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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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You’ve never played anything like Sweetens Cove



What do you say about a 3,300-yard, nine-hole course in rural Tennessee with a prefabricated shed for a clubhouse, a port-a-john for a locker room, and a practice green the size of a coffee table? For starters, it’s the most enjoyable golf experience I’ve had in years.

Sweetens Cove isn’t the kind of course where you can say, “Well, it’s like a little bit of this course and that one put together.” It will never be called “a classic so-and-so design.” I’ve played everything from munis to tour stops all the way to the Old Course, and I can promise you it’s not like anything else you’ve ever played.

Picture a world-class, challenging, and ridiculously fun golf course. Now strip off the 15,000-square-foot clubhouse, the pro shop, the driving range, the short game area, and even the superfluous nine holes you can’t remember anyway. Now, go ahead and shave another 300 yards off the tips. That may sound sacrilegious, but once you’ve distilled the experience into only what is necessary, you’re left with something that takes you back to when you first fell in love with golf. Maybe even something that takes you back to the birth of golf itself.

A view of the sixth green at Sweetens Cove looking back toward the tee box. Photo Credit: Rob Collins

Rob Collins is the man behind the course’s creation. When he started the project, it was May 2011 and golf was in a full recession. Courses were closing their doors, companies were struggling to make ends meet, and Rob was betting everything he had on his brand new company (King Collins Golf Course Design, a partnership with Tad King) and their first project of turning a forgettable muni called Sequatchie Valley G&CC into something memorable.

I was inspired by my favorite courses in Great Britain and Ireland along with Pinehurst No. 2 and Tobacco Road, to name a few domestic courses that provided inspiration,” Rob said.  “Additionally, the 1932 version of Augusta National was a huge inspiration for the architecture. The overall goal was to create a great strategic course that places a premium on approach and recovery shots. Hazards, angles, and green contours all work in concert with one another, laying the foundation for a course where there are no weak or indifferent shots during one’s round.” 

Happily, Rob and Tad’s endeavor fared much better than many of their contemporaries’ projects in the wake of the 2008 recession, though it did have many twists and turns along the way. Chief among them was in 2013, roughly a year after construction was completed, when the ownership group disbanded and left the course for dead.

I was desperate to do anything that I could to get the course open,” Rob said.  “The course was my baby, and I believed that what we had created out there was architecturally significant and deserved to see the light of day. As it turned out, my client [the original ownership] approached me and asked if I would like to take the course over on a long-term lease. I said yes to that proposition and set about trying to find a partner for the venture. I was introduced to Ari Techner through the former superintendent at Lookout Mountain, Mark Stovall. Ari and I hit it off and partnered in a venture to take over operations of the course.  Since that time, our partnership has expanded and includes Patrick Boyd as General Manager as well as a few others.” 

Once securing new ownership, Sweetens Cove took off on a consistent upward trajectory that even has it ranked above some major championship venues in certain publications.

The pot bunker to the left of Sweetens Cove’s fifth green, appropriately nicknamed “The Devil’s A**hole.” Photo credit: Kevin Livingood

Admittedly, arriving at Sweetens Cove for the first time can be a disorienting experience for the recovering country clubber. Meandering through a town of 3,000 people in the East Tennessee foothills, you find a wooden sign marking the entrance that guides you to a gravel parking lot with no marked spaces. Stumbling out of the car, you find a curious hunter green shed for a clubhouse that might lead you to question all the buzz you’ve seen on social media. The walk from your car to the clubhouse, though, provides the perfect perch to gaze out on the King Collins creation… and you start to realize that maybe there’s really something to this place.

When you embark on your journey, you encounter absolutely no resemblance to the mechanical, formulaic assembly of a typical, rubber-stamped golf course design. Instead, you’ll find massive waste areas, perfectly placed pot bunkers, and a movement to the land that captures the imagination. The greens are equally receptive to flop shots and bump-and-runs, but they demand a precise execution of either choice.

The bermudagrass fairways are relatively firm and generously-sized, but uneven lies are a common occurrence. Should you find yourself outside those fairways, prepare to take your medicine. Waiting for you there are those waste areas, as well as tall fescue and even clover and thistle in some areas. While some may scoff at such a notion, this is a microcosm of Sweetens Cove’s ethos. It’s a palace for the golfing purist: a minimalist, essential experience that harkens back to when golf geniuses like Old Tom Morris knew exactly where (and where not) to focus their energy. If something adds to the golfing experience, Sweetens Cove has it in spades. If it doesn’t add to the golfing experience, the folks at Sweetens Cove don’t bother.

