Above: The first real glimpse of The Sound at the 495-yard 7th hole
Itís hard not to love Gasparilla Golf Club and the pace of life on Boca Grand Ė itís like a little piece of the Caribbean moved to the Gulf Coast. Itís 7.30am and after several large rum and cokes which followed some beautiful wine after dinner last night, I am not feeling 100% but the setting soon brings me back to my senses and after a few warm-up chips I head to the first tree.
There are four teeing options here ranging from (gold) 6,811 to (white) 5,691 yards. I decide to go from the golds and smash my first drive down the second fairway Ė oops, obviously not recovered from that last Cuba Libre five hours ago. But surrounded by this beauty not even a big high cut can dilute my excitement.
As I zip past a bunker in the middle of the fairway I think to myself that putting it on the second fairway may not have been a bad idea after all. The palm trees, that ever-present swish that carries across the course and the salty air remind you that youíre not far from the sea. Itís when you play your second shot to the par-4 329-yard third green that you first experience Gasparilla Sound, which is the stretch of water that separates Gasparilla Island to the mainland.
And itís at this moment your heart will leap as it truly is a place of true beauty. I know better is to come as I can see more holes between me and the sea. There are two great back-to-back par-3s at the fifth and sixth, but the sea has me and as I stand on the 442-yard eighth tee the light is perfect. Iíve said many a time how blessed I feel to play the game of golf and there have been countless great moments Ė plus I know that there are more to come on this track Ė but there is not a soul in sight as I watch the Sound hit the sea walls. Itís a wondrous feeling and one I hope you get to experience.
Pete Dye has done a great job here taking xxxxxx xxxxx original design and embellishing and re-routing it so the run of holes from the par-3, 183-yard 14th to the 167-yard par-3 17th play along the Soundís edge, where the waves truly are inches away when you stand on the tees boxes to start each hole on this stretch.
Gasparilla is not a tough course and it gives you a chance. But what makes this a must-play course is the setting. When you are standing on the 16th green about to walk over to the 17th tee, just take a moment to look back over those holes along the Sound. As the great Bobby Jones once said, take time to smell the flowers Ė or in Gasparillaís case that beautiful sea air, and be thankful you took up the game of golf.
The 419-yard 14th plays along the shore line of the Sound
Palm trees surround the 2nd Taste of whats to come the 8thLooking back down the 16th