There are 36 holes at Tiburón Golf Club, which forms part of the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, and Greg Norman designed both courses. The Gold course is now the site of the annual QBE Shootout (formerly called the Shark Shootout) but it’s the second and oldest course at Tiburón, the Black, that generally receives the accolades.
Naples is the golf course capital of the world with more courses per square mile than anywhere else, so when the original 27 holes at Tiburón opened for play in 1998, the facility initially struggled for recognition alongside the sea of green fairways. Enter the Great White Shark (ironically Tiburón literally translates to “shark” in Spanish).
The QBE Shootout is a bizarre two-man 54-hole team tournament which combines a cocktail of alternate shot, better ball and scramble into one rather unusual PGA Tour event. The tournament dates back to 1989 when it was called the RMCC Invitational and was played at Sherwood Country Club in California. In 2001 the re-branded “Shootout” moved to Tiburón and the club has never looked back.
The Black course is routed through acres of pines and if you stray too far offline you’ll either be taking a drop from one of the many water hazards or playing from the huge bunkers which flank the fairways or you’ll have to manufacture a recovery shot in a Masters-like style from the pine straw underneath the trees.We’re not the first to say that Naples is a far cry from Magnolia Lane but Tiburón is certainly a very special golfing destination and the Black course fits the land like a comfy slipper. Consequently, the property has been awarded Audubon International certification.
Tiburon Black is a nice layout that plays hard and fast. The course is in nice shape consistently. The course is flat and the contours are uninteresting. The turf is kept at a low cut level in most areas such that your ball will meander until it finds trouble often. This isn't per se a course I would recommend you seek out. If you are in Naples it is one of the few that is open for public play sometimes.
While the Gold course at Tiburon hosts two “professional” tournaments, the CME finale on the Women’s LPGA tour and the QBE Shark Shootout on the PGA Tour, the Black course is often said to be the more difficult course due to tighter playing corridors. The Black course could never be used for the tournament due to the lengthy gaps between holes, with the eighth through the sixteenth located across Livingston Road, requiring more than a quarter mile walk/ride each way and those holes accessed via a tunnel. There is another long gap from the fifth to the sixth tee and again from the seventh to the eighth hole. It is not gallery friendly or even player friendly.
The Black course has a substantial area of land next to the beginning and ending of the course, the practice area and one of the holes for the Gold course. I do not know if this is being saved for future housing development or if it is due to wetlands. What I do know is that the long breaks in the course do lessen the experience. Being unable to walk a course is a negative for me particularly since it is flat.
The course is an above average resort course due to the native vegetation that has been retained. It is beautiful to play and look at the scenery. Other resort courses seem to eliminate as many trees, bushes, etc. as they can in order to reduce the cost of maintenance and speed up play. This course sits in a natural setting, although one does hear the traffic from both Vanderbilt Beach Road as well as Livingston Road. Absent the noise from the traffic and the cart path/tunnel along the roads, it feels as if one is playing adjacent to the Naples Botanical Garden.
As one would expect, the course is flat with hardly any rises except for a green, several tee boxes, or ground pushed up to create the face of a bunker. There is very little land movement. One wishes the fairways offered something a bit more interesting, even if it would have to be man-made. Greg Norman, the architect, included sizeable, flat waste areas where instead more contouring of the land would have been more interesting.
As this is Florida, water does come into play on many of the holes, although half of those times it requires a truly bad shot to find the water. While nearly all of the fairways have trees on one side, if not both, there is a possibility of playing from the trees unless one goes ten yards in.
There is a nice mixture of longer and shorter holes on the course. However, three of the par 3’s, despite a difference in yardage, look and play the same. Of course, this being Florida, there is one par 3 that requires a heroic carry over water to the green. There are four par 4’s less than 400 yards but unlike other courses, these do not require any real strategic decision off the tee or to the green which minimizes the risk/reward attraction of a shorter hole. All of them are birdie opportunities for the above average player.
From the Gold tees, the Black course is a par 72 measuring 6949 yards, rated 74.6/147. The Black tees drop all the way down to 6465 yards, rated 71.5/144. There are six sets of lesser tees, some in combinations, with the “family” tees being 3975 yards.
