A Golf Jewel on Florida’s West Coast — Ritz Carlton Members Club

    By Pat Farnan

    Heading to the Sarasota area for a golfing vacation? Consider staying at the Ritz-Carlton.

    Why? The golf course.

    The Ritz Carlton Members Club course is a true jewel on Florida’s west coast.  Located east of Interstate 75 along the Braden River, the Members Club is a stunning and gorgeous contradiction to a region more generally known for its flatness.

    The 18-hole course is meticulously manicured. Tees, fairways, greens and sand traps are primped to near perfection. 

    Designers moved 1.9 million cubic yards of dirt to achieve rolling hills that meander around 12 lakes and create an environment that looks like it was magically plucked out of the foothills of Carolina.

    The 18-hole course is meticulously manicured. Tees, fairways, greens and sand traps are primped to near perfection.  It’s difficult to find an old footprint in a trap. When you do, know it’s a player’s failure of etiquette, and not the oversight of an attentive maintenance staff.

    Areas peripheral to greens and tees, and along cart paths, are likewise trimmed  and kempt.  This is, indeed, a beautiful property which affords players an unending array of splendid vistas. Moreover, the course has earned praise from Audubon International, which designated it as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

    From its tips, the course stretches well over 7,400 yards. From its shortest tees, the Members Club plays a little over 5,000.

    Designed by internationally renowned golf course architect Tom Fazio, the Members Club has earned multiple distinctions from Golfworld and various other publications for its design, layout and pro shop.

    And what a joy to play. From its tips, the course stretches well over 7,400 yards. From its shortest tees, the Members Club plays a little over 5,000. Players at any level will be confronted with a variety of challenges.

    Virtually every hole is tree-lined, framed by young oaks, pines, pampas, et al. It’s a design that gives each hole an individual look and feel.  You generally do not see players on adjoining or nearby holes. The only occasional interloper is likely a wild turkey, gator or some other wildlife. And no homes or other structures are visible.  No real estate development is planned. The natural beauty of the place has been carefully maintained.

    The tees are predictably immaculate, and the fairways are generous and consistent: The ball sits nicely atop closely cropped blades, negating the need for winter rules. The sand traps are fairly placed along fairways and greens, and their light and at times fluffy texture reflect the care and precision that goes into course maintenance.

    The Members Club offers an intriguing mix of holes:  Doglegs, straight-away holes, long par 5s, shorter par 5s, great par 3s and a couple of short par 4s that offer players a variety of options. No.5, in particular, measures only about 310 yards from the back tees. But sand, water, wind and a devilish green can make this par four play like anything from a walk in the park to a walk into oblivion.

    The greens allow for multiple pin placements that, in turn, present a multiple of challenges.

    Speaking of greens, these are a treat. Like a first date, it’s probably best that you get to know these a little better before getting overconfident. For starters, most of them are expansive. The concept of long putts can take on new meaning. The greens allow for multiple pin placements that, in turn, present a multiple of challenges. Hit it a nice shot 6 feet to the right of one pin and you may find yourself pitching back up a steep hill just to get back to putting surface.  Some areas that appear flat conversely present a sharp break, and vice versa. Subtlety and nuance abound on these surfaces, which are maintained with the same rigor and consistency as the rest of the Members Course.

    For all of its character and challenge, this is a fair golf course. It seeks not to trick the player but to lay out a picturesque and fair challenge. And it succeeds handsomely.

    “This place is a special treat,’’ says Bill Batson, 68, of St. Petersburg, who regularly plays some of the state’s finest courses in sanctioned county and state competitions. “Aside from being a terrific test, it is spectacularly beautiful and maintained to the hilt.  It’s one of my favorite courses…anywhere.’’

    The elevation, contouring and design of the Members Club, skillfully coupled with the lush tropical environment and all of its natural beauty, have produced a fair but spectacular golf course matched whose challenge is matched only by its arresting visual beauty.

    The Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club
    15150 70th Terrace E., Bradenton, FL 34202

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