Dick Wilson originally laid out the course for the members of the Hole-In-The-Wall Golf Club in 1957 and it opened for play in 1958. According to folklore Gene Sarazen said: “If I only had one golf course to play, it would be Hole-in-the-Wall.”
A number of architects tinkered with the course down the years, including “The Squire” himself, Robert Trent Jones, Arthur Hills and Ron Garl, but the course was rejuvenated in 2009 by Ron Forse, an admirer and student of Dick Wilson's designs. Forse commented: “The project was drainage driven. The property was settling, while the water table was rising. Our goal was to make it drain better, but not change the character of the property.”
In November 2020, Ron Forse was interviewed in golfclubatlas.com and he mentioned his work at Hole in the Wall:
“It is one of only a handful of courses in all of southwest Florida with no houses or buildings. Pure golf in a pristine, natural setting. The entire course was reconstructed to solve some severe drainage problems. Storm water retention on site was required by the city, resulting in water feature expansion and a new, large lake. Excavation provided fill to raise the elevation of the course.
Here, we used old photos, taken from an airplane, to recapture the footprints of the putting surfaces, which had become mundane in shape and uninteresting over time. With our knowledge of Wilson’s later work at Pine Tree – the pinnacle of his art form – we implemented a more robust bunker scheme with much more character and interest than was originally built. This is another good example of ‘interpretive restoration’ where the course can remain entirely authentic yet significantly upgraded.”
Today’s thoroughly modernized Hole-In-The-Wall has a new 8.5-acre lake, back tees have been installed to increase length (the course now measures almost 6,600 yards, extended from its previous 6,200-yard measurement) and additional bunkers have also been installed.
While still relatively short by today’s standards, the Hole-In-The-Wall is now once again a members’ delight and fit for purpose in the modern era.
Southwest Florida from Ft. Myers down to Marco Island has perhaps the highest number of golf courses per square mile in the USA. Most of these are private courses built as part of a housing/condominium development. As such there are very public options and also very few stand-alone private clubs not associated with housing.
Hole in the Wall is one of the rare courses in the Naples area that is stand alone, much like Calusa Pines, Old Collier, Naples National and Hideout. As such it gets a huge benefit from having the clubhouse as the only structure one sees on the course. The vast majority of other courses weave in and out of housing which can be distracting as well as impinging on the golf courses. What one sees as they play Hole in the Wall is the golf course and the surrounding landscape, although one can hear the noise from the six lane, busy Goodlette-Frank road near the final holes on the outer nine.
Designed by Dick Wilson and updated by Ron Forse, the course shares the long “runway” teeing areas that one can see on many of his other designs. It has a good variety of doglegs and straight holes. Obviously as it is in southwest Florida it is a flat course which means it cannot approach his finest work at NCR South, Coldstream or Laurel Valley.
Hole in the Wall is reminiscent of Pine Tree, one of Mr. Wilson’s best designs, but differs in a couple of key areas. It does not have the amount of land that Pine Tree has, resulting in shorter holes and overall significantly less yardage. For example the longest par 3 is 180 yards with the other par 3’s being 168-155-163. It also does not have as many bunkers (140 versus 107). The greens are not quite as large nor as pushed up as at Pine Tree. Where it is very similar to Pine Tree is in its charm. It is a golf course one could play every day for its relatively easy walk, the beautiful landscaping, many wide fairways, dense foliage on the front nine, and the wider open spaces offering nice views across the fairway to other holes. It also has a fair amount of water on the property that is often only in play with a truly terrible golf shot. Although it does not have as many bunkers at Pine Tree, how many courses have more than 100? Much like Pine Tree, the bunkers are perfectly placed and create playing options.
Where it is better than Pine Tree is that much of the front nine have tighter playing corridors due to the preservation of the surrounding trees and vegetation. In addition, there are more doglegs here rather than repetitive straight holes. The doglegs and placement of bunkers lead to more decisions on the course which is a feature that I admire.
I found the course to be delightful and likely one of the better courses in the area, although behind both Calusa Pines and Naples National from a shot value and strategic perspective. For me it is close to Old Collier in its demands, green complexes, and fun factor.
