The Best Golf Course I Played This Winter?

Florida, like Westchester, has many great golf courses. Seminole, TPC Sawgrass, Streamsong Red and Blue top most lists. Along with them is The Concession, a breathtaking golf experience designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin on 520 fabulous acres near Sarasota. It’s private and exclusive, but one of the friendliest clubs you’ll find anywhere.

That’s not surprising, considering that the course was inspired by the legendary moment when Nicklaus conceded the final putt in the 1969 Ryder Cup to Jacklin in a gesture of pure sportsmanship that resulted in the first tie in the event’s history. In 2004, the duo discovered the site for a golf course and adjacent residential community that would commemorate the event. From the day the course opened, it’s drawn raves and hosted prestigious events such as the 2015 NCAA Championship. In April, it will be the site of the second biennial Concession Cup, an event pitting teams of leading Mid-Amateurs and senior players from the US and Great Britain and Ireland.

The Jack Nicklaus Signature course is an excellent venue for competitive golf. It rewards both length and accuracy, as well as solid strategic thinking and a deft touch around the greens. From the tips, The Concession measures 7,474 yards with a 77.6 rating and 155 slope (the USGA maximum). There are four other sets of tees, though, and I found the Blues at 6,440 72.0/141 a perfect challenge—difficult enough to command my attention yet playable enough to be entertaining. 

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The Concession is different from your stereotypical Florida course in several significant and refreshing ways. Water is in play, but not on every hole. In fact, even when it is a factor off the tee, the fairways are wide enough that you can stay dry with just a modicum of caution. When water does come into play, it’s usually in a risk and reward situation like on the 384-yard par four fifth hole, where you can gain a big advantage from a shorter approach if you bite off some of the hazard on the left off the tee. 

Another major difference can be found in the green complexes. The turf around the greens is much more forgiving than the usual sticky Bermuda you find on many southeastern courses. This makes creative up-and-downs much more playable. On the other hand, the complexes are designed with minimal collars and rough, so many less-than-perfect approaches will feed off the well-contoured greens into closely-mown collection areas—where you need all the short game creativity you can muster.

As you might expect from a Nicklaus course, The Concession rewards the golfer who thinks their way from tee to green. Fairways are generally wide and the rough pretty forgiving, but it invariably pays to be on both the correct side off the tee but at the perfect distance as well. There are also several optional strategies on most holes, a feature that multiplies the pleasure of the round.

The clubhouse at The Concession

Among the interesting strategic holes is the eighth. At 322 yards it is not only a tester but may be one of the prettiest holes in Florida. Like all of the short par fours, it’s both demanding and fun. A huge bunker lines the right side of the fairway, encouraging an accurate 200-yard shot along the left, which will also open up the green for your approach. The green itself slopes toward the water, so pinpoint accuracy is a must for your second shot.

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Number 12 is a classic risk and reward par four. At 301 from the blue tees, it’s eminently drivable for those who dare. Watch out for the hazard lining the left side of the fairway though, not to mention the maze of bunkers in just about every conceivable landing area around the green. If you’re only playing the course once, though—go for it!

The par fives are scoring opportunities for most players, but they’re not pushovers in any way. The shortest, the 495-yard thirteenth hole, has an elevated green guarded by perhaps the most dangerous bunkers on the course, so the smart play is a lay-up short and left of the green followed by a snappy wedge to gimme length for a birdie. The longest par five is the 540-yard seventeenth hole but it is actually reachable in two if you play a strong drive left of the bunkers you see from the tee box. Whale away, there’s a lot of room in the fairway.

The Concession lies in the landscape like it belongs there, which is an all-too-seldom design theme that’s overlooked, not just in Florida but throughout the world. The fairway bunkers affect play, of course, but none of them look as if they were dropped out of space ship just to make your life miserable—they all belong exactly where they are. For proof, turn around and look back down the fairways when you finish each hole. If you look closely, you might see a fairway bunker from that angle, but probably you’ll just see the natural rise and fall of the terrain. When you add in the magnificent varied beauty of the mixed-growth forests and marshes—and the lack of homes lining the holes—you realize The Concession provides a perfect golf experience.

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