After playing Raptor Bay yesterday, a course without a single bunker, I took only two shots to find the first available kitty litter today at The Dunes Golf and Tennis Club. Well, three if you count the mulligan.
This wasn’t just any breakfast ball, however. It was “The World’s Best Breakfast” ball.
We had begun the day early, traveling from our Hyatt headquarters to the 12-mile long Sanibel Island (five to six miles at its widest). But the trip over the three-mile causeway really seems like a bridge to another world, where the clock moves on a lazier Island time and even the decibel level appears turned down a notch.
So we ambled into the Lighthouse Café to prop open our eyes with caffeine and tuck into the as-advertised World’s Best Breakfast. This bold statement invites challenge, of course; the temptation to say, “I’ve had better,” becomes irresistible. But the Malted Coconut Hotcakes I had could certainly hold their own in any breakfast smack down. I doused the steaming stack with real maple syrup, though the Vermonter in me mildly winced that it had come from New Hampshire.
The small, brightly lit café is festooned with a huge collection of lighthouse paintings and photos (the working lighthouse at the end of Sanibel Island dates from 1884), and is easily found by the line of locals and visitors waiting to get in of a morning. We waddled off to The Dunes well-sated.
At the course the choice is to use golf or snorkeling gear, as an overview indicates. The aerial photo is equally startling; a blowup is in the grill room of the club, and it’s probably just as well we didn’t see it before teeing off. As the starter told us there are really two kinds of courses at hand here, one green, one blue, the latter from whence golf balls never return. Maybe that’s why the Aqua Driving Range uses floating golf balls hit directly into the water–to get used to the feeling?
Water is in play on every hole, and indeed is one of the main defenders of par here, as the course measures but 5,583 yards from the tips, which we played. At that the course plays to a par-70 and is rated at a 124 slope, marginally higher than the 570-yard longer route we took at Raptor Bay. A fairly stiff and steady breeze also added a degree of difficulty, along with a degree of comfort on a fairly toasty day.
Built as a nine-holer in 1973 and expanded to 18 in 1984, the course was completely redone by former PGA Tour player Mark McCumber in 1995. I haven’t played a lot of McCumber courses that I can recall, though the two that come to mind were solid tracks, Tunica National in Mississippi and The Golf Club of Amelia Island in Florida. (The latter done in collaboration with Gene Littler, perhaps the only Littler design out there; if there are any others I’d love to hear about them.)
McCumber put most of the teeth into the back nine, at least as evidenced by my decent score on the shorter front, playing to a par-34 at 2,490 yards. Indeed, I was on in two and putting for an eagle on the 460-yard third hole. That I walked off three putts later is about the only way I’d be disappointed in notching a par.
Head professional Chris Shaul told us that the trickiest holes were probably five and 13. “You have two water crossings to negotiate on five,” he said, and that I managed, reaching in regulation. Then I rolled four putts across the Tifdwarf Bermuda.
“The thirteenth is a risk/reward shot if you want to try and power one over the canal that runs across the fairway,” said Chris, which I also managed. Partner Hal Phillips played it short, and our opponents Brian McCallen and David Whyte reached the water, en route to a down two defeat to square our matches (not counting the previous evening’s miniature golf adventure).
“Ten to 14 is our toughest stretch of golf. If you get through there unscathed you’ve done a good job,” said Chris. Alas, dear reader, I didn’t. But even if one’s golf shots are heading to watery graves at The Dunes, there are ample natural distractions, everything from waddling ducks to diving ospreys. And if still working off the world’s best breakfast, no worries.
[April 29, 2014]
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