The course is 6527 yards from its Black tees, par 71 rated 71.5/129. From the Green tees the course is 6232 yards, rated 70.0/128. There are three tees of lesser length dropping down to 4719 yards. I found the course ratings to be fair.
1. Par 4 – 303/297. While the tee shot provides an element of a “gentle handshake,” the approach shot and green surface do not. I was instructed to hit left between the chute of trees as there is a lot of room due to a bulge in the fairway, yet this does not leave the best angle to the green as it is set right to left and has a small landing area. To protect against those trying to drive the green there are three bunkers staggered down the right side which makes that bulge in the fairway down the left even more appealing. The best shot will hug the final bunker on the right. The green is raised and has two deep bunkers on the right, the first one starting about ten yards before the green ending at the beginning and the second one in the middle right. There is a long, deep bunker down the left stopping about 2/3rds up the green. If one comes in from the left they will have to land over that left bunker and have their ball stop on the narrow green to avoid going into one of the bunkers on the other side. It is a fun hole but certainly not a guarantee of par.
2. Par 4 – 386/370. This hole has thick trees on both sides with a narrow dry stream running down the left side where the fairway ends. The land rolls a bit. If one can find the fairway they will hit to a very well designed green complex. There is a center bunker beginning about 8 yards before the green tailing off to the front right. Combined with the left side bunker this creates a narrow neck to the green. The green then bulges to the right with another right side bunker. The green has a back plateau but a fair amount of movement particularly as one approaches the front neck of the green. I was surprised to see it is the #7 index due to the combination of the tee shot and green. For a par 4 under 400 yards, this one has a lot of challenge.
3. Par 4 – 407/370. This hole plays as a dogleg right even though it seems essentially straight. Those thick trees that were on the left of #2 are now down the left side of #3, ending about 75 yards short of the green where a pond takes over on the left. The tee shot has to consider a pond down the entirety of the right side as well as trees and two bunkers placed inside the fairway line that convince one to go left of these bunkers unless one has the length to carry them as they sit about 210-230 yards off the tee. Two more trees are up the right side of the fairway. The green has a snaky bunker on its left side and one at the middle of the back as the green is angled to the left. The green has multiple tiers and is one of the larger ones on the course. A miss short at the front of the green is a decent shot. The green is speedy back to front and breaks significantly towards the water. I hit one of the worst putts of my life from 11 feet, leaving myself nearly another 11 feet to save par which I missed. I was again surprised at the index for the hole as #11.
4. Par 4 – 405/389. This is rated the hardest hole and it is easy to see why due to the sharpness of the dogleg at nearly 90 degrees about 210-225 yards off the tee. Thick and tall trees line the fairway so longer hitters have no advantage trying to clear the trees down the left to cut the dogleg. The only way to shorten the hole is to hit a long draw. There are two bunkers placed on the outer corner which I am certain find a lot of balls. The green has two fronting bunkers that begin about ten yards short of the green and are placed on each corner. The green rises from front to back and has a substantial vertical spine with the right side being higher. There is a fall-off behind the green that can send balls into a waste area with trees. After my bad three putt of the previous hole, I chipped to two feet and walked away with a par. There is no rhyme or reason to golf.
On this hole there is the plaque explaining the naming of the course.
5. Par 3 – 168/163. Easily my favorite par 3 on the course, this is likely the most beautiful hole as well. The hole sits just beyond a pond that makes the hole play a bit diagonally off the tee. The green is larger than it appears as it is disguised with two bunkers placed between the green and the pond as well as two bunkers on the back side of the pond. The placement of the bunkers makes for a narrow opening to the green as well as a narrow back half of the green with a bulge in the middle. The green is not quite as sloped towards the water as it appears and I had my second three putt. Years ago the tee was placed such that the water was only down the right side and one did not have to cross over it. It is a far better hole as is. The only way this hole could be improved is if they could add 20 yards.
