Golfers usually associate a "long drive" with the likes of Tiger Woods and John Daly, who both drive the ball over 300 yards. Well, in the case of the Venetian Golf & River Club, a long drive means just what it says, because it's no short hop from Sarasota to reach this WCI facility's 18-hole course, designed by Chip Powell and measuring just under 7,000 yards from the championship tees.
One avid golfer I know told me the Venice course reminded him of the setting for Jurassic Park, while another told me it was a super test. So I figured I needed to check this track out, particularly since I had never played a course designed by Powell.
It's true that, other than the Venetian course and the surrounding homes, you pretty much are in the middle of nowhere-though things are starting to boom east of Interstate 75. But I didn't make the trip to buy gourmet food. I was simply looking to play a new course, which is the attitude that all you adventurous golfers should have.
I played the front nine holes from the championship tees and the back nine from the blue markers. Both nines made scoring difficult. And I play off a six handicap. So I suggest that unless you're a scratch handicap golfer, play from the white markers, since the course only measures 6,028 yards.
Powell did a wonderful job of creating a challenging course from an open tract of land. There are water and sand traps aplenty to gobble up off-line shots and cost you bogey, double bogey or worse.
The bottom line: If you're a low-handicap golfer looking to play a well-manicured course that will test your skills with every club in your bag, the Venetian will surely accommodate you. However, if you're a middle- to high-handicap player, pray that the wind doesn't blow like it did when I teed the ball up, or there's no doubt you'll need a stiff drink or two after the round to calm you down.
Should you like the course and club, and choose to live at the Venetian, memberships are available. The initiation fee: $65,000.
VENETIAN GOLF & RIVER CLUB
103 Pasaro Drive, North Venice (941) 483-4811
TIPS FROM THE PROS
If you're a woman golfer looking to increase your personal power quotient on tee shots, Mark Bruce, PGA pro and director of golf at Bent Tree Country Club, will help you drive the ball longer. Follow his directions:
"After taking your address position, lift the club up. Next, extend your arms and the club outward in front of your body, at about belly height, so that the club's toe points at the sky. Now, keeping your arms and wrists extended but relaxed, try to point your thumbs back at your forehead. This movement will hinge the club-head back toward your head and give you the feeling of your wrists setting in a powerful position.
"To complete my practice drill, simply turn into the backswing position and feel your new wrist setting action working. Next, swing down and follow through into the finish position.
"Incorporate this new wrist hinge action into your backswing when actually hitting drives on the golf course and you'll end up watching the ball fly fast off the clubface and far down the fairway."
THE LINGO If a Sarasota golfer says "albatross" and you think he's talking about Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,, it's time you brushed up on Golf-speak, the language of the links. This lesson should help you talk the talk on the golf course.
Albatross: Score, on a hole, of three shots under par. Example: Two on a par-five hole.
Gross score: The total number of strokes taken on a course by a player, as opposed to net score, determined by subtracting a player's handicap from his or her gross score.
Fat: Result of the club digging into the fairway turf behind the ball, producing a weakly hit "fat" shot.
Hole-out: Hitting the ball into the hole from anywhere on the golf course.
Sole: The bottom portion of the club-head that should lie virtually flat on the ground when you set the club behind the ball at address.
Under-clubbing: Not hitting a strong enough club on an approach shot. Example: Hitting a six-iron instead of a five-iron.
Waggle: The preliminary movement of the club prior to the start of the swing.
THE RULES Want to win more matches without changing your swing? Learn the rules of golf set down by the U.S. Golf Association. To get off to a good start, know what your caddy or playing partner is allowed to do when helping you line up a putt.
Situation: Player A, on the green, is being helped in lining up a putt by his playing partner, Player B, who's kneeling down about a yard behind the ball. Player B has his ball marked on essentially the same exact line as Player A and wants to see how the ball breaks.
Common mistake: Player B stays in the same position while Player A putts the ball. A partner or caddy is not allowed to do that, according to Rule 16-1f. Consequently, Player A and Player B lose the hole to their match play opponents. The reason: Player A's breach of the rule also assisted Player B. Had Player A been competing in a stroke play tournament, and his caddy made the same mistake as Player B did, he would have been penalized two strokes.
Correct procedure: When the ball is on the green, your caddy or your playing partner is allowed to help you figure out the break, determine the direction of the grain on the putting green, align the putter's face squarely to the hole, or give you other advice, for example, on the speed of the putt. Neither your caddy nor your playing partner, however, is allowed to remain behind your line to the hole while you employ your putting stroke. In fact, he or she must move before you trigger the stroke.
FUN AND GAMES One thing about Sarasota golfers, particularly short-term fall and winter residents, is that they play golf to have fun with old friends and don't really care all that much about shooting a career best score. So, if your foursome is bored with playing a weekend Nassau team match, give Flag Golf a try. Here's how to play this game within a game.
Each player is given a small flag. When a player takes a number of strokes that represents the par score for the course plus his or her handicap, he or she sticks a flag in the ground. For example, if the course-par is 72 and your handicap is 10, use your flag to mark the spot where your 82nd shot landed. The winner is the player whose flag finishes in front of the others in the foursome.
SPECIALTY OF THE CLUBHOUSE A friend of mine, visiting from California for a golf getaway in Sarasota, gave me a new tip, but one for the soul and spirit, not the golf swing. He put a new fresh-lemon twist on an old drink, the margarita (Santa Barbara style!) which I welcomed, figuring that I and other Sarasota golfers are always up to learn something new about a 19th-hole libation that we can make ourselves-or ask one of the city's bartenders to prepare at places like the Silver Cricket, Snead's, Fred's or the like.
To prepare a margarita "fresh," put the following ingredients in a blender: one cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, one-half cup lemon juice, one cup of white-colored tequila, and one cup of triple sec. Next, blend. Add mix to a shaker with crushed ice. Pour into martini glasses after rubbing each lip with lime and dipping in salt. Serve to your fellow golfing friends. Drink!
SARASOTA'S JOHN ANDRISANI is the former senior editor of instruction at GOLF Magazine and the author of more than 25 books, including the newly released Tiger's New Swing. Send questions and comments to John at firstname.lastname@example.org.