Fort Myers isnt the most historic golf city in golf-rich Florida, but if you dig Americas pastime as much as you do golf, the former winter home of Thomas Edison could make for a spiffy jaunt for those looking for a break from chillier climates.
March has been our busiest month for a long time, said Rich Lamb, director of golf for the City of Fort Myers, which includes Fort Myers Country Club and Eastwood Golf Club. You have longer days, you have the Red Sox and Twins in town, the weather is better and kids typically have spring break. Add it all up and were usually rocking in March.
Fort Myers Country Club, affectionately dubbed The Fort, benefits most from the New Englanders because it is 2 miles from the Red Sox spring training facility, City of Palms Park, and it sits along Cleveland Ave., the citys most popular drag.
The Fort was designed by Donald Ross in 1916, opened a year later and is one of the oldest facilities on the west coast of Florida. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford frequented the course in the 1920s and for the last 46 years Fort Myers Country Club has hosted the Coors Open, a pro-am format that is the longest running golf event in southwest Florida. PGA Tour winner and Fort Myers native George McNeill won the Coors in 2008.
Other public tracks with reasonable rates within 10 miles of the Sox are Eastwood Golf Club and Heritage Palms Golf & Country Club. Eastwood, like Fort Myers Country Club, is owned and operated by the City of Fort Myers. Said McNeill of Eastwood: Its a really neat golf course. No homes on it, just golf. Its in the middle of town but it doesnt feel like it.
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Dont be misled. The odds of seeing big-named major leaguers are rare unless youve found access into one of southwest Floridas many private clubs. It seems that these days many use spring to hone their shortgames as much as they do to hone their fastball. Hence, they rent houses at private clubs during March so they can take full advantage of golf privileges.
Fiddlesticks Country Club (former Red Sox star Dwight Evans owns a house on the course), the Club at Renaissance (where former Red Sox and current Atlanta Brave Derek Lowe recently built a home) and Olde Hickory Country Club are where most of the avid players take refuge according to several Fort Myers golf nuts.
Derek (Lowe) hits it absolutely forever, said McNeill, a member at both Fiddlesticks and Cypress Lake Country Club. He hits it so far its a joke. Hes 6-5 or 6-6 and generates a lot of speed. Hes a decent player. (Bert) Blyleven is a decent player. None of those guys are really good, but a lot of them are decent.
Then there is John Smoltz ' the longtime Atlanta Braves stud who is in his first year with the Red Sox ' who always find a place to play and someone to play with. Smoltz reportedly made the 3-plus hour trek from Fort Myers to Orlando last week to play 36-holes at posh Isleworth Country Club with Tiger Woods. The two were joined by Atlanta Braves rightfielder Jeff Francoeur for the final 18 holes in the afternoon, just after Francoeur got in an at-bat during the Braves afternoon tilt with the New York Yankees at Disneys Wide World of Sports Complex.
McNeill said that Smoltz reached out more than a week ago looking for a game when McNeills Tour schedule permits. The two havent played yet but McNeill will likely contact the future baseball Hall of Famer when he gets a break in the next couple weeks. McNeill doesnt know where theyll play, but he knows theyll have plenty of options.
There are a lot of private clubs, but there are also a select few public courses, said McNeill, winner of the 2007 PGA Tour Frys.com Open. There are so many of them that you can find a place to play, whether its Fort Myers or Naples or even just a little north in Charlotte County. Youve got the every day place for $50, or you can pay quite a bit more.
And if you visit in March, theres plenty of time left to catch a ballgame.