Let’s see. Florida. That should mean loads of mounds, plateau greens tipped toward the line of play to ensure visibility, plenty of palm trees, big frothy bunkers, including two at every green to force the approach shots to carry. Sorry, not here.
Naples National starts with the forceful personality of Dr. Charles Benton, a successful biotechnology businessman. His idea was for a quiet place devoted lovingly to golf. Dr. Benton was not looking for your typical site strewn with palm trees and palmettos. He wanted pine trees so that he could emulate the canopy and feel of a Pinehurst No. 2, Pine Valley or Augusta National. In terms of strategic play and in terms of overall ambiance, these would be his models. He wanted firm turf, generous playing surfaces, an emphasis upon the ground game and multiple playing textures.
The 320-acre site he finally settled upon did not have much natural contour, but it did have plenty of pine trees. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry left playing areas into the greens plenty wide, with the intent to avoid forced carries and to promote angles of play on every shot. That’s the case at the 554-yard 4th, where you can stand in the tee shot landing area and contemplate all manner of options. The bold hitter whose tee shot has hugged the left side can cut off considerable yardage into the green, whereas a more cautious player can play wide right on the second shot and create a billiards-like opening into a green set diagonally from left to right and protected on the short side with dense sands.
Fairways averaging 58 yards wide provide plenty of room, but wander off (or have the ball kick astray off the fairway contours) and you’ll find yourself in scrubland and hard-baked sandy waste areas with inconsistent lies and an uncertain prospect for recovery.
Ah, but what lovely scrubland this is. A dozen varieties of native grasses, 37,000 plants in all, pepper the site: Mexican heather, hurricane grass, sand cord, purple-plumed muhly grass, mimosa and leather fern all conspire to create a dazzling image.
With its canopies of pine trees and its vibrant scrubland rough areas, Naples National looks intimidating at first. But there proves to be generous room, providing you play within your own game. Along the way, the golfer will be asked to play every possible shot. Generous chipping areas and greenside bunkers often pulled back from the putting surfaces assure many options on the short game.
The par-5 2nd hole emulates Pine Valley’s 7th, replete with its own hellish half acre of waste sand. At the 419-yard 7th, the tee shot on this dogleg right must negotiate considerable trouble to the right.
On the back nine, there is tremendous strategic diversity, such as at the seductively short 14th, all of 295 yards—but beware the tightly protected green. The par-5 15th bends relentlessly around a lake to the left and calls for hop-skip-and-jump golf across intermediate hurdles. The 194-yard 17th demands a precisely angled right-to-left tee shot. The 18th, by contrast, is a lengthy 570-yard par 5 that double doglegs around, over and alongside all manner of nasty waste and water.
Year founded: 1993
Architects: Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry