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.
Calusa Pines is often listed behind TPC Sawgrass Stadium as the number three golf course in Florida, the state that has the most golf courses in the USA. Seminole is clearly the number one rated golf course but it is a worthy debate as to the second-best golf course in Florida. There are holes and characteristics of both courses that might give either one an edge. If one wants a penal/more difficult golf course than the TPC Stadium course would have an edge due to its incorporation of water on many holes, particularly due to the green hard against the water on the memorable sixteenth hole, the seventeenth island green and the tough driving hole over water on eighteen. Although one often sees the water, Calusa Pines does not incorporate water as much with the possible exception of the fourth hole from the back tee requiring a long carry over water, the fourteenth with water behind the green, the par 3 sixteenth hole, and water on the right for the tee shot on seventeen. Yet there is ample room to play away from the water at Calusa Pines due to the wider fairways. Moreover, Calusa Pines has far more interesting and varied greens and surrounds than the TPC course. Additionally, due to manufacturing some hills by moving dirt, Calusa Pines also has the more interesting terrain. Calusa Pines is more fun to play whereas a round on the TPC Sawgrass Stadium can feel like one long grinding forced march.
I do not think there is one “great’ hole at Calusa Pines, but nearly all of them are good to above average. One criticism is that many of the holes have sand/waste area down the entire side of a fairway which creates a feeling of similarity.
Of the Hurzdan/Fry courses I have played, Calusa Pines is the best. I like the width of the fairways and the size of the very fast undulating greens. There is good variety in the length of the holes whether a par 3, 4 or 5. There are elevated tees and a couple of elevated greens. The bunkering is consistently good and in general placed to bring them into play more for the approach shot. For the better players the course is definitely long enough at 7284 yards while for the average player there are good options at 6635 and 6367 yards. Wind can be a factor here; catch Calusa Pines on a low-wind day and only the greens should present a challenge. Play Calusa Pines on a high wind day and every shot is a challenge. Putts hit on the edge of the cups are not likely to go in due to the green speeds.
I find the first hole to be one of the more difficult holes on the golf course, a par 4 of 421/389 with a long bunker on the left to an elevated green positioned on the left and a high, wide bunker fronting most of the green. There are severe fall-offs on all sides and an approach shot struck too firmly will likely not stay on the green sloped right to left and front to back with several spines and mounds in it. A par here is a good score.
The second hole is a long par 5 of 574/551 going in the opposite direction as a slight dogleg right. One must avoid the trees on the right with the drive. Down the entire left side of the fairway from tee to green is sand. It is not a long hole but plays a club longer as it is another elevated green with another large, wide bunker across much of the front. The green is deep enough to hold most approach shots and has numerous subtle breaks.
The third hole is a favorite, a par 3 of 155/135 with a bail-out area to the right but deep and tall bunkers on the entire left and a fall-off at the back. The green is very tilted right to left and sloped slightly back to front. Missing this green anywhere leaves a very delicate shot.
As if the greens were not difficult enough, the fourth hole has one of the trickier ones, a par 4 of 464/409 that one should try to come into the green as straight as possible but avoiding the water down most of the right side but this requires one to carry the water to reach the fairway. It is a green sloped back to front with a substantial run-off to the right.
The fifth hole is a substantial dogleg right with mounds down the right inside the tree line and sand down the entire right side. Another difficult green awaits with swales and slopes behind the bunker placed on the entire right side.
It is at this point that one realizes that par on any hole is a good score.
The sixth hole is a par 5 of 545/515 requiring one to either lay up short of the bunkers on the right side of this dogleg right or carry them. The green goes right to the water on the right and is sloped left to right towards the water.
Seven is a long par 3 of 250/226/186 to a green sloped back to front and right to left but with many subtle breaks. One either has to hit the green or be short front to have a chance for par or better. A miss to either side will result in one going down a hill or ending up in a bunker on either side.
Eight is a short par 4 and visually one of the best-looking holes from the tee on the course with a hill down the right and sand down all of the left. The green sits at the bottom of another small hill and slopes substantially back to front. It has a false front as well. One can make a birdie or a double bogey here.
Nine plays from an elevated tee with a nice view of the clubhouse to the left. One tries to drive as to the left side of the fairway for a slightly better view of the green and as close as possible to the bunker next to the water on the left to avoid a 200- yard shot into a very long, tiered green with hollows in it. This completes a challenging front nine with superb green shapes.
The tenth hole has a green hard against a hill on the right almost hidden from the tee. One has to come in from the center of the fairway because if the tee shot is struck too far left it is a difficult angle requiring a carry over a bunker on the left or one brings the water into consideration. The green is likely one of the most difficult on the green with a swale on the left leading to a “valley of sin” and another large bunker right. This is an under-rated but very good golf hole.
Eleven is the third par 3 with water hard against the green on the left side. There is adequate room to miss a shot on the right but the green slopes away from you towards the water. There is also a spine in the green at the point of the bunkers on either side. It is a nice par 3.
The twelfth hole has the tee either along the water to the left or up high on a manufactured hill, rumored to be the highest point in Collier County. The fairway is very wide with a few rumples in it hitting to a very wide and deep green. Missing the green to the right will likely mean the ball will end up 30 or 40 yards away. The green seems easy but is actually one of the speediest ones on the golf course. It is another solid golf hole.
Thirteen is my least favorite hole on the course, a horseshoe shaped par 5 of 627/586 to the right where the big hitters can hit over the palm trees and mangroves on the right to reach the fairway and avoid one of the largest sand/waste areas one will ever see. However, hitting from this bunker is not much of an issue. The green is one of the smaller ones but has a lot of subtle breaks. Missing the green long results in one will go down a pretty significant hill.
Fourteen is another short par 4 of 344/293 dogleg left that plays shorter than the yardage. One has to avoid the bunkers on either side of the fairway. It bends to the left with a large fronting bunker. The green is thinner and slopes slightly towards the water which is close behind the green. The green is very quick. This is one of the better short par 4’s one will play.
Fifteen is perhaps the best visual hole on the golf course from the tee shot all the way to the green nestled at the bottom of another man-made hill. Bunkers are down the left and entire right side. There is a large swale to the left of the green and behind and the green has a spine in the middle.
Sixteen is the hole most players likely remember the most from a hill hitting down to a green that slopes substantially right to left towards the water. The water should not be in play but one is very much aware of it. I like how this hole distorts the type of shot one is required to hit.
Seventeen is a lovely par 4 with water down the right but there is ample room to hit the fairway. This par 4 dogleg right of 436/390 has a bunker at the front middle of the green that catches a lot of balls.
Eighteen is a bit of a letdown as a shorter par 5 dogleg left of 512/487 with bunkers down the left side ending at an elevated green. However, if one is playing match play, it is a very good hole as the longer hitter can bring the bunkers into play or have a tough chip back if they go over the green.
A round at Calusa Pines is a special treat. It is certainly worthy of being considered a top 100 golf course in the USA, although currently there is a bias favoring more natural/less difficult golf courses. If one can get a game here, they should jump at the opportunity.
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.