During the winter months, snowbirds flock to Florida to enjoy all that the Sunshine State has to offer. It’s been going on for more than 100 years and increases the state’s population by about 5% each year.
For many, Florida’s main attraction is the ability to play golf during the winter months. Over the years, Florida’s Gulf Coast has been a desirable location for golfers looking to indulge themselves in some spectacular golf courses. One area of the Gulf Coast that is often overlooked is the area between Venice and Fort Myers.
Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach includes the Charlotte Harbor Gulf Island Coast and includes the towns of Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, and Englewood Beach. Within this geographical area, there are more than 19 golf courses, including 13 semi-private championship courses and 6 executive courses. The Ron Garl-designed Kingsway Country Club just off of I-75 was recently purchased and closed and will become part of the new Sunseeker Resort in Port Charlotte when it opens for business next year. It will be known as Aileron Golf Club. Here are a few of my favorites.
Riverwood Golf Club
Riverwood Golf Club is located in Port Charlotte, FL, just a few miles from Tamiami Trail, and has received numerous accolades from Golfweek Magazine and Golf Advisor. Golf Digest has rated Riverwood 4 ½ stars and Golf for Women Magazine ranked it in the top 100 “Lady Friendly Courses in the U.S.’’
The front nine winds its way through heavily wooded terrain with a lot of palms, live oaks, and pine trees. You’ll encounter more water hazards on the back side as it meanders around salt marshes and wetlands. The course does play through a residential community however in certain areas, you’ll only see a few houses. Other portions of the course look as though they have been carved from the wild, natural vegetation of Southwest Florida. One area of the course in particular – holes 7 through 9 – has been referred to by Members as the Bermuda Triangle because of the difficulty and precision required to keep the ball in play and get it close to the hole.
Heritage Landing in Punta Gorda was redesigned by Gordon Lewis in 2019 who took what was once a so-so 27-hole layout and created an 18-hole masterpiece. Holes were redirected and rerouted, bunkers reshaped, and tee boxes, fairways, and greens were regrassed with Champion Paspalum, one of the nicest golf course grasses and very tolerant to salt water and the Florida climate. The result is a course that is much more player friendly and enjoyable than it used to be. Heritage Landing offers golfers 5 sets of tees as well as a couple of “combo” yardages on the scorecard. The course can play anywhere between 4,363 – 7,122 yards, so there’s something for every golfer, regardless of skill level. Heritage Landing was ranked ninth on Golf Advisor’s 2021 Top Courses in Florida list. Although the course is open to the public year-round, tee times fill up fast so it’s best to schedule one well in advance.
Heritage Landing has some impressive practice facilities that include a driving range, short game and pitching area, and practice putting greens. If you want to take your golf game to the next level, Heritage Landing’s staff of PGA professionals can help and offer daily golf lessons.
Long Marsh Golf Course
The Rotonda West community in Southwest Florida, just outside Punta Gorda is a deed-restricted community that is home to over 15,000. Rotonda has an interesting shape to it; if you look at it from an aerial view, it’s perfectly round, with 8 pizza-wedge-shapes cut into it that are separate communities. Many of these communities have golf courses running through them. Rotonda West is comprised of several distinct neighborhoods including Long Meadow, White Marsh, and Pine Valley.
Rotonda Golf and Country Club offers 99 holes of golf on the Cape Haze Peninsula, designed by 5 renowned architects: Pete Dye, Ted McAnlis, John LaFoy, D.J. DeVictor, and Jim Petrides. The Long Marsh has 27 holes and is considered Rotonda’s premier course. It’s also rated its toughest. Long Marsh was designed by Ted McAnlis.
The Long Marsh Golf Course winds its way through 450 acres of natural Florida scrub. Each of the 27 holes has a distinctive character, making it unlike any other course in the area. Many of the gently rolling fairways are framed by native pine, oak, and palm trees with natural waste bunkers, lakes, and marshes that add to the intrigue. What you see is what you get; there are no blind shots or hidden hazards. Four sets of tee boxes provide distances ranging from 5,257 from the forward tee yards to 7,120 yards from the back tees.
