Laurel Oak, located off Bee Ridge Road just two miles east of I-75, is a true private country club. You know that the second you arrive at the entranceway guard gate that leads to a sprawling, stylish clubhouse with panoramic views of some of the club's 36 holes comprising the East and West courses. The clubhouse's amenities include fine and casual dining, a pro golf shop, attractive bar area, and elegant furnishings. Nearby are a putting green, driving range, swimming pool, and 12 state-of-the-art clay tennis courts for members and residents, who include Monica Seles, to play on.
In a way, I knew what to expect of the golf courses at Laurel Oak, since I've had the pleasure of playing other courses designed by legendary golfer and architect Gary Player, such as Alaqua in Orlando. I've also had the pleasure of talking to Player, who's a real purist when it comes to course design. What does that mean?
When laying out a course, Player thinks very hard about how he can make the holes challenging for pros and players of all handicap levels. He's not a macho architect out to build the toughest and longest course possible. This is not to suggest that Player's courses are pushovers. In fact, they demand accuracy off the tee and on approach shots, and good putting touch. The thing is, you don't need to hit the ball super-long or super-straight. Player gives the golfer plenty of room and his putting surfaces are not so undulated that they require you to be Tiger Woods to two putt.
Regardless of what I expected to find at Laurel Oak, I was still surprised by the quality of the holes-all 36 of them-and the super condition of the fairways and greens. Both courses abound with beautiful trees and rolling terrain. Both also call for you to think out a strategy, hit every club in your bag, and often to turn the ball slightly left or slightly right. All this makes for great fun.
My favorite hole on the "East" is the slight dogleg right par-five 16th hole, which measures 546 yards from the back tees. It's fascinating because it calls for the golfer to negotiate a water hazard when hitting an approach into the green, unless he or she can hit a second shot long and left to change the angle of the shot.
I particularly liked the short par-three seventh hole on the "West," also a favorite of Matt Auen, the club's director of golf. This hole plays only 157 yards from the back tees, yet you must carry a hazard that runs from the tee to the lip of the green and avoid the bunkers that surround the putting surface. It's an especially pretty hole, and hitting from an elevated tee makes it look more scenic and more challenging.
Laurel Oak Country Club sure has it all, including lesson programs for juniors and golfers of all ages and handicaps. It's even got a lady head golf professional, Lisa Wright. Any visitor will understand why Sarasota Herald-Tribune readers recognized Laurel Oak, seven years in a row, as the number one golf course community and best private club.
If you're interested in membership there's no nicer and more helpful person to speak to than Lana Murphy. She can be reached at 378-3399.
Laurel Oak Country Club
2700 Gary Player Blvd., Sarasota
Pro shop: 378-3600
Golf continues to grow in Sarasota, particularly since more and more people are deciding to move here full time and take up the game. If you are a newcomer to golf, or just need a refresher course in the lingo of the links, here are a few definitions to help you learn or re-learn the language spoken by golfers.
Best ball: A competitive match between two teams, each comprised of two players. The team that shoots the low score on a hole wins a point. The team with the most points wins the match.
Gross score: The score a player shoots over 18 holes of golf, with no allowance for handicap.
Net score: The score for a round of golf, after one's handicap is deducted. For example, if a player shoots a gross score of 90 and her handicap is 20, she shoots a net score of 70.
Plugged lie: The ball is submerged almost totally in the sand of a bunker.
Provisional ball: A second ball played from the same spot as the original when the original ball may be lost or out-of-bounds.
Timing: The coordinated movement of the golf club with the movement of the body.
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, let me explain why you should be careful what you ask for on the course.
Situation: Player A has just picked the tee peg out of the ground after hitting an iron shot to a par-three hole. Player B is Player A's match play opponent.
Common mistake: Player B, who is ready to play next, breaches Rule 8-1 by asking Player A what club she hit.
You are not allowed to ask an opponent advice on club selection. The penalty for asking advice during a match play competition is loss of hole. (Match play refers to a hole-by-hole format. The player with the lowest score wins the hole. The player who wins the most holes wins the match.)
Correct procedure: In the aforesaid situation, Player B is only allowed to watch what club Player A selects from her golf bag. Having said that, walking over to a competitor's bag and peeking is considered appalling etiquette.
Johnny Farrell, the 1928 U.S. Open champion, who played Sarasota's Sara Bay and other local courses during the 1920s, was renowned for hitting powerfully accurate short iron shots that often landed behind the hole, then spun back next to it. Gene Sarazen, a contemporary of Farrell's who also liked our area, once explained to me why Farrell was so good at hitting short irons and making the ball dance on the greens.
According to Sarazen, Farrell swung the club back on a very upright angle or plane, and increased the grip pressure in his left hand to help him pull the club down into the back of the ball. This type of action allows you to make solid contact, take a divot after the ball is hit, and impart exaggerated backspin on the ball.
Sarasota's John Andrisani recently received the United States Teachers Federation Media Award for outstanding golf instructional writing in books and magazines. Send questions to John at firstname.lastname@example.org