Sarasota, Florida will likely never be known as a premiere golf destination. It’s not the lack of good golf in the area, far from it. It’s just that this medium sized Gulf coast city has far too many attractions to simply be pigeonholed as a golf getaway. The powdery beaches, the eclectic mix of restaurants, nightlife, shopping and cultural activities are just five of Sarasota’s ongoing attractions. But there are some excellent public-access golf facilities regardless.
One of the toughest tracks in town is called Stoneybrook. This is a formidable Arthur Hills design in an area called Palmer Ranch. Playing 6560 yards from the back tees and 6130 from the middle markers, length here is less of a factor than keeping the golf ball dry. There’s water in play on every hole but one, little of it incidental. 15 holes require both a tee shot and approach steered towards terra firma, and several holes have water in play repeatedly. Beware the staunch 9th hole, 420 yards from the tips and loaded with trouble. Also the tough 12th, a par five requiring more than 200 yards of water, carry from the tips, usually playing into the breeze. Thankfully, there’s more red stakes than white on the course, recently revamped with smooth-rolling Tifdwarf greens, so wayward shots will require the stroke but not the distance. Be thankful for small favors.
Bob Tway has eight Tour wins including a PGA Championship, but has yet to make an indelible mark as an architect. That’s destined to change if he continues to produce courses like Bobcat Trail, south of Sarasota in North Port. Again, water is a major factor here, present on every hole but two. Large, undulating greens provide an additional challenge on this 6750-yard course. There’s a wide variety of par-4s on the property, ranging from less than 300 yards to more than 440 yards in length. Tee shots need to be shaped in both directions to avoid the strategically placed fairway bunkering. The routing is strong as well; the course commences in a counter-clockwise direction and then becomes a figure eight down the homestretch. Not to worry though, a state of the art GPS System will keep players from getting disoriented.
The Waterlefe Golf and River Club has one of the most spectacular settings in the area. The course begins, winds back to and concludes on a particularly beautiful section of the Manatee River, replete with wide expanses of pristine marshes and pleasant coves. This Ted McAnlis design is found in Bradenton, a bit north of Sarasota. This 6900 yard dazzler has four holes that border the river, and the island green finale on the par-5 18th is practically worth the price of admission itself.
Other worthwhile courses include Arnold Palmer’s Legacy at Lakewood Ranch. This course is absolutely super-sized, situated on 5,500 acres of land, which includes a 165-acre lake. Heron Creek is a fine Arthur Hills design with that rarest of Florida features, a bit of elevation change. Also check out Serenoa, a petite water-park less than 6,300 yards from the tips, with narrow ribbons of fairway separating a seemingly endless series of lagoons and ponds.
Sarasota is a wonderful town for dining, both elegant and casual. Florida is known for its prevalence of chain restaurants, both upscale and family-friendly, and Sarasota is no exception. However, leaving the national brands behind, here are a handful or recommendations of local establishments, unique to the area. Just as there are another dozen courses that could be mentioned in this travelogue, there are three dozen (or more) excellent choices for a fine meal. But we’ll limit things to just a trio.
Marcello Restaurant has a myriad of fine choices on their menu, but this wonderful Italian restaurant is known far and wide for their veal chop. For those who prefer something a bit lighter, they also have a variety of homemade pasta dishes to choose from.
The Shore Restaurant lives up to the name. They feature numerous delectable seafood dishes on their menu, including Kung Pao calamari, lump crab cakes, and a highly regarded tuna tower. Carnivores aren’t forgotten though, as ribs, a ribeye and ‘diner meatloaf’ all take their rightful place on the menu.
Lastly, the Lido Beach Grille at the Lido Beach Resort isn’t as well-known as some of Sarasota’s marquee eateries, but they do an excellent pork tenderloin, caramelized diver scallops and a pan seared red snapper.