There is a private club which leads to the either the Gold or Black course being reserved only for member use on alternate days.
There are not many memorable holes on the course, but it is enjoyable to play. The best hole on the course is the second, the number one index on the course with also the tightest playing corridor with a green hard set against a pond on its right. In terms of par 3’s, 4’s and 5’s, I felt the par 5’s to be the better holes. The best par 5 for me is the fifteenth due to the location of the green pushed off to the right and with the best undulations on the interior of the green. The eighteenth, another par 5 is the only green I can recall that is raised although some might say the eighth is, located behind a pond.
The greens are relatively quick. I found short chips would roll out much further than I expected. Thankfully the pin locations I had did not have much break if one was within 10 feet, although I saw areas on the greens that did have more slants. However, one will not find interior mounds, swales, or tiers on these greens which is somewhat surprising. The Gold course is far superior in the green complexes and the undulations on the greens.
1. Par 4 – 376/354. From an elevated tee, this is a gentle starting hole with the green set off to the right with a fronting pond. There is a single bunker left down the fairway that is not too difficult and trees and waste area down the right. The fairway is fairly wide. The green has a front left bunker and a back left bunker, tilting back to front and a bit left to right. It is a standard hole.
2. Par 4 – 422/394. When I stood on the tee, I thought this to be a short par 5 as the narrowness of the fairway makes the green appear farther away. I thought this to be the best hole on the course, despite the noise from Vanderbilt Beach Road at 7:35 in the morning. Trees pinch the fairway even narrower about 100 yards from the green which has a pond against its right side. Go over the right edge of the green with any speed and your ball with find the water. The green has a fair amount of interior movement.
3. Par 4 – 378/366. This hole is a sharp dogleg left. Go too long and left off the tee and you will find another pond. The better play is to hit towards the outer corner bunkers with a slight draw. From these bunkers it is approximately 140 yards in or less. The green sits behind three bunkers with trees/brush beginning 5 yards behind the green.
4. Par 3 – 201/180. A pond is down the left side but should not be in play. There is a large waste-like bunker on the left just shy of the green and a front right bunker. The green almost has a tier to it.
5. Par 4 – 400/360. It’s a lengthy drive to the fifth tee (much of this drive you will see two more times). The hole has a pond down the left side and then waste bunkers from both sides shrink the fairway width to about 10 yards. Trees sit inside the right waste bunker. The play from the tee is middle to left side. The green is long but narrow with two bunkers on the right side.
6. Par 5 – 502/481. The first par 5 has a pond down the left which pinches the fairway for the longer hitters. The green sits off to the right with a central bunker about 15 yards short and then two fronting bunkers on the corners of the green. Providing one hits a decent tee shot, this hole is a birdie chance.
7. Par 3 – 160/134. This hole looks like a shorter version of the fourth hole with a pond down the left side and a front left bunker. Like most greens on the course, there is back to front tilt.
8. Par 4 – 345/340. The next long cart ride takes one past the fifth tee nearly to the fourth green where you make a left hand turn that eventually parallels Livingston Road to go through the tunnel to get to the other side. It felt like this cart ride was nearly half a mile. I liked this hole due to its green. The hole has water down the entirety of the left side and scattered trees and out-of-bounds down the right side. There are no bunkers on the hole. There is a small pond that fronts the green which is tilted back to front and slightly raised.
9. Par 5 – 581/541. Some might favor this as the best par 5 on the course. Water is down the left side although not in play for the longer hitters who have to think more about the bunker on the right which I cannot reach. One then has a decision as to whether to hit a wedge to lay up short of a waste bunker that precedes a pond fronting the green continuing down the left side of the green. If one lays up, they have as little as 130 yards with a straight shot. The other alternative is to play to the left but this brings water into play from both sides and you still need to cross the water to the green. Some of the bigger hitters might try for the green in two but they have to carry the pond and the green sits against out-of-bounds close on the right side. It is a hole that does require some strategy. I hit short of the waste area and managed to make a 34 feet putt for a 4.