Sweetens Cove course layout designed by Tom Young at Ballpark Blueprints. Image property of Ballpark Blueprints, Ltd.

The opening hole (pictured to the far left of the above image) is a par-5 of 563 yards. It’s a three-shot hole for most mortals, but your best chance of getting home in two is to start by carrying the bunker on the left about 270 yards off the tee. Be very careful about how you approach the green. It’s guarded by a gnarly pot bunker bordered by vertical railroad ties. The green on this hole is a foreshadowing of what’s to come on the next eight with bounding ridges and multiple potential pin locations that each provide a totally different perspective.

The greenside bunker at Sweetens Cove’s first hole, nicknamed “The Mitre” after its resemblance to the Pope’s hat. Photo credit: Kevin Livingood

The second hole is a par-4 of 375 yards, and the star of the show is the nastiest little pot bunker. It’s placed squarely in the middle of the fairway about 260 yards from the tee. If you miss it, you’re likely fine, but if you don’t… well, good luck. The smart play is hybrid off the tee to stay short of the bunker, leaving yourself a short iron into the green.

No. 3 is a par-5 of 582 yards. Feel free to let fly with the driver off the tee, but beware how you approach the green. The green is perched high above the fairway and guarded by a massive tree in front and a waste area to the left. If the pin is located on the left side of the green, you’re in for a surprise when you walk up to the flag. The ideal landing area isn’t much larger than a couple hundred square feet.

No. 4, King, is the only hole with a name. It’s a 169-yard par-3 according to the card, but the green is 90 yards long. The shot can play anywhere from 120-200 yards depending on pin location and the direction of the swirling winds. And did I mention the tee shot is blind from the tips?

View of the fourth hole, King, from the tee box. Photo credit: Rob Collins

No. 5 is a 293-yard par-4. For longer hitters, it’s reachable from the tee with the right wind, but be careful where you miss. Short right of the green is all waste area that is relatively escapable, though your second shot will likely be to a blind pin. Short left is another nasty pot bunker.

No. 6 is a massive 456-yard par-4 with a sweeping dogleg left that tempts you to hit a hard draw. What you are likely to find out after the fact is that a good portion of the fairway slopes to the left and into a water hazard that runs the length of the hole. This will be one of the hardest holes on the course for most golfers. The only way to miss this green and still be in play is to be short and/or right of it, but getting up and down from there will definitely test your nerves, skill, and imagination.

No. 7 is a 328-yard par-4. It’s all about what club you select off the tee. Driver straight at the flag (which must carry a bunker on the right) is aggressive but likely safe. A driver left will leave you with that dreaded 60-yard bunker shot, and driver right could be behind a tree. Be smart and hit a hybrid. If you miss the green left or right, you may waste a shot or two going back and forth due to the steep drop off on either side.

No. 8 was my personal nemesis. It’s a 387-yard par-4 that, in retrospect, places an emphasis on an accurately planned tee shot (notice a theme here?). By that I mean at the tee, you need to evaluate where the pin is and pick the club and line that will give you the best angle — while keeping in mind the location of the bunkers and trees that could impact your intended path.

The eighth green at Sweetens Cove. Photo credit: Rob Collins

No. 9 is an uphill, 148-yard par-3 with a massive waste area in front, another bunker beyond, and a back-right to front-left sloping green. Matt Cardis’ photo below from his @golfinyourstate Instagram account is taken from the No. 9 tee box.

A course with virtually no excess is a challenging proposition. Everything has to be in exactly the right place, as there’s nothing to divert your attention away from anything that doesn’t meet expectations. Sweetens Cove is definitely up to the task, forcing you to constantly zoom in and out mentally to evaluate the macro and micro of every single shot. There are no less than three shots that can be played from any given situation on the course, but you had better commit to the strategy you’ve chosen and execute or you will pay the price.

The entire journey is spent on the razor-thin edge between heroism and disappointment. Sure, there are elements of this designer and that designer; of links golf and American golf, but Sweetens Cove is truly a golf course without a parallel. It’s a place that serves as a refreshing counter-culture to the vast majority of 21st-century golf courses and, frankly, to the American lifestyle in general. In a world with so much excess, Sweetens Cove will remind you that if all you had left was just a fantastic golf course, all would still be very much right with the world.

