Stoneybrook Golf & Country Club, just off 8801 Stoneybrook Blvd., is a semi-private facility that's played mostly by member-residents who live in homes or condominiums bordering many of the fairways of its 18-hole championship course.
Before I teed it up, I knew I was in for a treat, because the course architect Arthur Hills is one of the best in the business, having designed such fine "tracks" as Quail West in Naples. Still, what surprised me about Stoneybrook is how challenging it is, even though it measures a mere 6,146 from the white tees and features very few treacherous bunkers. The reasons it's such a good test? A wind blowing off the Gulf of Mexico frequently finds its way to the course, the fairways are quite narrow and the greens quite small, and Hills has a great imagination when it comes to designing a hole.
On the front side, I particularly like holes two and six, both par threes. Trees hug the right side of these holes, running from tee to green, so even low-handicap golfers are intimidated. Furthermore, number two features a sand trap left of the green while number six has a water hazard down the left side. Therefore, standing on the tee you feel somewhat trapped, knowing the ideal shot is the toughest shot in golf to hit: a straight shot.
My favorite hole on the back nine is number 13; it's 416 yards in length (442 from the blue tees) and ranked the second most difficult on the scorecard. This hole turns sharply right, so you must shape the ball off the tee. And if you hit a short drive and land in rough, you'll probably score bogie. I say that knowing you'll likely have to hit a long iron or fairway-metal club for your second shot, and thus will probably not be able to stop the ball on the small green.
Stoneybrook's golf amenities include a dynamite driving range that features multiple target greens, a well-manicured putting green, and a long practice bunker with pure white sand that resembles the type on the course. This first-class country club also boasts a pool and tennis courts and dining facilities open to the public.
Bob Biroscak, the club's PGA professional, made a point of telling me about Stoneybrook's award-winning Sunday brunch. So even if you're a non-golfer, you can literally get a taste of the good life here.
Stoneybrook Golf & Country Club
8801 Stoneybrook Blvd.
Just in case you're a golfer who prefers to play a variety of Sarasota's superb public courses, rather than join a private country club and play only on your home course with the same group, you'd better be up on golf lingo. The reason: There's a good chance that, sooner rather than later, you'll be paired with one or more experienced golfers who talk Golf-speak, the language of the links. Let me help you brush up on your vocabulary so you can comprehend what these players are talking about, or even join in on the conversation.
Angle of attack: The steeper angle or plane of the downswing, when the club descends into the ball.
Block: A wild shot hit well right of target.
Cast: To release the club early by unhinging the right wrist too soon on the downswing (much like a fisherman does when casting his line and bait).
Carry: Distance measured from the place where the club contacts the ball to the point it first hits the ground.
Hole-out: Hitting the ball into the hole from anywhere on the course.
In-the-leather: A putt that lies no farther from the hole than the length of the leather wrapping on a putter is considered to be "in the leather," and is usually conceded.
Lip: The front edge of the hole.
Over-clubbing: Hitting too strong a club into the green (i.e., a pitching wedge instead of a sand wedge).
Provisional: A ball played after a previous shot is perceived to be lost.
Under-clubbing: Not hitting a strong enough club on an approach shot. Example: hitting a lob wedge instead of a sand wedge.
Wind-cheater: A low shot that bores through a headwind.
PGA Tour player and Bradenton resident Paul Azinger is famous in our part of the world. Azinger, who plays at Bradenton Country Club, Sara Bay, and Gator Creek, has a street named after him near the Bobby Jones Complex.
Among his peers on tour, Azinger is famous for another reason: hitting wedge shots that fly low into a headwind, land next to the hole, and stop dead. When playing golf on a windy day, here's how to hit this shot like "Zinger."
1. Play the ball back in your stance.
2. Swing the club back low, then up to the three-quarter point.
3. Pull the club down with your hands and arms, then keep it moving low through the impact zone.
There are a lot of good golfers in Sarasota. However, many middle- and high-handicap players do not know the rules, simply because the legalese in the Rules of Golf book, published by the United States Golf Association, can make the average amateur so frustrated that he or she feels compelled to call a professor at Harvard Law School for an interpretation.
It's a good thing to know the rules, since they can prevent you from being severely penalized or even disqualified during a competition. Let me explain the proper procedure regarding changing the characteristics of your club during a round of golf.
Situation: Player A, while competing in a stroke play tournament, walks off the ninth green frustrated, because he has just three-putted two holes in a row. He feels the problem could be his putter, rather than his stroke.
Common mistake: He removes three small sheets of lead tape that the golf professional had put on the back of the putter-head before the round to help enhance his feel. He then putts out on hole 10 using that same putter. The scorer and a member of the tournament committee immediately inform Player A that he's disqualified for violating Rule 4-2, which forbids a player from purposely changing the characteristics of a club during a round of golf.
Correct procedure: Once you start a round of golf, you're not permitted to alter the characteristics of your club unless the club's damaged during the normal course of play. Damaging the club by intentionally slamming it into the ground does not count. If you do damage the club during the normal course of play, you're allowed to repair or replace the club, provided you do not unduly delay play. You also have the option of using that club in its damaged state, but only for the remainder of the round.
You Asked For It
One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is, "What are the odds of scoring a hole-in-one on a par three for the average golfer?" The answer: 8,000 to 1.
I'm still proud of scoring an ace at age 14, especially since I've not scored one since (and, without giving my age away, that's quite some time ago).
Locally, 82-year-old Dr. Martin Blum wins bragging rights when it comes to scoring multiple aces. The Oaks resident has made a hole-in-one six times. His most recent came on the 146- yard par-three fifth hole of the Eagle course at The Oaks, where he selected an eight iron and beat the odds.
Specialty of the Clubhouse
Before you leave to go back up North, I hope you heed my advice to take a short getaway to Gasparilla on Boca Grande, the sleepy island town located one hour south of Sarasota, and play its only course.
I previously reviewed this gem in a former issue, but in case you did not read my column, if you stay at the Gasparilla Inn or in one of the nearby cottages, you can play the fantastic 1920s course that otherwise is private.
One more thing: After the round, visit the 19th hole and have the bartender prepare you a Pernod Fizz, a cocktail a Boca Grande resident had me try and one I've loved ever since.
This libation is comprised of one ounce Pernod, juice of half a lemon, one-half ounce grenadine, a dash of dark rum, and four ounces of good champagne. It's prepared by mixing lemon juice, grenadine and rum in a tall glass, adding a couple of ice cubes or crushed ice, and topping the glass up with champagne.
SARASOTA'S JOHN ANDRISANI is the former senior editor of instruction at GOLF Magazine and the author of more than 25 books, including Think Like Tiger. Send questions and comments to John at firstname.lastname@example.org