Tips and tidbits for Sarasota golfers.

By staff April 1, 2005

Recently, I visited Bent Tree, a private country club three miles east of I-75 on Bee Ridge Road that's best known for hosting the Sarasota LPGA Classic from 1976 to 1988.

From the time I drove into the club, I could see that the course's fairways and greens were in excellent shape; and by the end of my stay I was convinced that the membership was very healthy, indeed. In short, the rumors I'd heard about the club being in trouble were definitely dispelled. Bent Tree is going nowhere but up; and, frankly, it can't go much higher.

The pines, oaks, and palms have matured since this wonderful 18-hole course was originally designed in 1975 by Ward Northrup, making the layout even more beautiful and a bit more difficult if you stray from the fairway. Bent Tree's par-three, par-four, and par-five holes are all challenging yet fair, largely because the course features few fairway bunkers, no thick rough to speak of, only a couple of sloping greens, and doesn't require the golfer to hit super-long drives or extra-powerful approach shots over water to reach a fairway or green.

The course is "player-friendly," in the words of Mark Bruce, PGA professional and director of golf at Bent Tree, mostly because it's short, measuring only 6,253 yards from the blue tees. However, the layout features a nice array of dogleg holes and many with narrow tree-lined fairways and relatively small greens, so you must control the golf ball to shoot a low score.

When playing Bent Tree, you start out playing a par-five and end with another par-five, which I like a lot (as do the members and guests) because, theoretically, this type of hole is the easiest to play. The golfer eases into the game at the beginning of the round and also stands a better chance of ending on a good note.

Bent Tree is healthier than ever, with a bigger array of membership choices than any club I know of in our area-everything from full equity to young executive to social and tennis to corporate. There's even a nonresident seasonal membership, designed for golf enthusiasts who don't claim Florida as their primary residence but may spend as many as six months per year in Sarasota.

Having played courses around the world and reviewed them for various golf publications, I can assure you that this is one of Florida's finest and purest layouts, with one of the friendliest and professional of club personnel. It's also one of the few country clubs that allows golfers to walk and carry their bags at any time.

Bent Tree Country Club

4700 Bent Tree Blvd., Sarasota

Main office: (941) 371-5854

Pro shop: (941) 371-8200

The Rules

Judging from the feedback I've been receiving, readers of this column like to learn about the rules. I'm sure that's because you and others find the language in the Rules of Golf book, published by the United States Golf Association, difficult to understand. To clear things up a bit, I'm going to cite two course situations, the common mistakes made by golfers, and provide you with the correct procedures to follow.

Situation # 1: Player A finishes the seventh hole and starts making his way, via a motorized cart, to the eighth tee. Player B points at Player A's bag and says, "You're carrying 15 clubs-one too many for an official tournament." Player A's response: "I know, but I haven't used this extra putter, and I don't plan to. So I'm only really playing with 14 clubs."

Common mistake: Player A is wrong for carrying too many clubs and, as a result, breaches Rule 4-4. The penalty is two strokes for each hole at which the breach occurred. However, the limit is four strokes, which is the penalty Player A would incur in a stroke play competition.

Correct procedure: The best defense against being penalized is to show up on the first tee with no more than 14 clubs. From the time you hit your first shot on the first hole, all clubs are considered in play, whether you intend to use all of them or not.

Situation # 2: Player A, Player B, Player C, and Player D are competing on an unfamiliar tournament course. By modern standards, this course is unusual because it doesn't have yardage markers.

Common mistake: Player B isn't worried about the course lacking markers. The reason: He has a range-finder device in his bag that can measure yardage via a laser. Before addressing the ball to hit his approach, he pulls the gadget out of his bag, points it at the green, and reads the distance that appears on a small screen.

During a formal competition, according to Rule 14-3, you're not allowed to use an artificial device that may assist you in your play of a hole. The penalty for such a breach is disqualification.

Correct procedure: When there are no yardage markers on the course, either hire a caddy who knows the layout well, pace off the distance without delaying play, or simply eye up your shots and play by feel as the great golfers from past eras used to do.

Winning Tips

If you're one of those women golfers who has trouble lofting chip shots into the air and usually hits the ball well past the hole, here's a tip I learned from Nancy Lopez, a former two-time winner of the Sarasota LPGA classic. She actually taught this to me during my first visit to Bent Tree Country Club, when I was working on an instructional article for GOLF Magazine. At the time, I was senior editor of instruction for that publication and Nancy was one of the magazine's playing editors.

Forget what you've heard about chipping like you putt and using an all-arms wrist-free pendulum stroke. Instead, let your right wrist hinge slightly on the backswing, then unhinge as you come down into the ball. This type of wrist action will provide you with good feel for the club and promote a hit slightly on the descent, which is what will help get the ball airborne. To enhance the tempo, timing, and rhythm of your chipping stroke, which will help your distance control, rotate your left knee inward when swinging back and your right knee inward when swinging through.

Specialty Of The Clubhouse

More and more golfers are flocking to the Ritz-Carlton's Ca' d' Zan bar and lounge after playing a round. One reason is head bartender Peter Whitley's imaginative martinis, such as the Raspberry Lemon-drop I recently tried and loved.

To prepare, mix and shake together two and one-half ounces of raspberry-flavored vodka with one and one-half ounces of sour mix (preferably, a homemade mix of freshly squeezed lemon juice and cane sugar). Pour into martini glass, then "sink" three-quarter ounces of Chambord through center of drink. Run raw sugar around the rim of glass. Garnish creative concoction with lemon twist and fresh raspberries. Drink.

SARASOTA'S JOHN ANDRISANI, author of the best-selling book, The Tiger Woods Way, recently received the United States Teachers Federation Media Award for outstanding golf instructional writing. Send questions and comments to John at [email protected]

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