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The Winds of Change At Shinnecock Hills



Two-hundred and seventy-six. That’s the number of strokes it took for Retief Goosen to secure his second U.S. Open Title in 2004, but the number of strokes is the last thing anyone would remember from that year’s toughest test in golf. Take this article from ESPN’s David Kraft and Peter Lawrence-Riddell summing up the final round of Goosen’s triumph:

“The seventh green at Shinnecock Hills was so hard to play for the first two groups Sunday morning that USGA officials decided to water it between every pairing for the final round of the U.S. Open.”

Just as with the 1974 “Massacre at Winged Foot,” the 2004 U.S. Open will forever be remembered as the day the USGA dropped the ball. The USGA claimed that the seventh had been “inadvertently rolled” on Saturday. Walter Driver, chairman of the USGA Championship Committee at the time, told reporters on Saturday, “I found out after play was completed today that, for some reason, a different person on the grounds staff rolled that green today despite the orders that we had given not to roll the green.” Even a typically mild-mannered Jerry Kelly had harsh words, according to the same ESPN piece, “They lied [Saturday],” said Jerry Kelly, who finished with an 81 after shooting 71 Saturday. “Talked to the superintendent. Superintendent said, ‘Hey, I’m not getting in the middle of this. They told me to roll it.’”

Whether the grounds crew was told to roll the seventh green or not, it gave up three triple bogies in the first two groups, so the USGA watered it between each group for the rest of the day. As the 2018 U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock for the first time since that fateful day, the USGA looks to redeem itself this year. With some subtle changes, maybe they can.

In 2004, Shinnecock played 6,996 yards at par 70. In the past 14 years, there have been no major renovations to the course, but once the decision was made to bring the Open back to one of the founding clubs of the USGA, the American Governing body was determined to ensure Shinnecock was presented with its best foot forward. According to a Golfweek report from October of 2017, the following changes have been made to accommodate not only the tournament but the redemption of a reputation:

  • There are 17 new back tees that will stretch the course from the previous 6,996 yards to a total length of 7,445 yards.
  • The par-4 14th hole has been extended 76 yards and will now play 519 yards. The par-5 16th will now play 616 yards.
  • While the fairways will still be more generous than most U.S. Opens, they have been narrowed by Shinnecock’s standard. They will play between 28-32 yards on average.
  • The greens have not been recontoured, but on the greens with the “most severe contouring,” an extended collar of rough has been added between the edge of the greens and the greenside bunkers.

With the course is still expected to play at a par of 70, it will likely be a tougher test than 2017’s expose at Erin Hills, even if there is little wind. In 2004, all eyes were on the par-3 seventh on Sunday. From the time the first minute of Live From The U.S. Open airs on TV, all eyes will be on the same hole: 189 yards with a raised green that runs away from the players and to the right… but so much more.

As there always is with the U.S. Open, the course will be a character in the story more so than any other championship. Hale Irwin won his first of three majors (all U.S. Opens) at the “Massacre at Winged” with a score of seven over par, and 32 years after that championship Peter McCleery of ESPN was still writing about it. And with Shinnecock hosting the U.S. Open the year after Brooks Koepka swept the field with a 16-under par victory at a helpless Erin Hills, who knows what will happen as the horses are released from the gates on Sunday of this year’s U.S. Open?

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Turf Dreams: The Metropolitan Golf Club



It was a new early morning, and we headed out to face another great golfing adventure. This time we were visiting the Metropolitan Golf Club. Right after we parked our car, we walked through the beautiful clubhouse that highlights the rich history of the course, which only adds to the build-up.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

Over the years, the Metropolitan Golf Club has hosted seven Australian Opens, as well as the Australian PGA Championship, the Australian Masters, and the Victorian Open, to name a few. It’s widely recognized as one of the finest championship courses in all of Australia.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

Designed by engineer member J.B. MacKenzie, the farmland was transformed by the establishment of magnificent plantations of Australian native trees and shrubs, which is one of the things that struck us about this course along with its incredible turf and beautifully shaped bunkers.

The maintenance team is doing an excellent job here for sure, cutting the greens precisely to the bunker edge with hand-mowers to create flawless results. The fairways are also a true dream. They’re pure couch grass, and their pairing with fast bentgrass greens is a winning concept.

My favorite hole is the one pictured above. Just look at those shapes. I want to play it over and over again.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

If you’ve ever complained about bad lies on a fairway, you will most definitely remain silent on this course… because I won’t believe you! As you can imagine, the members are very proud of their club and speak highly of it to all who visit. And rightfully so!

If you would like to play the Metropolitan Golf Club, get in touch through its website to apply. If you’re not headed to Australia in the near future, you can see the course in action during the World Cup of Golf in November 2018.

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19th Hole