6. Par 4 – 392/374. This hole bends to the left with three bunkers on the outer corner. It is the last hole on the golf course where one feels like they are hitting between thick tree lines down both sides. Despite the fifth being the “hole in the wall” it is after playing this hole that I felt I had come out of the trees. There are three outer bunkers at the turn, comprising about 40 yards of area to be avoided. The green has a single bunker left and two down the right which create a small section of green on the back right. The ideal tee shot actually is towards those fairway bunkers as the green is more open down that line. The green has a central rise to it and a back to front tilt. I three putted it again but really liked the hole.
7. Par 5 – 564/544. This double dogleg, first right then left, has water down the entire left side, first in the shape of a narrow pond that looks more like a stream before widening. This time the fairway bunkers are on the inner corner, seeming to force one towards the pond. Yet this is a wide fairway and one should aim to be as close to those bunkers as possible. Trees are also scattered down the left side so the combination of trees and pond makes going into the bunkers a better option. There are two staggered bunkers about 120-100 yards from the green on the right that seem to narrow the fairway for the second shot as the pond begins to angle back towards the green. The green has perhaps the most sand of any green with four bunkers ringing almost the entirety of it. It is a fun golf hole.
8. Par 4 – 440/399. The second longest par 4 on the course plays essentially straight. The large pond on seven is now to one’s left on eight but one should be able to hit a tee shot that goes beyond where it stops. There are a set of flanking bunkers on either side set opposite each other. The first of these bunkers are definitely in play for most players while the second set are in play for the longer hitters as they are 30 yards apart. The fairway narrows as you near the green with two bunkers on the front side and one placed at the rear. It is a difficult hole due to both the length and the slope of the green which I felt lucky to make my first putt.
9. Par 3 – 155/147. This is a pretty straightforward hole ending in front of the side of the clubhouse. There is a large bunker that goes nearly the entire length of either side and a back rear bunker. The green is narrow at the front and is set that one thinks about hitting a slight draw into this green. The green is sloped back to front and a long putt to a back pin has to be hit with pace. It is a nice finishing hole even if one three putts for the fourth time on the front nine.
10. Par 4 – 350/345. This is a fairly gentle hole with thicker trees down the left side. The right side offers three staggered bunkers just after a pond which should not be in play. There is a bunker far up on the left that is only in play for the longest hitters and one of only a few I felt to be unnecessary. The green is long with two bunkers left and a long one on the right beginning short of the green going halfway up. It is a fairly flat green compared to most on the front side but its length could lead to a three putt.
11. Par 5 – 533/518. This hole is a dogleg right with water a consideration on every shot except once on the green. Water goes down the left side in the form of a big pond then transitioning to a narrow pond resembling a stream. We are now playing in the opposite direction of hole seven. The inner turn has two bunkers. Yet there is ample fairway here off the tee. The second shot has a decision to be made. As the “stream” is continuing down the left side, another pond cuts the size of the fairway in half coming in from the right. One can lay up in front of it and have a straight shot of 120-130 yards into the green. One could also choose to hit down the fairway that sits between the left stream and pond on the right but it is narrow and does not provide a great angle to the green the farther one goes. There is also a bunker down the left with trees placed inside of it. There is a bit of room between the front of the green and the pond with two large, deep bunkers on either side. The green is sloped back to front with a back half shelf. It is a nice hole.
12. Par 3 – 163/158. Five bunkers surround this green with a bunker at each corner and one at the front middle that begins about ten yards short of the green. This central bunker and the one on the right front are shaped like fingers. The green is generous in size but with a lot of internal movement. It is another nice golf hole.
13. Par 5 – 524/513. To this point we have had a double dogleg par five and one that bends right. The final par 5 has a sharp bend to the left. There are two outer bunkers and an inner bunker creating a narrower gap. The second shot has to consider a small pond down the right side about 100 yards from the green that eats into the fairway. There are two bunkers down the left earlier than the pond on the right as well as another bunker placed opposite the pond. All of these bunkers are placed on rolling ground. One has a strategic choice here, play short of the water or take one’s chances going down the left side to get a shorter approach. The green is raised with a deep bunker at each corner. While the green is fairly flat, it still has a back to front slope.
