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Marco Island Marriott: Resort Review

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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

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 at The Rookery

The look from the tee at No. 16 at The Rookery, the course’s 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 tee shot on No. 18 at the Rookery. Don’t go right.

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

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

No. 11 at Hammock Bay

Disaster sits close to the front of the green at No. 11 at Hammock Bay.

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 

A side view of the 15th green at Hammock Bay, which is 30 yards long.

A side view of the 15th green at Hammock Bay, which is 30 yards long.

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

Real birdies

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.

Takeaway

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.

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Zak is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX.com. He's been a part of the company since 2011, when he was hired to lead GolfWRX's Editorial Department. Zak developed GolfWRX's Featured Writer Program, which supports aspiring writers and golf industry professionals. He played college golf at the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and still likes to compete in tournaments. You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz, where he's happy to discuss his game and all the cool stuff that's part of his job.

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Courses

Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real

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We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.

Early morning at Kingston Heath C) Jacob Sjöman.

Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.

I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.

The bunker shapes are brilliant. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.

Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!

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Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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Courses

Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf

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We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.

Launceston Airport, Tasmania. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.

The locals at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.

“Tom’s Little Devil.” Hole No.7 at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.

After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.

The walk between the 4th and 5th holes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.

After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!

As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.

To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.

The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.

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