On my ride to Naples I was thinking how lucky I was to be on my way to another of the finest Golf Clubs in the US - this time the exclusive Calusa Pines Golf Club. After punching in the secret code on the security box that grants you entry (I'm not telling the code) you see the wrought iron black gates down the private road open slowly enough to allow anticipation to build as you approach (I felt like Charlie in the Willy Wonka movie holding the golden ticket). Once inside it is absolutely a stunning place that words just won't do justice, but I'll make the effort to paint a picture. As you wind around the road heading towards the clubhouse, you immediately notice the native flora that fills the property (Slash Pine, Cabbage and Palmetto Palms as well as scrub and Live Oak). There are a handful of scattered cottages set amongst the landscape that members and their guests use during their visits, not unlike the cabins at Pine Valley or Augusta National.
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.
Date: March 01, 2011