By Pat Farnan
The moment you cross the small bridge onto the Gasparilla Inn & Club Golf Course you know you’ve arrived at someplace special. It looks as if someone has dropped a dollop of verdant greenery into Charlotte Harbor.
In fact, the course is essentially an island, a stunning piece of real estate, and the Pete Dye Signature Course at the Gasparilla Inn more than does it justice.
Granted, Gasparilla Island, about two hours south of Tampa on Florida’s west coast, is one of the most genuinely beautiful spots in the state, if not the country. It’s a barrier island that has resisted the unchecked growth common in many areas of Florida, where natural vegetation and laid-back rhythms of daily living have been not only preserved but perfected.
Little wonder, then, that Gasparilla Inn Golf Course would match the charm and elegance of its namesake, the 104-year-old Gasparilla Inn.
Beyond its location, one of the more striking elements of the layout is its beauty. Employing grasses that thrive in seaside conditions, the course maintains a deep green color that, when matched against a rich blue sky and the deep blues of Charlotte Harbor, evokes a tropical paradise with scattered palm trees and pockets of soft, beige sand.
The grasses on the greens, fairway and rough are thick and richly green. The ball sits cleanly, invitingly atop the fairway grass. It is difficult to find anything but an excellent lie in the generous fairways. Roughs, while clearly delineated from the fairways, are nonetheless lush foliage just a little taller than the fairways. As such, the roughs would seriously upgrade the front lawn of most any homeowner.
The course is an 18-hole, par 72 layout that stretches out to a little more than 6,800 yards. Not mammoth by 2016 standards, but there is little rollout from most shots, so it plays all of that length. That said, the weather in the Boca Grand area reliably provides plenty of wind for much of the year, and , suffice it to say, wind can dramatically change of the nature of this course, given numerous water hazards and cleverly placed sand traps.
Dye redesigned the course in 2004, adding many of his signature features.
In addition of Charlotte Harbor, which borders several holes on the back nine, the course features ponds, reservoirs and canals, all of which can come into play, and more so depending on the direction and strength of the wind.
There’s also plenty of sand. There are waste bunkers, fairway bunkers, greenside bunkers and little pot-like bunkers, small but expertly placed green guardians that can swallow a shot that is only slightly off the mark.
The greens are routinely large with plenty of contour. It will take a while to get to know them, given subtleties aplenty. And chipping or hitting short pitches into them also requires some knowledge, the lack of which can return a mishit shot down one of the many roll-off areas and back to the spot where you last struck the little bugger.
Playing the course is a pleasure. Virtually every hole is nicely framed by mounding, water, trees or Charlotte Harbor. Tees, fairways, rough, greens, traps –everything is in impeccable condition.
Each hole has at least five different tees, which contributes greatly to the character and mix of the course. There are long par fours and some short enough that power hitters can get there is a single blow. The par threes are all well-trapped and require precise shots to get close, no matter what tee you are playing. The par fives also offer variety in length and design, but insist on well struck shots to get the ball close to the hole.
DeFrank Howell, 48, who moved to Gasparilla Island four years ago from College Station, Texas, said the course gives him great pleasure, in part because of the friendliness of the staff.
“Everything about this course – the greens, fairways, traps – it’s all in great condition, and what a spectacular place to play golf,’’ he said, pointing out to the blue waters of Boca Bayou.
The course, and the Gasparilla Inn & Club, generally close in the summer, just after July 4, and reopen in October. The rest of the year, if you are in the Boca Grande area or would like to visit, the world-class Gasparilla Inn & Club is not to be missed.
If you go…
Gasparilla Inn & Club
500 Palm Ave., Boca Grande, Fla 33921
Photos by Patrick Farnan for VISIT FLORIDA
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