Fore! Mr. President
The next best thing to playing golf with President George W. Bush is playing the very same course he plays during the winter months: Gasparilla on Boca Grande, the sleepy island town located about one hour south of Sarasota.
"Gasparilla? I've never heard of it," most new residents will say.
Surprisingly, many other golfers who have lived here for a while will utter: "I've heard Gasparilla is a private club for only island residents." If you fall into the latter category, you're right, as far as membership goes. You cannot join the club unless you own property on Boca Grande. However, you may be surprised to learn that this wonderful course can be played by the public.
To earn the privilege of driving over the private bridge (in a car or powered cart) connecting the elegantly designed Southern-style Gasparilla Inn to the splendid 1920s course, and the right to tee it up, you must do two things:
1. Book into one of the Inn's rooms or take up residence in one of the nearby cottages. The cost (February-April) for a room for two people is $458, inclusive of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The cottage price, for accommodating two persons, is $536 per night, again including three meals.
2. Pay a $45 per person green fee and $18 per person golf cart fee.
My guest and I chose to stay in one of the quaint cottages located across the street from three of my favorite holes on the golf course: numbers four and five, which are two superb short par fours, and the sixth, a par three that is only short iron distance but requires you to carry a canal and hit a small target.
Gasparilla is an extremely charming and challenging course and very reminiscent of another favorite island course of mine: Fisher's Island, a links-type course surrounded by the Long Island Sound that one must ferry to from New London, Connecticut.
Gasparilla is also aesthetically scenic, particularly since so many holes run adjacent to or are in view of Charlotte Harbor. But what makes the course so very special is that it's comprised of the perfect mix of par three, par four, and par five holes. And though you may not score an eagle, you're likely to see one in the air, while at your feet there may be an iguana that fits just perfectly into the tropical setting.
True golfers, as opposed to casual players, talk Golfspeak. So let me help you enhance your on-course vocabulary.
Air shot: One who misses the ball is said to have played an air shot.
Approach: The second shot hit into a green, from the fairway or rough on a par four hole, is called an approach.
Back-side: A term used to describe the back nine or inward holes on an 18-hole layout.
Blind shot: The golfer who is unable to see the landing area from the tee, or the green when hitting an approach, is said to be hitting a blind shot.
Choke: You are said to choke when you crack under pressure, in a match play or stroke play situation.
Hanging lie: A ball that rests on a severe downhill slope.
Want to win more matches without changing your swing? Learn the rules of golf, set down by the United States Golf Association. To get off to a good start, know what to do when losing your ball.
Situation: Player A slices her shot into the woods. She and her opponent look for the ball for five minutes, which is the time limit available to a player trying to locate his or her golf ball.
Common mistake: Player A takes a new ball out of her bag, then tosses it into an area of fairway located a few yards from where she thinks the ball came to rest. Next, she penalizes herself a stroke before playing on.
Correct procedure: According to rule 27-1, you must incur a one-stroke penalty and return to the place where you played your last shot. In the case cited, for breaching the rules and failing to return to the tee, Player A loses the hole to her match play opponent.
Great Golf Bargains
Whether you live in Sarasota or are simply visiting, if you wish to play a game of golf and take a lesson without spending a lot of money, consider Forest Lakes Golf Club on Beneva Road. This course only measures 6,450 yards from the back tees, yet the holes meander through oak trees, so it's a "good test," pretty, and fun to play. Moreover, it's cheap! Price for green fee and cart: $24 before noon; $16 after noon.
More good news: Should you need help with your game, before or after the round, a lesson from head golf professional Jay Nash only costs $25 a half-hour, $40 an hour.
Fun & Games
If you're lost as to what kind of game to play on the golf course, try competing according to the Stableford format, since this system of scoring is very popular at clubs around town. Here's how the game works:
Point values are assigned to scores. Typically, bogey is worth one point, par is worth two, birdie three, and eagle four. You get no points for a score of double bogey or higher. At the end of 18 holes, you simply add up your points and the player with the highest total wins.
Most women golfers fail to generate power during the swing because they grip the club too firmly, squeezing its handle with both hands. When you use a "death grip," the muscles in your hands and arms tense up, preventing you from creating high clubhead speed and flailing the club through the impact zone. John Sileno, head golf professional of St. Andrew's Golf Club in Punta Gorda, offers this remedy:
"If extra-light grip pressure were one, on a one to 10 scale, and 10 were super-firm, try gripping the club with a pressure of six. This degree of pressure will allow you to stay loose, so you can swing at a much higher speed on the downswing, whip the club into the ball at impact, and hit drives 10 to 20 yards longer."
Specialty of the Clubhouse
Moore's Stone Crab is best known, of course, for its stone crabs. But what I discovered in talking to bartender Mike Jennis is this: Golfers from such local clubs as Longboat Key like to visit the bar for a special concoction called Polly's Longboat Key Iced Tea that's designed to help you forget a bad round. The ingredients, different from the ever-famous Long Island Iced Tea, are as follows.
Three-quarter shot Smirnoff Vodka
Three-quarter shot Tanqueray Gin
Three-quarter shot Grand Marnier
Three-quarter shot Appleton Dark Rum
Three-quarter shot Cuervo Golf Tequila
Dashes of sweet and sour mix, cranbery juice
Shake and serve.
Sarasota's John Andrisani, the former senior editor of instruction at GOLF Magazine and the author of more than 25 books, including the recently released Think Like Tiger, is a six-handicap player and former winner of the World Golf Writers' Championship. Send questions and comments to John at email@example.com