Wonderful Golf, Spectacular Beaches… and Much, Much More
The headline of this article truly tells it all. Sarasota, Florida has an abundance of wonderful golf courses, delightfully spectacular white sand beaches, and a myriad of things for individuals, couples and families to see and do in and about the city. The city limits include a slender, but lengthy mainland along with eight islands. Upscale highrise condos and hotels gaze out at the blue-green waters of Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Palm trees and jungle like plants surround quiet suburban neighborhoods. It has upscale dining and small familyrun restaurants. It has museums parks, and sport venues galore. It is a vibrant city.
When good friends, Larry Venable and his wife, Jolyn, who had lived in Sarasota for twelve years, mentioned they were going to vacation in Sarasota, my wife and I were envious. Although we’d been to Miami and Fort Lauderdale, up and down the East Coast of Florida, and had spent time in the panhandle cities of Pensacola and Destin, we had never been to Sarasota.
Seeing our envious facial expressions, our friends said “why don’t you join us.” When they explained their two-bedroom rental would be only a few hundred yards from the wide and lengthy Siesta Key beach, we began to get excited. We had read that because of its sugar-fine, white quartz sand, Siesta Key beach was rated as one of the world’s best beaches. When they said they planned to play golf, dine at a number of their favorite local spots, and would be happy to be our guides to the many, many, places and things to see and do in Sarasota, we said “yes, count us in.”
Because we wanted to play two top courses in Sarasota, before driving to Sarasota from our homes in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas we set up tee times at Misty Creek Country Club and University Park Country Club. Both were formerly private courses that were open for public play. Both were excellent courses.
Misty Creek, which was Larry and Jo’s home course during their years in Sarasota, is set in a 350-acre eagle preserve, complete with resident bald eagles. Although a flat course, as are most courses in Florida, it has plenty of character. Fairways, with small rolling hills and bunkers to maneuver around and over, are ringed with native palmetto palms and live oaks covered in Spanish moss. Wetlands water is prevalent on a number of holes. Large greenside bunkers guard good sized greens which have subtle breaks. The course is very scenic, and with five sets of tees ranging from 5208 to 6895 yards, a very playable championship length Par 72 course.
As an Audubon Cooperative Society property, it is managed with wildlife and environmental quality in mind. With over seventy varieties of birds, including egrets, which float effortlessly over the many small ponds and lakes on the course, and cormorants, that sun themselves on the banks of the lakes and ponds, it is easy to understand why Misty Creek’s slogan, is “Golf in Nature’s Backyard.”
Beside birds, also to be seen on the course but given a wide berth, are alligators of all sizes. The day we played Misty Creek, there were eight on the ninth hole alone, including one that was at least ten to twelve feet in length. We didn’t get close enough to measure even though the gator seemed quite passive as it relaxed in the Florida sunshine. The alligators were actually quite interesting to see and didn’t hinder our golf game, but since they are capable of short bursts of speed, we cautiously avoided them.
The second course we played, which came highly recommended, was the University Park Country Club course. It is a 27-hole beauty, and like Misty Creek, also has an abundance of palmetto palms and moss covered live oaks. Adding to its beauty are pine trees, water on seven holes, lengthy waste bunkers, and wide receptive fairways with numerous right and left dog legs. Consistently rated four stars by Golf Digest since 1966, any two nines combine to make for a Par 72 course. With six sets of tees, it offers a pleasurable golfing experience for golfers of all skill levels, in fact, University Park has had the distinction for 23 years running of being voted “Best Place to Play Golf in Sarasota” by Sarasota Magazine. Besides golf, enjoying the beautiful Sarasota beaches, especially the ultra-wide, ultra-long Siesta Key Beach, when vacationing in Sarasota be sure and tour the Ringling Brothers complex, the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, and Selby Gardens. Take time out to shop at the scores of stores in downtown Sarasota and on St. Armands Circle on Lido Key. Dine at some of the many restaurants offering delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, and for a change of pace, drive out to Myakka River State Park, which is preserved within 59 square miles and features wildlife and nature tours. While there, walk “through the trees” on along the quarter mile long walkway located 120 feet in the air. And, be sure and take a ride on the world’s longest air boat on the Upper Myakka River, where wildlife, including raccoons, alligators and blue herons are quite plentiful.
For anyone interested in the oceans, and the fish that roam the oceans, the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is a must. With more than 100 marine species, it features a 135,000-gallon shark habitat, as well as other large tanks where you can observe turtles and giant manatees. It also has interactive exhibits and numerous working labs where Mote scientists, who work in the waters around all seven continents, do diverse research programs. The more than thirty PhD scientists on its staff of more than 206 investigate new cancer and infection fighting substances from the sea, find innovative ways to restore dwindling coral reefs, and develop new technology to seek ways to sustain fisheries while boosting sustainable seafood farming.