Whether you're a local casual golfer looking to have some fun on the links without having to hit long drives and approaches to reach greens, or a visitor/part-time resident from up North looking to play a course that doesn't require you to "swing out of your shoes," then I have a place for you: Gulf Gate Executive Golf Club, on Bispham Road.
I stumbled on this quaint 27-hole golf facility, tucked away in a wooded area, while driving down Gulf Gate Drive, the main drag near Gulf Gate, voted the city's best neighborhood six straight years by the Herald-Tribune's readers.
Before walking into the clubhouse, I assumed what was hidden out back of it was a typical nine-hole executive course, in fair condition, comprised of all par-three holes. However, after being greeted by a nice lady behind the counter, asking a few questions, and looking over the scorecard, I was enticed to take my clubs out of the car, pay the modest green fee, hit a few practice putts on the putting green, jump into a powered cart, and play.
Once out on the course, I was impressed by the creative layout and very good condition of both the 18-hole Red Course and the nine-hole Blue Course. Both "tracks" are short, but every hole will test your game and keep you sharp, particularly the narrow par fours and the par-five sixth on the "Red," which is the number one handicap hole. The greens are small, too, so you won't get away with an off-line shot. However, the putting surfaces are relatively flat, which makes it easier to roll in a birdie or two, and there are very few bunkers to gobble up a misguided shot. Water hazards run through the course, though, demanding that you hit more straight shots than slices. At least the holes don't require you to hit power drives to carry a lake, creek, or pond, as is the case on so many Florida courses.
You'll get more than your money's worth spending a day at Gulf Gate, since it's an excellent place to hone your game and prepare yourself for playing the other, more difficult championship-quality courses in our great city.
In making plans to play Gulf Gate, you should figure on playing 27 holes. It won't take you long, since the course is rarely congested because it's one of those little best-kept secrets. Besides, Gulf Gate lacks a driving range, so you can consider the first nine holes you play a warm-up nine. The course has no resident pro, so there's no one to give you a lesson. They do have a nice little restaurant and bar, though, so you can have a sandwich or hot "special" and a cool drink before or after your round.
Gulf Gate Executive Golf Club
2550 Bispham Road, Sarasota
Call 921-5515 for course hours.
Many low-handicap golfers are now starting to revert back to some old names for golf clubs. So if you want to be part of the nostalgic trend and at least sound cool on the links, know what these terms mean.
Play-club: This was the original name for the driver, because this club allows you to play yourself into the hole from the tee.
Brassie: This is what golfers of former times called the number two wood, simply because the sole of this club was covered by a thick brass plate. More lofted than the driver, the brassie is coming back in style because it's easier to get airborne and more forgiving on off-center hits.
Spoon: This club, the predecessor of the three-wood, got its name because its face was very concave and resembled a spoon.
Cleek: Well, there's a sporty name for today's four-wood. The moniker is one of Scottish origin, with "cleek" meaning a walking stick with a hook. This makes sense, since the four-wood in your bag probably has a slightly hooked face, and you've probably known golfers who have needed to use it as a walking stick after spending hours in the 19th hole having a few wee drams.
Baffy: Sporty golfers call today's five-wood a baffy. There's a Flemish influence to the word Baffy, which means a slap in the face. This makes sense, because the baffy (five-wood) features added loft built into the clubface, making it easier to slap the ball out of light rough.
Baffy-spoon: This club is the predecessor of the seven-wood that you see in the bags of millions of today's golfers. The origins of both baffy and spoon apply here, because this club is so super-lofted that you can spoon the ball out of very thick rough.
In this column, I've previously reported that the late Bobby Jones, arguably the most legendary of golf's amateur players, lived in Sarasota for a time during the early 1920s, selling real estate in Whitfield Estates. Jones was such a legend that our very own Bobby Jones Golf Course was named after him.
What I have not written about is Jones' secret to hitting powerfully accurate shots.
Without question, one of the oldest tenets of golf instruction is that you must keep your head still throughout the golf swing. Jones disagreed, believing that letting the head rotate slightly away from the target on the backswing, then toward the target on the downswing, enhances the tempo, timing, and rhythm of the swing. In turn, you're better able to keep the club on track and return it squarely and solidly to the ball at impact.
A little bit of head movement is better than trying to keep it locked in position. If you make keeping your head perfectly still your number one priority throughout the swing, you'll end up restricting your swing motion and fail to develop the necessary body rotation needed for long, straight shots. You'll end up hitting at the ball rather than swinging through it. Also, straining to keep your head rooted past impact can lead to neck strains and possibly severe injuries. So let your eyes look at an imaginary line extending straight back from the ball during the start of the backswing, then down a second imaginary line extending forward from the ball on the downswing.
