Naples – Florida that is!

Generally speaking if you live in the northern states and west of the Mississippi you head to the southwest for a winter getaway – if you live east of the Mississippi you head to the southeast for a winter getaway. Growing up in Minnesota I was geographically on the fence. Being from a big golfing family, we were drawn to the golf mecca of the Phoenix valley. We were drawn to multiple sunny days and dry warm heat. When I was 13 years old, we began making this trek to the southwest on a fairly regular basis, and continued that trend for the next 30 years until my husband and I bought our first place in Arizona.

Minnesota’s geographic location in comparison to Florida in the southeast and Arizona in the southwest.

Florida had never been a strong pull for my family and I, but it does have Disney World and lots of great beaches and ocean views. Most of my trips to Florida have been either around the Orlando area or along the warm waters of the Gulf side: Long Boat Key, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Tampa, and Naples.

The bridge and groom saying enough of this sunset watching - let's party!

Captiva Island – a beautiful setting for a beautiful couple. Congrats Audra and Shawn on the birth of your new son!

I’ve never felt especially drawn back to really any area of Florida, but from the places I have visited, Naples holds the most appeal. Beautiful white sandy beaches overflowing with seashells; lush well maintained grounds in every direction; a quaint downtown area split into its own version of 5th Avenue with great shops and restaurants and an area about 7 blocks south of there with more great shops and restaurants. Even though there are plenty of places for the ‘beautiful people’ to be seen and want to be seen, there are plenty of places to settle into for a romantic quiet dinner, a stroll along the beaches that are so long there is plenty of room for everyone, or relaxing moonlit walk. (Restaurant reviews coming end of May post.)

Naples is an idyllic picturesque town. Mega mansions line a portion of the beaches, but at the end of each street splitting these ongoing blocks of mansions are public access points to the beaches. So unlike other high-end beach front properties the beaches of Naples are not broken up by private beaches. Live Oak trees create an over hanging canopy so thick on the inland streets they create a natural tunnel. Roads going north and south have gulf views on the west and inland marina on the east. There are very few lodging choices along the beach, instead being lined with high-rise condos which must afford amazing views, or low-rise complexes giving you more direct access to the beach.

One of the many mega mansions that line the beaches of Naples.

One of the many mega mansions that line the beaches of Naples.

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The heavily treed inland streets of naples create a canopy so thick is produces natures version of a tunnel.

Being a golfer, Florida obviously holds great appeal and interest in the many courses that dot the plush landscape. I have not had an opportunity to play many Florida courses, but from what I have played they certainly stand in stark contrast to the desert courses of Arizona. Thick green juicy rough vs gnarly fluffy rough quickly giving way to desert. Towering palm trees vs towering saguaros. Alligators vs rattlesnakes. The ball doesn’t fly as far in this heavy air and the softer lush fairways, but the heat and humidity keep my body warm and loose so I can grip it and rip it and get us much out of my shots as possible.

While in Naples, my husband and I played a private course called Calusa Pines. They play golf there the way golf should be played, with caddies. The luxury of having your clubs carried frees you up to enjoy the leisurely walk of the beauty every golf course holds vs zipping through each hole in a cart. It helps me to stay focused on my game by keeping the round flowing at a steady pace and giving me time to assess my next shot as I walk up to my ball. With a cart I race to the ball, hit and race to the next shot. Plus it’s a nice benefit to have someone along who knows the greens and aiming points off the tee.

Calusa Pines Golf Club - showcasing a typical Florida golf course look.

Calusa Pines Golf Club – showcasing a typical Florida golf course look.

The few days we spent in Naples were extremely windy, but that didn’t stop us from getting set-up ocean side on double wide lounger outside out hotel, the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Umbrellas were anchored deeply in the sand by big muscled beach attendants to keep the beating sun off us. The wind made for big curling crashing waves and helped to keep us cool in the high humidity and temps in the mid-80’s in mid-April. We could walk 75 feet out into the salty warm waters of the Gulf before the water began to go up over our chest. One day we saw a couple of porpoises swim by about 50 feet offshore, just cruising and playing along that line all the way down the shoreline.

Large beach umbrellas give shade to double wide loungers to give shade along the beaches of Naples

Large beach umbrellas give shade to double wide loungers to give shade along the beaches of Naples

A couple of porpoises graced us with their lively and playful natures 50 feet offshore of our beach lounger.

A couple of porpoises graced us with their lively and playful natures 50 feet offshore of our beach lounger.

Even though we experience some amazing sunsets in Arizona, I have to give a nod to the amazing sunsets in Naples. We had a top floor room that allowed us a vantage point to see up and over the buildings. There is nothing more picturesque and photographed more often than the sun setting over the ocean, or in this case the Gulf. The colors are vibrant, and the reflection glistening on the waters is hard to replicate in any other setting.

The sun setting over the Gulf, with a little fishing boat out enjoying the beautiful setting catching more fish while catching the last rays of sun.

The sun setting over the Gulf, with a little fishing boat out enjoying the beautiful setting catching more fish while catching the last rays of sun.

Naples residents are proud of their area and it shows. A lot of Florida looks old, run down, tired. Naples looks fresh, cared-for, vibrant and has earned the tag line ‘destination spot.’

For more pictures of Naples, check out the Global Gallery.

Golf: Oh the places it will take you!

The front image of my blog is of a golf ball lying inches from the hole – the closest I have come to having a hole-in-one in 42 years of trying. The image is an inspiration to keep trying. It’s the journey – not just the destination. This goes for everything in life – not just golf. As my smart-alack friends keep telling me – “…aim at the hole.” And one day that little white ball will go in.

The closest I've come to a hole-in-one of playing golf for over 40 years!

The closest I’ve come to a hole-in-one of playing golf for over 40 years!

Golf has been a part of my life since I was eight years old. In my family you learned to golf and ski or be very lonely while the rest of the family was hitting the long ball or shooshing down the slopes. Growing up in Minnesota was always a challenge to be an avid golfer. During the first signs of spring my three older brothers and I searched the large open fields in our small town for a patch of grass to show through in the piles of snow. We dropped our shag bag full of balls and hit balls into the snowy fields, preparing for the upcoming golf season.

My summers were spent, sun-up to sun-down at the golf course. If I couldn’t play, I was chipping and putting. While all my friends hung out at the public pool a block away perfecting their golden swimsuit tan lines, I was working on my ‘farmer’s’ tan. You could always tell a golfer at the pool. The weekends were sacred family golf time. Our family of six had two standing tee times – one on Saturday morning and the other after church on Sunday. A family bond was created that still binds my family together to this day.

As the years wore on, golf became my main sport. I played tournaments ranging from the local club championships to the USGA National Junior Girls Championship. In my junior year of high school I moved to Arizona so I could have the opportunity to play golf year round to see if that was what I wanted my life to be full-time. Instead I felt burn-out, and at age 18 I hung up my golf clubs – for about 5 years.

After that much-needed break from the game I returned with a refreshed outlook and desire to play golf – for fun. Golf had taken me to some amazing locations in my youth. But because of the tension tied up in trying to play well in the tournament that took me to these places, I never got to fully enjoy the surrounding area.

For me, golf is as much about getting to experience new places as it is in trying to play a great round of golf. Because of the years I spent as a youth working on my swing and my knowledge of the game, I have a strong foundation from which to tee it up with every time I step to the first tee. I’ve been able to hold on to hitting a long ball and keeping my handicap around a 5, but I’ve let go of getting upset with a bad shot. My frustration lasts only until the next shot instead of ruining my whole round, because I figure there are a lot worse places I could be at that given moment.

Over the years, my love for the game of golf has taken me to places that even the most ardent of non-golfers could appreciate. During the winter months in Minnesota, my brothers and I would take large sheets of tag board and design our own golf courses. If I had to do it all over again, I would have followed through on those dreams and become a golf course architect.

Instead, now I get to witness the creativity of some of the world’s top golf course developers and architects by playing golf courses like: Pebble Beach (California) with the rugged beach property that lines so many of the holes; Gleneagles (Scotland) with its deep gorse and wild grasses and naturalized setting; Interlachen (Minnesota) with its lush thick grass and towering trees that line every hole; Calusa Pines (Florida) with untouched swamplands and grasslands; Firerock (Arizona) a true desert golf experience with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the Phoenix valley.

Mark Twain may have said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” But he either needed an attitude adjustment on how to enjoy the game or was playing the wrong courses.

The holes at Pebble Beach lining the rugged cliffs along Carmel Bay, CA

The holes at Pebble Beach lining the rugged cliffs along Carmel Bay, CA

The thick long wild grasses and gorse at Gleneagles, Scotland

My 80 year old father pipes it down the middle of the heavily tree lined fairway at Interlachen CC, Edina, MN

My 80 year old father pipes it down the middle of the heavily tree lined fairway at Interlachen CC, Edina, MN

The naturalized swampland and grasslands of Calusa Pines Golf Club, Florida

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

First and second holes of Firerock Country Club nestled into the desert landscape with the Phoenix valley and mountains off in the distance

Even though most traveling I do these days does not revolve around playing golf, most golf vacations I take do revolve around the location being appealing to the senses. If I am going to spend the better part of five hours in a specific area, it better offer me more than a just long strip of greenish grass with a tee box on one end and a 4 1/4″ hole on the other end.