One of the complaints about the game of golf these days is that it costs too much. Yeah, well, maybe so but there are places, though expensive, that are worth every penny. One of those places would be the Ritz-Carlton Members Club in Sarasota, Fla.
If you have the money to spend and want to have an extraordinary golf experience, then the Ritz- Carlton Members Club should be on your must play list. It is certainly one of the best courses in the state of Florida and the Ritz-Carlton name has long been synonymous with refined accommodations and a high level of service. The Members Club only reinforces that reputation in spades.
There are many reasons the RCMC is so extraordinary, the first of which is the setting. The golf course is out by itself in nature 14 miles east of Sarasota on 315 acres bordered by the Braden River and its tributaries. Essentially unheard of in Florida, there is no development within sight of any part of the course. While practically every other golf facility in Florida is tied to some sort of housing development RCMC has none and will have none. There is nothing to distract you from a pure golf experience.
Designed by renowned course architect Tom Fazio and opened for play in Dec. 2005, this could be the last of the big-budget golf courses built in this country for a good long time. Fazio is criticized by some for building expensive golf courses but in this case it was money well spent.
While much is said about “natural” golf courses and many architects make obligatory statements at grand openings to the effect that “God made these 18 holes; we just uncovered them,” the fact is a “natural” course in the southern half of Florida would be dead flat and practically feature-less. Therefore the look of a course in that area is a function of the architect’s imagination and his budget. In the case of Tom Fazio and the RCMC both were very large.
“The fact that we have a lot of land area to work with gives us the opportunity to meander the golf course and create a lot of space and width throughout, “ said Fazio. “Also, because it is total golf with no real estate development and is well buffered by the large grove of oak trees on the north and east sides, the wetland barriers along the south side and the clubhouse and wetlands along the west side, we have the unique opportunity to build what we refer to as an old-style golf club.”
Moving nearly 2 million cubic yards of dirt and creating 12 lakes certainly makes this a manmade creation but it looks completely natural with each hole having its own distinctive and incredibly attractive look from the tees. Fazio explained during the construction phase, “We will have the dirt we need from digging these lakes to place on the golf course, creating elevation, relief, contour and framing for each hole.”
Another factor adding to the look is the remarkable landscaping that includes plantings of pines, palms, maples, ficus, mature oaks, colorful flowering shrubs and marshes with aquatic plants.
“The icing is the fact that we have the largest landscape budget we have ever had for a Florida golf course,” Fazio said. “As the end part of this project, we will be able to add the maturity to the course with this terrific landscape program.
“There is no question that having a strong landscape program is very much a positive and is a reflection of the commitment to the highest quality by our client.”
Coming from Fazio and seeing the result, that budget must have been a very big number.
The drive into the club sets the tone for the day. Meandering along a winding approach framed by mature live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss has a very mellowing effect. You can feel the tension created by driving on congested roads just slipping away.
The elegant low-rise wood beam and stone clubhouse is totally fitting for the venue. It is elegant and classy and not ostentatious. When you’ve got it right, there is no need to overreach with pretentiousness. The attendants are friendly and relaxed and you don’t feel like you’re being hustled for tips.
After checking in with the pro shop you can head down to the expansive practice area which includes practice greens, short game area and a large driving range. There you will be introduced to the required caddie concierge. The caddie fee is included in the green fee with gratuity extra. Golfers can walk or ride with the caddie looping or acting as a forecaddie. In addition to providing traditional caddie services such as course yardage information, bunker maintenance and divot repair, caddies provide a host of other services including course strategy, course design information and food and beverage services. If you are able to walk, playing this course with a caddie is about as good as it gets.
The golf course itself is just a pleasure to play- challenging without being overly penal, it has everything. Long and short par 4’s, different looks on the par 3’s and a great three hole finish make for a very satisfying day.
With six sets of tees, there is a course length for everybody, playing from the 7,417-yard tips down to 5,175 yards. In a set up that a lot of courses could learn from the front tees offer the option of playing from 5,791 yards as well as the front tees. A lot of good female players find the men’s member tees too long and the front tees too short so this is a good alternative.
Since RCMC is a private club with playing privileges extended to Ritz-Carlton Sarasota guests it will be necessary to be a guest of the hotel, which, while you are spending the money, is a real treat. Considering all that is involved, the $225 fee, which includes 18 holes, cart, caddie and range balls is a actually a deal. The hotel also has a free shuttle from the hotel out to the golf course.
The 226-room luxury hotel overlooks Sarasota Bay, with all rooms having a view of either the bay or the marina. The hotel offers a large array of outstanding food and beverage options and even has a private oceanfront beach club out on the pure white sands of Lido Key.
Sarasota is known as Florida’s most-cultured city. This sub-tropical destination is home to a professional symphony, ballet and opera, in addition to numerous theatres. The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, with some of the finest works by Flemish Master Peter Paul Rubens, is located in Sarasota, as is St. Armands Circle, a European-style outdoor shopping and dining area.
If you are ready to do it up in style, head to Sarasota and the Ritz-Carlton. Money can’t buy you everything but in this case, it will come close.