few memorable holes are the drivable par 4 and the last par 3. Aside from that, it is a collection of "good" holes that look beautiful, not "great" holes.
Calusa is also an enjoyable course for high handicaps. The fairways are generous and there are plenty of bail out areas in bunkers or pine needles. The staff is fantastic and friendly. If I lived in southwest Florida, this is the club I'd want to belong to and play regularly.
Calusa Pines should be rated higher. The Hurdzan/Fry design along with the vision of founder and owner Gary Chensoff have created a top shelf golfing experience. I was told they spent $1 million dollars on dynamite and moved tons of dirt to create dramatic elevation changes. I was told the ridge that hosts the 9th, 12th and 16th tee boxes is the highest point in Collier County. If you did not know better, you would think you were in the Carolina sandhills. There is one waste area that is supposedly nine acres and the eighth hole has a bunker that is over 25 feet tall. Great walking course, but note well, the greens are faster than teenage sex. If you do not putt off the green, that is a W.
To the course, the first hole is welcoming and two good shots should set up a good round. The same for the par 5 second, not too demanding. The par 3 3rd does not look too intimidating on the card, but with a small green with deep bunkers left, it still has teeth. The 400 plus yard par 4 5th surprised me, as it has large bunkers behind the green. I suspect those bunkers rarely come into play. The par 5 6th, stay left off the tee. The 200 yard plus par 3 7th is a monster. To Hurdzan/Fry’s credit the 8th is a short par 4 less than 300 yards. For big hitters it may be driveable, a Redan green that it is well protected with bunkers and a hellacious pot bunker to the right front.
The backside starts out with a tough par 4 with the green pushing everything left. The par 3 11th also has a predominantly left list to it’s green. The par 4 14th is relatively short. Favor the right with your tee shot. Be forewarned this is a tough green. The 16th is my favorite hole, a down hill par 3 with ample opportunities to put your ball in a water hazard. The 18th is a super finishing hole, dog leg left. Big hitters can cut the corner and get home in two to this elevated green. Me not so much. Tough to get on, but well worth the effort.
Calusa Pines is for serious players. Despite having lost 776 trees in last year’s hurricane, the course survived at a very high level. This is among the top 5 courses in the state with a huge demand on accuracy. The greens are tough to hit, the aprons around the greens are undulating / punishing and the shaping on the putting surfaces is a massive test.
Dana Fry continues to be hands on at this property and I congratulate his long-term efforts. Calusa is blessed with a unique topography, which really rolls in places – including a dramatic panoramic downhill par 3. Routing the course towards this large sand dune is a work of art and elevates this pristinely maintained course among best in the country.
The variety of short, medium and long holes – especially the par 4s make this a very memorable layout. I asked 6 scratch golfers what their favourite holes were on both the front and back nine, and each player had a different answer. I personally thought this was a huge compliment to the course.
As we walked up the embankment around the back of the clubhouse, it was my first glance of the ninth and eighteenth holes (as their greens both sit below the clubhouse terrace (very similar to Whistling Straits). We then played the course in reverse order… There are a series of holes at Calusa Pines where the tee boxes are elevated on top of dunes and ridges that were constructed by the design team of Hurdzdan and Fry (same team that designed Erin Hills in Hartford, Wisconsin home to the 2011 US Amateur). The twelfth’s tee box is elevated some 50 ft above the fairway and is quite possibly the toughest hole on the track, especially into a strong crosswind. This hole plays 468 from the tips and blends all the elements of a championship golf hole - vegetation right, water hazard left and a long approach to a Donald Ross Pinehurst #2 style green that gives you all you can handle.
The par 3 sixteenth is one of the WOW moments at Calusa Pines, playing only 161 yds downhill, the tee box lords over the property from some 60 ft above the putting surface - pinpoint accuracy is essential here, or a big number will be make your card. The eighteenth is a great finishing hole, (along with the eighth, these are my two favourite holes) it is a short dogleg left par 5 at 512 yards - a big drive over the large bunkers on the left will leave a long iron or hybrid second to an elevated green with the gorgeous clubhouse in the backdrop. As a closing hole during a big match, this hole fits the bill perfectly.
The first hole is a nice simple dogleg left as long as you stay out of the large bunker/waste area guarding the corner. The approach is to an elevated green, so be precise. The third is the shortest hole on the course at 155 yds from the tips and the seventh is the longest par-3 at 250 yds, and nothing but a perfect shot will work here. The eighth is one of the best looking inland golf holes I've have ever seen – a driveable par 4 of 291 yds. I fell in love with this hole before I even approached the green…a birdie then cemented this thought!
Coming towards the end of the round, I knew that I didn't want the experience to end but mother nature and the setting sun had other ideas – I was so happy to have played one of the best courses this country has to offer. Congratulations to the design team of Hurdzdan & Fry, the routing was superb, and the creativity used to transform the land into something memorable was brilliant. Calusa Pines is right up there with Seminole, Jupiter Hills, Loblolly, TPC Sawgrass, and Black Diamond as the best that the sunshine state has to offer. Jason Bruno.