Tiburon Golf Club’s Gold Course is bell cow of great golf in Naples area

There are a wealth of great golf course options in the Naples area, which many consider the “Palm Springs of Florida golf” and residents proudly claim as the “Golf Capital of the Sunshine State.” 

The undisputed bell cow of the region is the Tiburon Golf Club, a facility good enough to annually host both the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Championship in November and the QBE Shootout, an unofficial money event on the PGA Tour’s wrap-around season that was contested at the property’s Gold Course in December. 

Tiburon Golf Club’s two courses, the Gold and the Black, were both designed by Greg Norman and opened in 1998 and 2001, respectively. The golf facility is an amenity of the opulent Ritz-Carlton, Naples and is located about four miles inland from the main resort and the Gulf of Mexico.

Gold standard

Its off-the-water setting likely kept the courses from being wrecked when Hurricane Ian came ashore just 42 miles to the north in late September with 150 mph winds. The courses received little damage outside of the uprooting of some 400 trees and rain-created flooding. 

And while the LPGA and PGA Tour events are the main attraction during their respective tournament weeks, the Gold Course gets genuine co-star billing – and deservedly so. 

Tiburon, Spanish for “shark” as a nod to Norman and the nearby waters of the Gulf, is carded at 7,382 yards and plays as  a par-72. It features revetted (stacked sod) bunkers, coquina shell waste bunkers and wide fairways of seashore paspalum turf without conventional rough on an almost dead-flat property. 

Designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International, Tiburon is an example of Norman’s continued attempt to maximize the natural properties of the site with which he is given to work while balancing challenge and playability. 

The Gold Course can be a test but is also very fair, with its tighter holes generally playing shorter in length. There are five tees offered to facilitate all levels of golfers, and its fairways are well protected by the natural palms, pines, and olive trees lining their perimeter. Water comes into play on 13 of the holes and the bunker complexes (48 of them scattered across the track) are often sprawling and hard to avoid, both off the tee box and on the approach. 

The greens complexes can also be penal but there tends to be a bail out option on most shots. The Gold Course is neither overly long nor unduly punishing, and that playability is a hallmark of Norman’s course design work. Success here is attained with course management, execution and accuracy around the greens and with the flat stick. 

Some of the best holes at Tiburon’s Gold Course are its par-3s, which all have water in play. The longest of the quartet is the 225-yard fifth, with a wet penalty area to the left and plenty of sand to the right. The hole’s undulating putting surface is also a challenge in an offering that has a little bit of everything. 

The par-5, 578-yard 14th asks for a drive down the left side for a better chance to go for the green in two shots. From the right the approach is over a lake and three fountains. The green is large, sloped back to front, to accommodate those fairway woods and long irons that will be used on a risk/reward attempt. 

The closing hole plays at 485 yards from the tips and is likely the best two-shotter on the course. Water hugs the left side, but the landing area is wider than it looks. More water guards the green complex and its wide and rolling putting surface. It’s a hole where par is a great score and a big number is always in play – isn’t that the definition of a great finishing hole? 

The Gold Course is not an easily walkable course because of some of the distances from green to tee. But that’s okay for a big-shouldered track that’s played by resort guests for the majority of its rounds. If you are in Naples, Tiburon Golf Club and the Ritz-Carlton should be on your short list of stops for golf and fun.

Tiburon Black

Other options in Naples area 

The greater Naples area has 92 golf courses, including the daily-fee variety, those for guests staying at a particular resort, and others available only to members of a club and their guests. The region has the second highest number of golf holes per capita in the country as courses from Bonita Springs to Naples and on to Marco Island all offer an amazing golf experience. 

Let’s take a look at four of the best in the area. 

TPC Treviso Bay, Naples 

TPC Treviso Bay is always a great option and as a member of the TPC family of courses players know that conditioning and playability will always be spot on. Designed by the late Arthur Hills and consultant Hal Sutton, the course opened in 2008 and was routed out of a lush jungle five miles east of Naples bordering the 110,000-acre Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve. 

Thick scrub vegetation, tree cover and wetlands make up the edges of this stunning 7,367-yard layout. There are water hazards on 12 holes and the raised, smallish green make your short game uber-important. The course was renovated in 2020. 

Old Corkscrew Golf Club, Estero 

Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2007, Old Corkscrew is one of the best in southwest Florida and an absolute beast from the 7,400-yard back tees. A variety of tee boxes mitigate the damage, as the Golden Bear routed a course with long par-4s and -5s, tree-lined fairways, expansive water hazards, deep bunkers, and impressive doglegs characterize the layout, and the club’s natural scenery is sure to impress. 

The majority of mounding and roll on the course were created as part of the design process and the undulations that will stand out are those on the putting surfaces where players are in for a roller coaster experience. 

Naples Grande Golf Club, Naples 

An exclusive amenity of the Naples Grande Beach Resort, the golf course here was designed by Rees Jones and has been rated as one of the ‘Top 50 in Florida’ by Golf Magazine. Played from the back tees, the course measures 7,078 yards and the layout is punctuated by scenic and challenging water features as it plays through wooded terrain that is home to abundant wildlife. 

Each hole is unique and demands a different approach. The conditioning is what you would expect from a private country club. Jones provided a variety of risk/reward options but factors in safe routes and bail-out areas. Golfweek named Naples Grande Golf Club as one of North America’s Top 100 Resort Courses. 

Saltleaf Golf Preserve, Bonita Springs 

Set about 25 miles north of Naples, this course was known as Raptor Bay Golf Club since its opening some 20 years ago. It has been one of the region’s most ballyhooed courses. Original designer Raymond Floyd was brought back to add more than 500 yards to the routing and adapt the course to today’s game. 

Golfers familiar with Raptor Bay will see some similar characteristics with Saltleaf Golf Preserve, including the rarity of having no bunkers or rough. In addition to the main track, there will be a 9-hole short course that is aimed for families and those out for a quick round. Saltleaf will be managed by Troon and is set to open by the end of 2022. 

Naples Grande