Playing, Staying, and Dining the Naples Way

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

NAPLES, FL -- Perhaps it's no coincidence that in a state that has given the word "snowbird" its own colloquial turn, one of the most desirable destinations is in many ways like a mountain ski town.

Naples has atleast as much in common with, say, Aspen as it does with its southwestern Florida surrounds. For one thing it's more seasonal than any other city in Florida with roughly half its "residents" living elsewhere six months of the year. And in the winter the city positively lights up, overflowing with energy and outdoor activity.

Naples and Aspen are also alike in their display of conspicuous affluence, but instead of fur coats and room-sized SUV's there are silk shirts, tiny designer dresses, and Jaguars. Beaches and sun worship replaces skiing during the light hours, and at night the restaurants and bars on Fifth Avenue South come alive with the same élan that draws the Hollywood set to the famous Rocky Mountain hamlet.

Of course if it's winter in Florida there must be golf involved somehow, and when it comes to such there couldn't be a better place than Naples to find it. Local literature claims there are more golf courses per capita in the Naples area than anywhere in the world, and coupled with the town's bent for luxurious living it means high class fun in the sun.

How best to maximize this type of beautiful living? A great option would be a stay at either the Inn at Pelican Bay or its sister hotel, the Inn on Fifth while taking advantage of their affiliation with a number of Naples best layouts.

The Inn at Pelican Bay drips with South Florida flavor. Adorned by palms and dressed in dashingly appropriate hues of sunshine and flamingo, the 100-room hotel located on the north side of town is a posh, soft-spoken retreat only minutes from the Gulf shore and the nearby Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

The 87-room Inn on Fifth is situated in the heart of the revitalized Old Naples and Fifth Avenue South and it the place to be for fine dining and shopping. It's decorated with more of a European motif and wears its elegance in a sophisticated manner. Both hotels offer something different (relaxation versus the surrounding bustle) while still typifying the Neapolitan (Florida) expression of casual luxury.

Specialized arrangements for golf at Naples area courses are available through either Inn. Rounds at Tiburon, Raptor Bay, and Lely Resort, forinstance, give the golfer a full tour of the region's differing styles of golf.

The Greg Norman-designed Tiburon Golf Club, located at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in northwest Naples, is arguably the region's finest. Nine new holes opened in October 2002 giving the resort 36 holes cut through a landscape of wetlands, dense pine forests, and open marsh. While on one hand it exemplifies the indigenous flat quality of southwest Florida golf, Tiburon is enhanced beyond almost all other with its wall-to-wall fairways and sleek, savvy green complexes.

Raptor Bay was designed by Ray Floyd and opened in September 2001. This course stretches its fairly limited terrain in a unique direction. While similar to Tiburon in its emphasis on conditioning and lack of rough, Raptor Bay attempts to pose strategic challenge without the aid of traditional greenside bunkering. Crushed coquina-shell waste areas flank many of the smooth fairways and greens, but aside from the lakes and wetlands that dot the course its greatest defense comes from visual deception and convex green contour.

The Flamingo Island Course at Lely Resort opened in 1990 and helped to define what is now the blueprint for Naples golf. This Robert Trent Jones, Sr. course has been widely hailed as one of the area's best (and best known) and is certainly one of the most definitive. The first nine is quintessential southern Florida with holes punctuated by large bunkers that weave through lakes and the Lely development. The second nine possesses what would now be considered a secluded Carolina feel, a marketing concept currently popular among Florida courses and PR firms.

A second option at Lely is the Mustang course, built in 1997 and accredited to the team of Lee Trevino and William Graves. The Mustang is more of a wide-open, rambling style of course that also features plenty of water hazards and prodigious greens.

Other courses available to guests of both the Inn at Pelican Bay and the Inn on Fifth are the Mike Hill and Chip Powell-designed Pelican Sound, a prototypical "natural" Naples area course, and the Palmer Course Design Group's demonstrative Naples Lakes featuring bold bunkering, exaggerated hazards, and highly contoured greens.

Packages for overnight accommodations at the Inn at Pelican Bay begin at $234 for two nights and golf at two of the following courses: Tiburon, Raptor Bay, Pelican Sound, or The Colony Golf & Country Club in Bonita Springs. Packages at the Inn on Fifth start at $116 for one night and one round at Lely Resort. Both hotels have multiple-night packages as well.

Where To Stay

The Inn at Pelican Bay is ideally suited for those wanting a relaxed resort experience. Pelican Bay is convenient at the area's northern courses such as Tiburon (5-10 minute drive) and Raptor Bay (20 minutes), and just minutes from the beaches.

The Inn at Pelican Bay
800 Vanderbilt Beach Road
Naples, FL 34108
Room rates vary seasonally from $70 to $265.

The Inn on Fifth puts the guest in the middle of the lively downtown Naples scene and close to the southern courses such as Lely Resort and Naples Lakes.

The Inn on Fifth
699 5th Avenue South
Naples, FL 34102
Room rates vary seasonally from $119 to $399.

Where To Eat

The first option for those staying at the Inn on Fifth is McCabe's Irish Pub & Grill adjacent to the Inn. Always one of the liveliest rooms on the avenue, owner Philip McCabe traces his heritage to County Cork and modeled his restaurant after touring the great pubs of Ireland. McCabe's is a charming spot to down a pint and serves a full Irish-inspired menu along with live Irish music.

With a well-to-do and presumably well-traveled audience, Naples could make a case for the best dining on Florida's west coast. The number of high-end restaurants in Old Naples is impressive, highlighted by Annabelle's (239-261-4275) just two blocks from the Inn on Fifth. Downstairs at Annabelle's serves a casual menu in a setting that could easily pass for a San Francisco hot spot. Upstairs the cuisine turns more sophisticated with a star-studded wine list to match it.

Something rather different takes place at Mangrove Café (941-262-7076), located on the east end of Fifth Avenue. Mangrove's eccentricity is immediately evident in a menu that sometimes hits and sometimes misses in crossing contemporary American, southern, Cajun, and Caribbean fares. Example: a lobster mac & cheese appetizer. The interior is funky, the portions are large, and the wine list is as fairly priced as anything on the avenue.

For late-night action try Zoe's (239-261-1221), a hip restaurant until 10 pm when it morphs into Naples's version of a South Beach club. Spot here tanned singles and couples slurping martinis and looking their best as dance music thumps into the street. If you're interested in wine, Zoe's has all the toys, for a price.

Where To Shop

As if you couldn't guess, Fifth Avenue South is the place to be. The strip is teeming with art galleries and studios and is truly the center for artisan crafts. Upscale shopping is also found on Third Street South and two miles north of Old Naples on U.S. 41 in the Waterside Shops.

For those who enjoy fine wine, cigars, and the accompanying lifestyle, a visit to Bacchus of Naples (239-659-3232) is a must. Located on the west end of Fifth Avenue South, Bacchus of Naples is one of the best wine boutiques in the South offering a diverse selection of rare and elite bottles of wine and Champagne, cigars, and a lovely arrangement of crystal and luxurious wine accessories.

2620 Tiburon Dr.
Naples, FL 34109

Raptor Bay Golf Club
23001 Coconut Point Resort Drive
Bonita Springs, FL 34134

Lely Resort
8004 Lely Resort Blvd.
Naples, FL 34113

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in,,,, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
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