Bradenton resident Paul Azinger, who has a street named after him in Sarasota and plays most of his golf at Bradenton Country Club and Gator Creek, is remembered for his PGA Championship win, his close friendship with the late Payne Stewart and, unfortunately, breaching Rule 23-1 on national television. In fact, a television viewer spotted the infraction and called the PGA Tour to report it. Azinger unknowingly brushed away a stone with his shoe when standing in a hazard to hit a shot, and this is not permitted.
Although club-level golfers often do the same thing as "Zinger," the more common breach of Rule 23-1 involves moving a loose impediment in a sand bunker.
Situation: Player A's ball lands in a greenside bunker. He sees a stone in the area where he knows he will need to stand to play the shot, then picks it up and tosses it out of the bunker.
Common mistake: Player A believes that he's allowed to remove the stone. Player A's thinking is wrong. You are not allowed to remove a loose impediment from a bunker or water hazard. In Azinger's case, he dislodged the stone, which constitutes moving a loose impediment. Still, like Player A, it cost "Zinger" two penalty strokes.
Correct procedure: Try to work around the stone by taking a slightly different stance when setting up to play a shot.
While browsing in a Sarasota bookstore recently, I discovered and purchased a long out-of-print book, The Truth About Golf And Other Lies, by legendary comedian Buddy Hackett. The golf stories in this book are wonderful, and several involve Buddy playing golf in Florida. One I found particularly amusing involves a unique way to lose weight that could only come from the mouth of fat funny man Hackett. Here's the story, and if it makes you laugh I suggest you try tracking this "used" book down, in the Goodwill Book Shop, Book Bazaar, or Brant's. Alternatively, search the Internet.
"Some people play golf to exercise and lose weight. The Air Force says you burn 750 calories an hour playing golf, and if you play poorly and are aggravated you burn even more than that. I should be on fire.
"The best place to lose weight by playing golf is Mexico. Go to any Mexican golf course, stop at every hole and drink water. Within a week you'll have reached your desired weight. Should this not work, just place the ball in the Central Plaza of Mexico City and drive it through the front of the police station. They'll put you in the Mexican jail and you'll stay there until you reach the desired poundage."
LPGA (Ladies Professional Golfers Association) legend Nancy Lopez, who has played a lot of golf in Sarasota over the years, was born on Jan. 6, 1957, which makes her a Capricorn golfer.
If you share the same sign, I recommend you take this advice from Mark Oman, author of Golf Astrology.
"You truly live and die by your golf score. In many ways you have become your handicap, and wear it across your chest like a mug shot. Forget the numbers and you'll play better than ever. Thinking about playing hard just makes golf hard to play. Play easy and you may actually have fun on the golf course. For Capricorn golfers, slow and steady wins the match."
Specialty of the Clubhouse
Golf history books will tell you that Tommy Armour, a transplanted Scot and the first pro of Sarasota's Sara Bay Country Club (1926), won the 1927 U.S. Open, 1930 PGA, and the 1931 British Open, and that he was the author of one of the all-time best selling golf instruction books: How To Play Your Best Golf All Of The Time. What they will not tell you is what I learned many years ago from Charles Price, the late former editor of Golf Magazine. Price said that Armour used to give lessons while sitting in a golf cart or sitting in an easy chair under an umbrella. That's eccentric enough, but Armour also had a liking for sipping single-malt whiskey, his favorite Scotch drink ("neat," of course), while helping golfers improve their swing. Since he taught at Sara Bay during the days of Prohibition, he must have brought his own whiskey with him from Scotland. Either that, or he knew John Ringling. In any case, the members or staff at Sara Bay County Club never found any of Armour's Scotch stash.
As for you, you can sure find a selection of fine Scotch brands at the Ritz-Carlton's main bar area, where you can sit after a round of golf, analyze your own swing, and dream of hitting the ball far and straight.
Should a single-malt not suit your fancy, ask the bartender to prepare one of my favorite Scotch drinks-a Whiskey Cola.
2 oz. Scotch
1/2 oz. oz. curacao
1/2 oz. oz. lemon juice
2 dashes bitters
Mix whiskey, curacao, lemon juice and bitters in a glass.
Add a heaped spoon of crushed ice, and fill with cola.
Garnish with orange peel and serve with a swizzle stick.
Correction: Our November "In the Swing" stated that golfer Aree Song trained with David Leadbetter. Song actually trains with the pros at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy at IMG Academies in Bradenton.
Sarasota's John Andrisani recently received the United States Teachers Federation Media Award for outstanding golf instructional writing in books and magazines. Send questions and comments to John at firstname.lastname@example.org