14. Par 4 – 350/345. This short par 4 has the most bunkers on any hole on the course with a total of eleven. There are four down the left side and two down the right of a hole that becomes a dogleg left both due to the placement of the bunkers as well as the green being angled to the left. The green has three bunkers left and one on the right. I recall the green as having two tiers and a slippery back to front slope.
15. Par 4 – 350/345. My five and final three putt (offset by five one putts), came at this dogleg left. There is water off to the right but it ends quickly followed by two bunkers on the right. The more problematic bunkers are the two on the left side on slightly higher ground. The green is small with a bunker on each side and one at the rear. This creates a very narrow, long neck to the front half of the green with another central vertical ridge. For its length, much like the first hole, this is not a guaranteed par.
16. Par 4 – 405/377. After three consecutive doglegs to the left, this hole bends sharply right with an early inner corner bunker that should be carried and another one sitting about 240 yards on the left outer corner. Following the bunker on the right there is a pond down the entirety of the right side. If one can carry the bunker on the right they should get a favorable bounce at the bunker is on raised ground. The green has only one bunker on the front left set before the start of the green. It is perfectly placed because this green is canted sharply towards the water. The green looks innocuous, but is very sloped left to right. It is also long. It would be very difficult to get a ball close to a left side pin due to the slope of the green. I liked this hole perhaps the most on the inward nine for its simplicity.
17. Par 3 – 180/171. This hole felt a little like playing the twelfth except it does not have the long finger-like central bunker. Instead, this green has a bunker on all four corners creating a star-like shape to the green with the middle bulging out on both sides. It is a clever green. A pond goes down the entirely of the right side so the preferred wayward shot is to the left.
18. Par 4 – 450/410. Due to new Black tees adding 40 yards, this is the longest hole on the course. If the club wanted to they could likely add another 20 yards with more tree removal. The teeing area sits between two ponds. The tee shot plays straight between three bunkers on the left and two on the right. There are a few subtle ripples in the fairway. A pond comes into play on the left side with the green somewhat sitting behind it if one is on the left side of the fairway. The green has a bunker on the four corners and is elevated with a fall-off behind the green. It is a very good finishing hole. If not for the strength of the finishing hole, one might advocate for changing the nines, even if one finished on a par 3. But eighteen is such a memorable hole, the routing makes good sense.
Hole in the Wall is a very fun golf course, one that could be played every day and one would not tire of it. The routing led to a good variety of holes whether straight, left or right. This is evident in the variety of the par 5’s where one goes left, one right, and one is a double bend. The placement of the bunker is excellent as I counted only a handful that did not seem to fit. The depth and shape of the bunkers is also very good. Overall, the bunkering adds to the strategy of the golf course.
The green surfaces and shapes are varied, sometimes narrow, sometimes with bulges, and rarely plain. Many of them have smaller segments leading to a difficult pin position. The greens can be speedy here even when they look to be relatively flat.
I like the contrast of the front nine which is more in the woods versus the openness of the back nine. Yet due to the use of bunkers there remains a consistency to the holes.
The course is likely slightly under-rated in the state. Its limitations are due to its length. As I looked at the course, I saw where perhaps 100 yards could be added, but I am not sure it would improve the course. Maybe elevating the greens slightly higher would add appeal to some lower indexes, but I like it just the way it is.
This hidden gem in Naples – Hole In The Wall – doesn’t get any attention, by design. For those who are familiar with golf in the Naples area, this club is a private sanctuary for the lucky few who migrate south for the winter. The illustrious membership enjoys a beautifully maintained playing canvas, perfectly placed water hazards and a bountiful amount of wildlife.
I had the good fortune of meeting the superintendent who is hugely devoted to the property, especially after last year’s hurricane that took down almost 200 trees.
Florida golf courses tend to be flat and carbon copies of each other – however, the shaping around the pushed up greens keep the level of interest and challenge up to a desirable level. The name of the club is a novelty, but very appropriate for this secluded Florida gem.