NAPLES, Fla. -- About 100 years ago, Naples, on the southwest coast of Florida, had fewer than 40 full-time residents.
Most of them were characters, such as "Barefoot Williams," who opened the Eatmore Fish Market at Fisherman's Key and, hating the fish slime on his soles, preferred going without shoes. Then there was Mrs. Ed Frank who lived over the family garage and was known to throw leftover scraps to the alligators in the swamp below.
Even then, heat-seeking Yankees were recognizing Naples as a place for a warm-weather getaway, and the first golf course was built in the late 1920s (now the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club).
Today there are more than 90 golf courses in Naples and the surrounding area, with about three dozen open to the public and some private tracks available during the off season. Green fees are on the high side, you can still find good golf at affordable prices especially if you tap into some of the money-saving booking services on the web, such as GolfNow.com. You can also stay at a golf resort or play off-season when green fees drop.
Naples golf on a luxury budget
Tiburon Golf Club's two private courses -- Gold and Black , designed by Greg Norman -- are available to guests of the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort Naples. These are tough courses with large undulating greens, bunker complexes including stacked sod wall bunkers, water and tight fairways. Tiburon Gold is more forgiving, more open than Black.
TPC Treviso Bay is one of the newest and toughest golf courses in Naples. Designed in 2008 by Arthur Hills with Hal Sutton, it features a lot of water and well sculptured bunkers, bordering the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve. Bring lots of golf balls.
Old Corkscrew Golf Club is set in a beautiful natural area with a lot of wildlife. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, this is one tough cookie with fast-running greens and tricky approach shots. Off-center shots running off into the wetlands are most likely goners.
Stay at the Waldorf Astoria Naples or the Edgewater Beach Hotel and play Naples Grande . Weaving through ponds fringed by oaks, cypress and pines, this Rees Jones parkland-style track combines classic golf with some elevations and water.
Just off Marco Island, Hammock Bay Golf & Country Club , designed by Peter Jacobsen, is open to Marriott Beach Resort's guests. Wide fairways, mangroves and crushed shell-filled waste areas contribute to its status as a Gold Signature Audubon International development.
Raptor Bay Golf Club was designed by Raymond Floyd. There are no homes to detract from this Audubon International Gold Certified Signature Sanctuary course punctuated by wetlands, natural grasses, wildlife and thick vegetation, along with behemoth waste bunkers filled with crushed shells.
Stay at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, and tee up at the striking Rookery golf course by Robert Cupp Jr. Cut through wetlands, it's not unusual to see a snowy white heron poised at the edge of a pond or a gator skimming a lagoon. Pricey homes grace along the sidelines.
Naples golf on a mid-level budget
Northeast of Naples, Arrowhead Golf Club -- designed by Gordon Lewis -- is one of the best values in the area and often the venue for outings. Although wrapping around 17 ponds, water threats are relatively benign. Good service and a friendly ambiance result in a lot of repeat play.
Playing more than 7,000 yards from the tips, Eagle Lakes Golf Course is blessed by an abundance of wildlife and natural beauty -- keep an eye out for the American bald eagle.
Built in 1969, Hibiscus Golf Club is enjoyable for all levels with wide fairways, bunkers, and several lakes and streams. Hibiscus has an excellent practice facility.
The Lely Golf Resort in south Naples has two solid courses, the Flamingo , a RT Jones Signature track, and the Mustang Course by Lee Trevino. Flamingo has more carries, more bunkers and narrower fairways. Mustang is flatter with fewer hazards in spite of a dozen lakes.
Follow in the footsteps of legends Gene Sarazen, Patty Berg and Walter Hagen on the oldest course in the area, the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club . Built in the late 1920s and redesigned by Ron Garl, the course doglegs around lakes and under tall palms.
Panther Run Golf Club , a Troon-managed track by Gordon Lewis, is the focal point of a new Del Webb community just northeast of Naples. Many fairways play up "fingers" or lagoons.
Naples golf on a budget
Just 10 minutes from the Southwest Florida International Airport, Copperhead Golf & Country Club is another excellent Gordon Lewis design playing amid acres of palmettos and ancient tropical forests, along with water, reeds and superb TifEagle greens.
There is plenty of water in play on Eagle Lakes Golf Club , but for the most part, the course is pretty forgiving. As you play, you'll get a good review of Florida homes spaced along the fairways.
The walker-friendly Quail Village Golf Club is situated within a golf community on 130 acres. The Gordon Lewis redesign offers a challenge to players of all ages and skill levels.
The mid-rise Quality Inn & Suites Golf Resort is situated on its own Dick Wilson and Joe Lee-designed golf course characterized by some water hazards, more than 50 bunkers and groves of trees. The driving range and putting green are lit for night practice.