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Marco Island Marriott: Resort Review



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.


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 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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Branson, Missouri Continues to Evolve as a Golf Destination



If you think you know Branson, Mo., it’s time to think again. While the live music venues that put the bucolic Ozark Mountains town on the map continue to thrive, its reputation as a top notch golf destination has grown … and continues to evolve.

Heck, golfers who’ve visited just a few years ago will find the scene almost unrecognizable. Sure, the awe-inspiring Top of the Rock — designed by legendary Jack Nicklaus and holding the honor of being the first-ever par-3 course to be included in a professional PGA championship — is as striking as ever, but its sister course, Buffalo Ridge, has undergone a metamorphosis.

No. 15 at Buffalo Ridge

Designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio and originally opened in 1999, Buffalo Ridge has done the unthinkable – make its list of previous accolades pale in comparison to what now graces the land. In conjunction with owner and visionary conservationist Johnny Morris, Fazio has exposed massive limestone formations, enhanced approaches and added water features to make every hole more memorable than the last.

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio masterpieces not enough? Gary Player has stamped his signature in the Ozarks with the recently opened Mountain Top Course. This 13-hole, walking-only short course is unlike anything you’ve ever played.

Strap your bag to a trolley and let your imagination dictate your round. There are stakes in the ground with yardage markers nearby, but they’re merely suggestions. Play it long or play it short. Play it from different angles. The only mandate is to enjoy the course, nature and camaraderie.

No. 10 at Mountain Top

The Mountain Top greens are huge and as smooth as putting on a pool table. Nearly as quick, too. And the bunkers are as pristine as the white sands of an isolated Caribbean beach. Capping off your experience, the finishing hole plays back to the clubhouse and the green boasts multiple hole locations that enhance golfers’ chances at carding an ace. Hard to imagine a better way the end an already unforgettable round.

It shouldn’t take you much longer than two hours to get around Mountain Top Course. If it does, you were likely admiring the stunning panoramas. One notable addition to those views is Tiger Woods’ (TGR Design) first public access design — Payne’s Valley (named to honor Missouri golfing legend Payne Stewart) — which is full speed ahead on construction and scheduled to open in 2019. As a treat, the 19th hole was designed by Morris. Named “The Rock,” it’s a short par-3 that promises to be amazing.

Payne’s Valley will be both family-friendly and challenging. It has wide fairways and ample landing areas along with creative angles and approaches that shotmakers love and expect from a championship course.

If two years is too long to wait for new golf, then Morris and his Big Cedar Lodge have you covered with the yet-to-be-named ridge-top course by the industry’s hottest design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. With all the heavy lifting complete, the Ozarks is scheduled to be unveiled in 2018.

The Ozark Mountains form the backdrop on No. 5 at Buffalo Ridge.

Once opened, this par-71 (36-35) track will play “firm and fast” and offer multiple avenues into each green. Both Coore and Crenshaw bristle at the notion that there’s only one way to approach the playing surface. Bring it in high or run it along the ground. Considering the exposed nature of the course and propensity for high winds, the latter may be your best option.

There’s more. Tiger won’t be finished with Branson when he wraps up Payne’s Valley. He’s also designing a family-friendly par-3 course on the grounds of Big Cedar Lodge. There isn’t a date attached to this project, so stay tuned.

These new tracks join the likes of Thousand Hills, Branson Hills and Pointe Royale Golf Village to make Branson a powerful player on the golf destination scene. Combine that with world-class fishing and camping, as well as countless museums, restaurants and points of interest and this bustling Ozarks town is a must-visit spot in Middle America.

Learn more or plan your trip at

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club



Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s tempt the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a decent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure



My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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19th Hole