One reason golfers are sometimes reluctant to join country clubs is that they get tired of playing the same course over and over.
This is not a problem at The Meadows Country Club, which offers 54 holes of golf, including a gem of a par-three course called The Groves.
Director of golf Mike McClellan gave me a tour of the facility, beginning with The Meadows, which is considered the signature course. (The other full-length course is The Highlands, which McClellan considers five strokes easier than The Meadows but has actually been rated tougher.)
Lots of courses let you ease into your round gradually, giving you a simple starting hole (usually a par five) to help you work out your kinks. Forget about that at The Meadows. The first hole is a 411-yard par four (from the blue tees, which measure 6,314 yards; the backmost gold tees measure 6,716) that is so evil it’s rated the No. 1 handicap hole. A copse of trees on the left side of the soft dogleg gets a lot of action as golfers try to cut the corner and get a shorter shot into the well-bunkered, undulating (and very fast) green. If you try to bust one off the tee, chances are you’re going to miss the narrow fairway and open the door to a double-bogey or worse.
Driving accuracy is the key to success at The Meadows and even more so at The Highlands. A spiffy short game is also helpful, thanks to a 2004 redesign by Ron Garl that added many new bunkers as well as bowl-like "collection" areas. These shots require the player to think—never a good thing in golf. You can chip the ball, putt it, wedge it or even scuttle it along the ground with a fairway metal. You either learn to get up and down at The Meadows or you learn to grow accustomed to high scores.
The country club has 1,200 members, but the courses seldom seem crowded because of those 54 holes. The best deal is a $500 summer membership that gives you golfing privileges (minus cart fees) and also access to the restaurants, tennis courts, pool and fitness center. The Meadows is also one of the few clubs in the area that allows walkers. During the tourist season, walkers are restricted to the late afternoon and usually to The Highlands course. But during the summer more walking opportunities become available.
There are lots of good holes at The Meadows, but McClellan likes No. 12 the best. It’s a diabolically short dogleg left with the customary narrow fairway. If the tee shot doesn’t cause your throat to tighten, the second shot surely will. The green is almost on an island, with a lake in front and gaping bunkers on both sides. You either hit this green or you’re looking at a big number.
Like all good courses, The Meadows finishes strong. No. 16 resembles a grassy bowling alley. Any hint of a fade will result in your ball dribbling into the creek that runs parallel along the right side. A hook will find water on the other side. The hole is not killer-long at 368 yards from the blue tees, but accuracy, again, is key. The second shot is to a wide, thin green with a rock-walled water hazard guarding the left side. (Ron Garl’s fingerprints are all over this hole, including the bunkers that flow into the water.)
Seventeen is a stout par three measuring 200 yards from the blues. In the late afternoon, you’re hitting directly into the sun—not good, because it’s almost a blind tee shot, anyway, with the green sloping away from the tee. All you see are bunkers, which is not a good mental image when you’re trying to hammer a three-metal to an invisible green.
Eighteen is one of the best finishing holes in the area. A muscular par four of 411 yards from the blues, 18 is very simple. All you have to do is drive over the lake, avoid the bunkers on the left, avoid the driving range on the right and then hit your long second shot to a green guarded by water to the left. Hit it too far and you’ll wind up in the clubhouse, which at this point you probably wish you’d never left.
The Highlands is, if anything, narrower than The Meadows. The greens are a little slower, but they’re also smaller. No. 1 is a snake-thin par five that winds its way through groves of trees. Again, if you’re looking for an easy starting hole, this isn’t it.
No. 9 is another one of those holes that make the golfer think way too much. I think I’ve hit every club from seven-iron to driver off the tee in a desperate attempt to find the fairway. The par-five hole doglegs right, and a huge oak tree on the right waits to catch any—and I mean any—balls that come in its direction. Your second shot has to clear a creek that crosses the fairway about 150 yards from the green, which is narrow and hard to hit.
If you’re rattled by No. 9, No. 10 is going to do little to relax you. A long par four at 418 yards, the hole doglegs left around a stand of trees. You want to hug the left side as much as possible unless you want about a 230-yard shot into a well-bunkered green. If you manage to par 9 and 10, you should probably just shut it down and go straight to the bar.
The Groves is an Arthur Hills concoction, and though people refer to it as a par-three course, it’s really not. There are nine par fours and one par five comprising the course that plays 4,182 yards from the back tees. But length is not the issue here. The holes, some of which are as short as 107 yards, are designed to reward high, well-struck iron shots and penalize everything else. The greens are often elevated, and all of them are well bunkered, with many protected by water hazards.
The Groves is far and away the best short course I’ve ever played. It’s always in great shape, and if you’re looking to hone your iron and chipping games, there’s no better place.
Opened in 1974, The Meadows Country Club remains a Sarasota classic. And in the summer, particularly, you can’t beat the price.
country club The Skinny
A former reporter for the
Herald-Tribune, David Grimes has won a number of awards for his columns and is the author of several books. An avid golfer, he’s now writing this new monthly column for us.
Sarasota The Meadows Country Club Where: 3101 Longmeadow, Sarasota Why: Three 18-hole golf courses, two pro shops, 17 Har-Tru tennis courts, three restaurants, one fitness center, one pool. Phone: (941) 371-6000 E-mail: [email protected] Tip of the day No. 1: Bring lots of balls How to cheer up: Don’t despair if the course makes you feel old. There’s a 107-year-old member who still bats it around. Tip of the day No. 2: Don’t get above the hole on The Meadows. The downhill putts are ice-slick.