10. Par 3 – 188/174. This is the par 3 over the water but there is a sizeable landing area between the pond and the beginning of the green from where one can either putt or chip. The green has a bunker back left and two on the right as well as a waste area front left. I had a front pin so I did not have to worry about the back to front slope of the green as the front is fairly flat.
11. Par 4 – 359/339. This straight hole has a waste area down the entire right side until a pond fronts the green. The waste area turns at the pond and crosses the fairway before going off to the left. There is a single fairway bunker to the left. The green has two bunkers on the right. This is another definite birdie possibility.
12. Par 4 – 442/406. Water goes down the entire left side. There is a large waste area bunker on the left only in play for the longest hitters. The green has a waste bunker off of its left side and a front right corner bunker which is raised a bit and hides the back right of the green. I did like the green on this hole.
13. Par 3 - 220/188. The hole has a waste area that one must carry which continues down the left side where there is a pond as well. It was beginning to rain a bit harder as I played. I hit a poor tee shot that landed in the waste area but ran out onto the green where I missed an eight feet birdie chance.
14. Par 4 – 403/376. One of the few hole where one does not see water. This hole bends to the left with an outer corner bunker in play for the longer hitters and a fronting right bunker at the green. A waste area goes down the entire left side of the fairway along with scattered trees.
15. Par 5 – 560/517. My favorite par 5 on the course is one that I messed up trying to navigate the maintenance workers while staying dry. There is a pond on the right off the tee in play for average length hitters. Longer hitters have to land between heavy trees on the right and stay out of two bunkers on the left that have a bit of depth to them. There is a long waste area on the right that continues to the green that is in play for the second shot. The green sits off to the right and is angled left to right with a small central mound fronting it. The green seems to run slightly away from you and has good interior movement.
16. Par 4 – 414/383. A pond goes down the entire left side but I did not notice it due to the rain. There is a bunker right as well as heavy trees. Another pond is on the right beginning 50 yards in front of the green continuing down most of the right side. A few trees stick out a bit on the left that can block a shot to the green. The green is long as I found out when I bladed a shot to the back of the green as I rushed to stay dry. It is one of the better holes on the golf course.
17. Par 4 – 465/426. The longest par 4 on Tiburon Black and some might say it is their favorite par 4. To get to it, you go back under the tunnel and pass by the fourth green for the final time. This hole is a dogleg right where the fairway narrows at the turn all the way to the green. There are heavy trees on both sides. The green has a waste area and a bunker on the front left. The green lacks character.
18. Par 5 – 533/506. The final hole is a dogleg right with a waste bunker and pond down the right side and a single bunker left. The fairway gets narrow when the pond begins, more of an issue for the shorter hitters as it widens again nearer the green. For those hitting right off the tee and trying to carry as much of the pond as they can, there is another waste bunker on the right after the pond. The green is raised with three fronting bunkers and a higher left plateau. It is a nice finishing hole as scores can likely range from 4 to 8.
Is this a top 100 course in the state of Florida? That is a difficult selection, given Florida is the state with the most courses in the USA, totaling over 1300. The natural setting and beauty of the course provide a strong positive, as do the conditioning and speed of the greens. The case for inclusion is more easily made from the Gold tees, which make the playing corridors tighter and the forced carries over water much more demanding. From the Black tees, I would remember the course more for its native vegetation more so than the demands of the course.
A comment on the Gold course, which I played twice the next few days following, (January 12-14, 2021), I think it is the better course of the two, even if it also is unwalkable and has a very bad hole, the short tenth. The fairways are very wide almost as if a “minimalist” designer had built it. There is a lack of relevant bunkers off the tee, but at least there are several raised bunkers that catch one’s attention. The green complexes, greenside bunkering, and green surfaces are vastly superior to what is on the Black course. I would rather play the Gold course over the Black although one sees more housing and water fountains. The Gold has several holes that are more memorable/difficult as well.
It is an awesome course. Seems to built more for a draw than a fade. Hitting a draw without a hook is a real challenge for me. There are a lot of chutes off the tee box you must hit it through. (From tips anyways) That makes you shape the ball, but mostly from right to left. Played in the summer and course was in excellent shape.