For those visiting that don’t play golf, there is plenty to do here, most of it on the water. You can go fishing, boating, swimming, and scuba diving. There are 35 parks in the area, perfect for bike riding, birdwatching or just strolling about. Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach has some good nightlife too; restaurants that feature everything from beachfront and tiki bar dining to gourmet meals. There are bars, microbreweries, wineries, and distilleries where you can let your inhibitions run wild.
Just down the street from Riverwood Golf Club, you’ll find the Twisted Fork, a fun eatery located next door to Black Widow Harley Davidson! They offer chef-inspired, down-home Florida cuisine with a twist. It’s one of Southwest Florida’s most unique venues with lots to do for all ages. They put on a lot of fun events on the Back Porch, a 24,000 square foot covered entertainment pavilion that is connected directly to the restaurant; everything from car shows and bike nights to bands and drive-in movie nights.
As their name implies, they have put their twist on several signature sandwiches. For example, the Twisted Meat Loaf Sandwich features the Fork’s homemade meatloaf on a brioche bun grilled and topped with apple cider bacon slices, aged cheddar, and fried onions. The Monte Cristo sandwich is the traditional ham, turkey, cheddar, and Swiss, batter dipped and deep fried, but then it’s dusted with powdered sugar and served with raspberry preserves. Whatever you order, you won’t be disappointed!
Farlow’s on the Water is one of my favorite restaurants in the area. It’s where Southern cooking meets the Caribbean. Owners Laurie and Keith Farlow are from Kentucky and St. Croix, USVI, respectively. It reflects the best of two worlds: the seafood and spices of the Caribbean and southern specialties like fried green tomatoes, corn pudding, and Kentucky Hot Browns. All food is prepared daily, and the majority of herbs used in their delectable dishes are grown in the garden at the restaurant. You are welcome to tour the garden on your visit and smell the fresh basil, rosemary, and parsley. The fresh catch menu includes Black Grouper, Chilean Sea Bass, Hogfish, and Mangrove Snapper to name just a few. The menu also includes a vast array of Caribbean seafood specialties, hand-cut steaks, and pork, chicken, and turkey specialties. The have an exceptionally good wine list and a full liquor bar.
There are a large number of hotels in the area, and the boutique, Wyvern Hotel is a great choice. It’s independently owned and a member of the Choice Ascend Hotel Collection. The hotel is located in downtown Punta Gorda and its walls are filled with artwork from local artists that hotel guests are welcome to purchase. The Wyvern’s 63 rooms feature an upscale décor with designer touches like marble bathroom floors and imported Italian linens. The most unique feature of the Wyvern Is the rooftop which seems to be the hub. Up here you can take a dip in the heated pool that overlooks the Harbor and enjoy poolside service from Perch 360, the rooftop restaurant. Perch 360 offers dishes crafted from the freshest, high-quality ingredients sourced from local suppliers including their rooftop garden. In addition to a Tapas menu with unique dishes like shrimp and sweet potato tacos, Perch 360 has a drink menu that includes signature cocktails, local craft beers, and boutique wines. Perch 360 is a great place to cap off the night and enjoy the views.
Located off the lobby is Wyvern’s other restaurant, 88 Keys Florida. Fittingly enough, 88 Keys is a piano bar and features contemporary Global cuisine created with locally farm-sourced ingredients to create healthy options for even the most discerning palette. They have a full liquor bar and offer several craft beers on tap as well as a wine list that features a diverse collection of award-winning wines from global winemakers. Choose from several boutique wines or select a bottle from the proprietor’s list of signature high-end wines.
This is a small sample of what Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach has to offer golfers. For more information and to see a list of courses in the area, visit them online at www.pureflorida.com.