Couples golf grows in the Naples area of southwest Florida

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NAPLES, Fla. -- There are many good reasons why couples golf is growing in Naples, where the area has morphed from a sleepy warm-weather getaway to a glamorous, high-end winter retreat.

Here you'll find a good number of affluent couples who love golf and have time to play, so it makes perfect sense to come to a place where they can enjoy their favorite sport together.

The real estate developers get it. Drive along major highways and you will pass a parade of gated golf communities hunkered beneath tall hedges and walls like Mediterra, Tiburon, Twin Eagles and the Lely Golf Resort.

'We've had a fantastic selling year,' says Carol Wood of John R. Wood Realty. 'Many are couples coming from the Midwest and Canada looking for golf communities.'

With good reason.

The Naples/Bonita Springs/Marco Island area has arguably one of the best mixes of golf courses in the Southeast with close to 100 courses, many the centerpiece of a residential development.

Katie and Jim Duffy from Auburn, N.Y., were attracted to Naples by the sense of community they found at Foxfire Golf & Country Club, a bundled community with golf membership included in the purchase price of a home near downtown Naples.

'Not only do we love the course (an Arthur Hills design), we find the other facilities like the clubhouse restaurant, pool and health club create a quick fix to meeting new people,' Katie said. 'We didn't know anyone when we moved in, but the pro was great at setting up games with other couples. There are also couples events throughout the year. We also like the beach, concerts, art exhibits, shopping and restaurants as well as biking -- bike trails are very easy to access.'

Ebba and Jeff Lavaty of Westport, Conn., have been renting a vacation home in southwest Florida for several years and try to find a place where the golf membership and the use of the social facilities are included in the rental.

'It's an easy way to get on a course and meet fellow golfers,' said Ebba.

'If you rent a place without a golf membership, you should find an area where there are several public courses nearby. When we rented in Bonita Springs, we loved playing courses like Old Corkscrew, Raptor Bay and Bonita Bay East but it does take more work to set up the tee times and you don't get to know your golfing neighbors so easily.'

Golf events for couples

With so many couples playing the game, it's no surprise savvy clubs are aggressively promoting couples events. At the Westminster Golf Club, a gated golf community on the eastern edge of Fort Myers, a 'Nine and Dine' couples event is held each Tuesday open to members and the public.

'This has been tremendous for us,' says Tim Perkins, the head professional at Westminster. 'Each week we get 144 players with 10 to 20 couples on the waiting list.'

Charging $21 for golf, cart and a drink, Perkins said he uses a scramble format.

'This way no one is intimidated and everyone has fun,' he said.

Apparently it works. The next day many couples return to play more golf.

Also targeting couples, Arrowhead Golf Club runs a Thursday evening golf social league for men and women geared to new golfers and priced at just $15, while the Lely Golf Resort with two fine courses, Mustang and Flamingo, attracts couples with accommodations in Green Links Golf Villas, where golf is typically part of the deal.

Understanding the importance of couples golf, Nick Stokke, the head golf professional at the Valencia Golf and Country Club, has launched a couples' league.

'Even before they get out on the course, they can work on their game on our practice facility, one of the best in southwest Florida with 30 grass, driving stations along with putting and chipping areas,' Stokke said.

Those on a golf vacation find Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa a good choice. In addition to playing privileges at the Rookery Golf Course, recently redesigned by Robert Cupp Jr., the 727-room Balinese-style resort comes with all decadent pleasures like a three-and-a-half-mile-long powdery sand beach, ocean view balconies, tennis, spa and several restaurants.

Or try the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, where you can play the highly rated Greg Norman-designed courses at the Tiburon Golf Club: Gold, venue for the Shark Shootout, and Black, a tad tighter with more roll-up greens. Back at the Ritz indulge in a couples massage in the spas.

With the ocean just across the road, the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club is the oldest track around, punctuated by sprawling banyan trees, bamboo, flowering oleanders and hibiscus -- even a pair of colorful Muskovie ducks that hang out at the ponds. Here you can golf then top off your round watching the sun set over the Atlantic from the patio at HBs on the Gulf at the Naples Beach Hotel across the street. It's the only beachfront restaurant in the city. Romantic? You bet.

Someone said, 'Couples who play together stay together.' Wise man (or woman).