When asked what impresses golfers the most after playing The Golf Club at Fiddler’s Creek in Naples, Director of Golf John Calabria quickly replies, “its natural beauty.” And following a recent round there, let me join that chorus. In an area known for wall-to-wall housing developments on golf courses, Fiddler’s Creek offers a pleasing contrast, delivering a championship-style layout amid a tranquil and natural setting teeming with wildlife.
“People mention the Everglades feel of the course and how homes don’t encroach on the golf experience,” says Calabria. “There’s a separateness about the golf holes that make it especially appealing.” Opened in 2002, the Art Hills-designed course sports seven different tees ranging from 5185 yards to 7157 yards. Consequently, there’s no excuse for not selecting the right markers for one’s handicap. And that’s important because the course poses enough challenge. Indicative of its mettle, the course has hosted a number of tournaments including several USGA qualifiers, the South Florida Open and the South Florida PGA Open Championship.
Starting off somewhat ominously with some overly tight holes, the course really takes off beginning with the par-5 fifth hole. Here, the natural beauty of the course pops wide open with that expansive Everglades look and feel. The scenery and natural habitats are impressive and the golf course complements it in quiet fashion. The land abutting the 10th-11th-12th holes is protected as a conservation preserve so no development will ever infringe on it. A creek that serves as the development’s namesake is the result of a thoughtful dredging and widening of an agricultural ditch near the 10th hole that now is a clear-flowing stream. It’s further testimony of how a golf course can enhance the environment.
And wildlife? Near that 10th hole I noticed two deer that joined our sighted menagerie of egrets, blue herons, and gators. And according to Calabria, you can add a bobcat to the mix.
In terms of its playability, the course also gets one’s attention. It recalls the famous Bob Newhart line when asked if he was ever nervous on-stage. “Not nervous but incredibly alert.” To score well at Fiddler’s Creek one must stay alert. Hills provides ample landing areas but the approach shots must be particularly well-struck to find the center of the green complexes. Case in point is the short par-4 12th hole. From the tee, the green looms like a fortress on the horizon and in many ways it is. Strategy comes into play off the tee because the best angle to attack the perched green is right center, avoiding a pot bunker, and where a pond lurks right. Meanwhile the left side of the fairway offers a shorter route to the green but at an undesirable angle. It’s a tough and feisty hole disguised by its length. As the on-line course guide humorously opines, “Prayer advised.”
Less daunting is the par-4 15th hole that offers a lower profile and open front green complex. There’s an eye-pleasing waste bunker that borders the right side of the fairway. It’s a hole where two good shots may result in a birdie. Another favorite is the par-5 17th hole. Here, three good shots are necessary to find the rolling putting surface fronted by water. But again the fairway is wide and the forced carry over the water for the approach shot to the green is not too intimidating. As my playing partner said as he proudly walked off the green buoyed by a well-earned par, “that’s a good golf hole.”
Along with a variety of golf holes, the conditioning at Fiddler’s Creek is exemplary with smooth putting surfaces and well-manicured tees, fairways and bunkers. With so many positives, there are nonetheless a few shortcomings to the experience found at Fiddler’s Creek. For one, I wish there were fewer forced carries over hazards at several of the par-3s’ forward tees. Another is the route to the distant 13-acre practice range that compels golfers to share the cart path for the first hole—an unfortunate result of a land sale near the range that changed the club’s right of way. But the club is managing it well with added staff and understanding members. Finally, with seven sets of tees, it’s difficult at times to discern one’s tee markers without any added distinguishing colors or shapes. Admittedly, it’s a quibble for one’s first visit.
In the big picture, The Golf Club at Fiddler’s Creek is a challenging and scenic test of golf that’s never humdrum for its members and their guests. Its beautiful surroundings and natural habitats provide a memorable journey as one wrestles with the reality of the scorecard. Apropos to its name, it delivers a most pleasant tune.
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Located between Naples and Marco Island, Fiddler’s Creek is a gated community comprising nearly 4,000 acres and zoned for 6,000 residences. Launched in 1998, it currently has over 1750 homes. With a very low density level of 1.6 homes per gross acre, the community will have about 100 distinct neighborhoods upon completion. Home prices range from $300,000 to $2 million. Less than a third of the land will be developed, while the remainder is dedicated to nature reserves, lakes, parks, golf courses and recreational areas. Amenities include the 54,000-square-foot Club & Spa, Fitness Center, Multi-Pool Swimming Complex, Tennis Courts, Tot Lot and Restaurants. Residents also have an opportunity to join The Golf Club—ranked in Golfweek’s 100 Best Residential Golf Courses in the country—and The Tarpon Club, a beach and boating venue. A limited number of non-resident annual and seasonal memberships are available at The Golf Club and The Tarpon Club. On the drawing board sometime in the future is a second course, to be called The Preserve. Visit www.fiddlerscreek.com
Images courtesy of The Golf Club at Fiddler’s Creek