One golf course is good, but two golf courses are better.
That was the judgment of the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, which already owned one 18-hole course, The Rookery at Marco, in nearby Naples, Fla. But it decided to acquire a second, Hammock Bay Golf and Country Club, in late 2011.
The addition of Hammock Bay put golf in a different class for the resort. Golf wasn’t just another activity at the Marriott, like going jet skiing or parasailing – the two courses made the resort a full-fledged golf destination.
The benefits of having two courses added up quickly. According to Robert Pfeffer, director of marketing for the Marco Island Marriott, the resort sold only 25 golf packages in 2011. In 2012, the year after the addition of Hammock Bay, the resort sold 150 golf packages.
Hammock Bay and The Rookery are about a 15- and 20-minute drive, respectively, from the resort, which is positioned in the heart of Marco Island’s beachfront property on the Gulf of Mexico. And there’s plenty to do at the beachfront resort that has nothing to do with golf.
Those who like the sand and sun will love that the resort’s beach is wide and flat. It’s also meticulously cared for, and a choice spot to watch a Southwest Florida sunset.
Even if there wasn’t a spectacular beach, the resort would still be a place most guests would enjoy — there’s a full-service spa, water sports, sailing, shelling, sightseeing trips in the Everglades and much more to do. The resort’s seven restaurants offer a variety of choices as well, everything from traditional Florida beach fare to sushi, steak and pizza. And families will appreciate the two large pools that border the beach, one of which was designed with a slide, waterfall and splash area for children.
Luckily, resort management has stepped up to the plate to provide a similar well-rounded experience on its golf courses, a move that General Manager Rick Medwedeff hopes will help attract golf groups and conventions.
“One course doesn’t get you in the game,” Medwedeff said. “Two can put us in a position to become a golf destination.”
The Rookery is the tougher of the Marco Island Marriott’s two courses, with tighter fairways, more water and faster greens. It has five sets of tees, which stretch the course from 5001 yards to 7152 yards, making it playable for just about everyone. And if the maintenance staff decides to make its ultra slick Tif-Sport Bermuda greens even faster than the 11.5 that they usually run on the stimp meter during the winter months, The Rookery can be downright diabolical.
Most beautiful hole
No. 16, a 159-yard par 3, is short by The Rookery’s standards. It’s also one of the easiest holes on the course. But there’s no doubt that it’s The Rookery’s most beautiful hole.
It requires a solid iron shot to carry the trouble short of the green – a lake and a deep bunker – both of which follow the green’s left-to-right shape that narrows to make back pin positions difficult to access.
Most difficult hole
The most difficult hole at the championship-caliber course is the finishing hole, a 441-yard par 4 from the tips. Golfers can cut a good amount of distance off their approach by challenging the large waste bunker and water that runs alongside the right side of No. 18’s fairway. If they take the safer route and drive their ball down the left side of the fairway, they’ll flirt with out of bounds. They’ll also create an even longer approach shot that will require them to carry their shot entirely over water.
With a good round going into the home hole, golfers might be try to be cautious on their approach — taking an extra club to ensure they carry the water. But that’s not a great option, either. The terrain slopes steeply toward the water hazard, creating some nervy short shots if there’s something on the line.
Hammock Bay is roomier off the tee than the championship-caliber Rookery, making the course a few shots easier for most players. But it still has plenty of teeth.
Designers Peter Jacobson and Jim Hardy gave the course rolling fairways and man-made dunes (they’re as big as 30 feet high and 200 feet in length) that are a rarity for sea-level courses in South and Southwest Florida, which provides a great contrast from the The Rookery’s flatter layout.
The course can be extended to 6912 yards, and the Gulf breezes and course contours place an importance on trajectory control and short game.
Most beautiful hole
Like The Rookery, the most breathtaking hole at Hammock Bay is the course’s shortest par 3, No. 11. It measures 170 yards, but plays downhill 25 feet downhill from the elevated tee boxes. Hammock Bay’s open design makes the wind particularly troubling — even more so when golfers see that if they come up just a little short of the green with their tee shot, their ball will be sent back into the waste bunker and natural grasses that sit well below the putting surface.
Most difficult hole
No. 15 is a lengthy par 4 with an even lengthier green that makes choosing the right club a chore.
It measures a stout 545 yards, and has the deepest green on either of the two courses. It’s 30 yards long, with a middle section that rests well below the elevated front and rear portions of the green. Even for the best of players, a four will feel like a birdie
While The Rookery and Hammock Bay are quite different, they share one important similarity — their close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the Everglades and the 10,000 Islands that make the courses not just a place to enjoy golf, but a place to enjoy nature as well.
The name “Rookery” means bird sanctuary, and attracts several different kinds of birds such as Wood Storks, Great Blue Herons, White Ibis, Sandhill Cranes, Great Egrest, Anhingas and Laughing Gulls, which are in ample supply on the course. Occasionally, golfers will also spot a rare Bald Eagle or Osprey as well.
The Rookery’s redesign by Robert Cupp Jr. in 2002 exchanged 40 acres of turf grass in favor of wetlands, which served to make the course more difficult. But it was also a strategic renovation that blended the course architecture with its Gulf Coast surroundings.
Hammock Bay is recognized as a “Gold Certified Signature Sanctuary” by Audubon International — an environmental organization dedicated to conservation — making it one of 45 communities in the world that has earned the Audubon’s highest level of certification. The course also features tee-to-green SeaDwarf paspalum grass, which requires about one-third of the water as Bermuda grasses and is able to be watered with salt water.
In 2014, The Rookery will also be changing over to paspalum grass, removing the need for its Bermuda grass to be overseeded with Rye in the winter months.
“The Bermuda turf grass in our line-of-play — everything but the greens surfaces — that we planted in the 2002 renovation has become contaminated and mutated and has materially deteriorated,” said Chris Major, general manager of golf at the Marco Island Marriott. “It is most evident from May to November. It’s important to note that although over seeding the Bermuda turf with a “rye” winter grass produces stunning conditions for our prime season, the transition out of our overseeding takes its toll and has a diminishing effect on the Bermuda grass.”
According to Major, the change to paspalum will save the resort $1.75 million over 15 years and create a more consistent golf course throughout the year, which are things all golfers should root for. But The Rookery’s greens are so pure that it’s a shame they have to change.
The Marco Island Marriott is ranked in the top echelon of all Marriotts for good reason. It’s not cheap, however. From Christmas to Easter, a standard room runs about $400 per night and a round of golf costs between $129 and $189. But there are a few gaps, such as SuperBowl weekend, where sun-hungry northerners can enjoy the resort and its courses for special rates.
Another cost-cutting option is a golf school with GolfWRX’s own Dennis Clark, director of instruction at the Marco Island Marriott. He offers weekend golf schools that include a three-night stay at the resort (Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights) including breakfast, lunch and unlimited golf in the afternoons for $1495 for singles and $995 per person for dual occupancy.
Marco Island isn’t known for its nightlife, but aside from the short drive to the golf courses, there’s few reasons why a guest would want to leave the resort once they arrive.
Dedicated practicers will appreciate that both courses have large putting greens, short game areas and their own restaurants. Hammock Bay even has its own pool, fitness center and Tiki Bar, as well as an upstairs deck overlooking the 18th green that will serve as a catering venue.
There’s plenty of choices for a golf-centric vacation in South Florida, but golfers, especially those traveling with families, will be hard pressed to find a more well-rounded resort experience than the Marco Island Marriott.