With four kids and a book-loving wife, I’d have to be a fool to turn down any opportunity for an island getaway. And Florida has some great islands: the Keys down south, Amelia Island in the northeast corner and a famous golf island out east known as the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, plus there’s Sanibel Island to the west. Everyone knows about those. But it’s time for everyone to get to know Gasparilla Island, too. Hands down, this “Stay” was the pleasant surprise of our entire 22-day Florida trip.
Gasparilla Island is essentially in Charlotte Harbor (just west of Fort Myers), but it feels more Caribbean — like it’s 50 miles from Florida instead of just 5 miles. I could sum up the palm tree paradise up with such words as sand, shelling, shark teeth, serenity, solitude, lighthouse, Pete Dye golf, and you’d have everything you need.
But the place is even more bountiful than that.
The island is steeped in pirate legend — ’tis the land of Jose Gaspar, mateys. Claim is there’s still gold in them there shore acres. Of course, people have been living on Gasparilla Island for almost two centuries now, and the most valuable gold discovered thus far has been the sunsets … though they certainly seem a generous exchange rate for our dollars.
The Gasparilla Inn offers 66 rooms and suites, gloriously decked out in bright floral and white coastal décor. When I take my wife back for a couple's getaway, that’s where we’ll stay. But with the family, we needed to spread out a little, and the cottages were simply perfect. The resort owns 18 private villas and cottages, some with lanais, some with fireplaces, all with abundant square feet of awesomeness. If I could have a family reunion anywhere in Florida, it would be here.
And my family reunions are incomplete without golf. But I don’t know that Gasparilla Inn would be. It might be the one place where I didn’t feel like I had to golf (though of course I did play). Truthfully, I would have been content to chase the kids on the beach, find another couple hundred shark teeth, admire baby turtle tracks, swim, watch that sunset and sit out on the porch with a cone full of ice cream. It felt like the 4th of July in early June — a carefree sensory celebration of so many sorts.
But don’t take that admission as a slight to the golf. Pete Dye made a topsy-turvy masterpiece out of the flattest imaginable piece of land — an island course on its own island. He had a tough task to build a noteworthy championship course that wouldn’t obstruct the panoramic gulf and bay views of the residents. I don’t know how he pulled it off, but he did. It played firm and fast with water hazards galore, sea walls and bulkhead greens. He squeezed 100-yard fairways into 50-yard widths and managed to find more than 6,800 yards of length on a property where most designers couldn’t have found 5,000. It might be the only course he’s ever created that is no risk, all reward (either that or I was miraculously in the right place after every single shot … for the first time ever). It was three hours and 45 minutes of ranger-free, full-tee-sheet fun.
There are lots of places I’ve been in life that I’m glad I never have to revisit. Gasparilla Island is no such place. Quite the opposite, it’s one of those “I have to go back” destinations. Before reluctantly leaving, I made a point of stopping by the lobby to share my feelings with the general manager on the incredible service, accommodations, golf and atmosphere they’ve created. I raved about the pristine State Park beaches, the waterfront dining and even praised the valets (told you this place was special).
Where It’s At: 500 Palm Ave. in Boca Grande, it’s an sland resort 107 miles south of the Tampa International Airport. Just across Charlotte Harbor from Fort Myers, but 60 miles by car.
Ideal Stay & Play: 2-3 nights. 18 holes at Gasparilla Golf Club and two days of just being away on an island with the family.
What It’s About: This is island life. Gasparilla Inn is all about comfort, beaches, water sports and family connections. It’s greatest amenity is serenity.
Family Focus: Hard to imagine a better family escape from all the noise in Florida.
Local Food & Drinks: (High-End) Pink Elephant; (Social) The Outlet at the Inlet; (Casual) Loose Caboose; and (Hot Spot) The Sand Bar.
Day GolfGetaway: Sarasota National (Venice) is a Troon-managed facility approximately 30 miles from Gasparilla Inn. Likely your best bet if you “need” to play golf elsewhere.
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Eric N Hart is the GolfGetaways Course Ratings Editor for GolfNewsNet.com and freelance golf journalist writing for multiple regional and national publications — and specializes in exploring the world with his wife and children in tow. This story is part of his ongoing series exploring Family Fun Golf Resorts in Florida. Follow his adventures on Instagram @MobileGolfer.