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Monday, August 6, 2012

Remains of the Day: After golf round, Sarasota/Bradenton gets its game on

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        Many of the best cities for golf don't offer many good options after the round is over.  For example, after a day of golf in Myrtle Beach, if your taste does not run to neon lights and honky tonk bars, you might find yourself spending the evening with the remote button in your condo. And as good as golf in Pinehurst is, that is just how dull the place can be between rounds.

        You’ll find no such problem in the Sarasota and Bradenton area of Florida, a short distance from the Gulf of Mexico. Even during the relentlessly hot and humid summers, when the snowbird-sanctuaries in the state become ghost towns, the strand of beaches just over the three

Dr. Beach designated Siesta Key the best beach in America.

bridges from the mainland are alive with joggers, swimmers and sunbathers (and if you can stand the heat, tee times in Sarasota are plentiful at all the excellent local courses, and dozens of private golf clubs offer reciprocal arrangements to each other). In 2011, “Dr. Beach,” a professor at a Florida university who ranks the nation’s beaches, named Siesta Key Beach, just over a bridge from Sarasota, to his coveted #1 ranking.

StArmandsCafe

The tiny town of St. Armands, just over the bridge from Sarasota, effects a European vibe with its outdoor cafes, shops and convivial atmosphere.

 

        That puts the city in the “hot” category, but Sarasota is also cool, as in hip and vibrant, patrons of its downtown restaurants and cafes spilling out into the streets, the music and sounds of enthusiastic couples and singles filling the warm evening air. For those who take their entertainment in quieter doses, Sarasota serves up one of the top museums in the country, the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. You can spend a day on site at the Ringling touring the circus magnate’s estate and lush gardens, but you won’t want to miss the couple’s collection of paintings and sculptures that rivals those of the top museums in the world. (And, of course, it provides air-conditioned, for the sake of the paintings as well as the patrons.)

        Because Interstate 75 and other good roads run through the Sarasota/Bradenton area, nothing is too far from anything else, including Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, where the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team plays (just a half hour away), and where you can walk up and buy a ticket for virtually any game. The area’s array of golf communities –- there are more than 40 of them -- fits every budget and golf skill. We especially like the following five local communities. Golf homes for sale in Sarasota and Bradenton are featured at our companion web site, GolfHomesListed, and range in price from the $100s to the millions.

Lakewood Ranch

        Someday, this giant golf community that is incorporated as its own town will be home to more than 35,000 people. For now, the relative few can take advantage of not only three excellently conditioned golf courses, but also an infrastructure of shops, restaurants and retail stores so close that you won’t put hardly a dent in your gas budget. Lakewood Ranch, like many of the larger communities in Florida, is divided into neighborhoods, each with its own character, style and price points. The choices are just short of dizzying, with single-family homes in some neighborhoods that begin in the $100s, in others the $600s, with plenty of options in between. But everyone benefits from the vibrant and growing town center, the proximity to Interstate 75 and the optional full-scale of amenities at the country club, which features 54 holes of golf -– 36 by Arnold Palmer Design and 18 by Rick Robbins. We played the Cypress Links at 6,368 yards from the blue tees and found the course beautifully manicured and a pleasure. Big bangers can play the layout at up to 7,141 yards.

LakewoodRanch18approach

The par 5 550 yard 18th at Lakewood Ranch begs you to have a go at the right-front edge of the green, but cooler heads should prevail and aim just short of the bunkers on the right, leaving a short pitch in.

Laurel Oak

        Some golf communities beg for attention, with an aggressive “Hey look me over” attitude that can be off-putting. Laurel Oak’s success is as much the product of word of mouth as it is a marketing program; its residents are proud boosters of the golf courses and community, and anyone who has played either the Gary Player course or Rees Jones course, both immaculately groomed, or driven through the community’s beautifully landscaped streets is likely to do all the talking the 22-year old Laurel Oak needs. At just over 800 acres and with a maximum of about 400 homes planned at completion, Laurel Oak offers room to move and plenty of privacy for its residents, current and future.

LaurelOakSandhillCranes13thtee

A par 3 for the birds:  The sandhill cranes on the teebox at the 13th at Laurel Oak took great exception to three interloper cranes on the green.  By the time we had putted out, a display of wing-flailing and squawking ensued.  The interlopers dispersed...as did we.

 

Prestancia

        The name “Tournament Players Club” means many things to U.S. golfers, all of them positive. TPC clubs are known to be challenging enough to host PGA tour events but also magnets for the vacationing golfer or those lucky enough to live near a TPC club they can join (it is not as expensive as you think, less than $20,000 in most cases). The benefits of a TPC membership go well beyond the local club, with privileges extended to club members by other TPC clubs. You will pay half price for green fees at some of the resort courses, like Sawgrass, but just a cart fee at the other TPC courses. Prestancia played host to some of the earliest PGA Senior Tour events, and the ample clubhouse walls are lined with photos of some of the game’s luminaries. The golf community’s streets are lined with attractive single-family homes and a landscape that shows its maturity, but not its age. Featuring condos from the $100s and single-family homes from the $200s.

Prestancia18approach

The approach on the par 4 final hole at Prestancia could drive you to drink -- or at least into the drink.

River Strand

        River Strand is one of those “bundled” golf communities that is a signal feature of the giant developer, Lennar. For one reasonable price for a home –- condos from $100s and single-family homes that begin in the $300s –- a resident of River Strand automatically becomes a member of the River Strand golf club, with full access to all amenities, including pools, clubhouse, tennis courts and a modern fitness center. The golf course was designed by one of our favorites, Arthur Hills, who understands how to push just a little dirt around to make his flatland layouts more challenging and visually interesting without making them look artificial. We talked to a few local itinerant golfers and all said River Strand was near the top of their lists.

 

Palm-Aire

        Sarasota’s Palm-Aire club holds an important place in the annals of American sports. Formerly known as DeSoto Lakes Country Club, the club hosted some of the earliest televised golf events beginning in the late 1950s; in 1960, Sam Snead won the DeSoto Open (and a check for $5,300) and a guy named Arnold Palmer finished 5th. (Your editor’s favorite all-time golfer, “Champagne” Tony Lema, was also in the field.) The course –- dubbed “The Green Monster” -- was scary long, even for the pros, at 6,981 yards and a par of 71 (it was later shortened). In 1961, the LPGA Championship was played at DeSoto, and the whopping first prize of $5,000 attracted such legends as Mickey Wright and Patty Berg. In 1973, the community’s tennis courts hosted the Virginia Slims Championship and Chris Evert and Evonne Goolagong. Today, two golf courses, nine tennis courts and an expansive clubhouse are available to members of the historic club. Condos beginning under $100K and single-family homes from the $300s are available to those looking for a well-established, quintessential Florida golf community.

 

Sarasota_Bay

The bay that separates Sarasota from the "keys" -- Siesta, Longboat, etc. -- is a short drive from most golf communities in the Sarasota and Bradenton area.  On the other side of the keys is the Gulf of Mexico.

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Larry Gavrich

This blog was conceived and is published by me, Larry Gavrich, a former corporate communications executive who founded HomeOnTheCourse, LLC, in 2005.  Our firm advises baby boomers and others seeking a lifestyle in which golf is a major component.  My wife Connie and I own a home in Connecticut (not on a golf course) and a condo at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, on a Jack Nicklaus layout.  We began our search for our home on the course more than 15 years ago, and the challenges of the search inspired me to research golf communities and write objective reviews of them.

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