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Take on the 'Talon's Grip' at Stoneybrook Golf Club in Estero

ESTERO, Fla. -- Jeff Nixon is a big fan of The Bear Trap -- holes 15-17 on the Champion Course at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. They provide a memorable stage for the PGA Tour pros at the Honda Classic.

A little creativity inspired Nixon, the head professional at Stoneybrook Golf Club, to create his own version in southwest Florida. Nixon now calls holes 11-14 at Stoneybrook, designed by Gordon Lewis and Jed Azinger in 1999, the "Talon's Grip."

"When I first started working here, I thought they were the hardest four holes in a row I've played," he said. "I'm a big fan of PGA National. If you look at our scorecard, it looks like a talon."

A sign near the 11th tee box warns players of the dangers that lie ahead. A tee shot to a narrow fairway gives off a daunting first impression at No. 11. The next two par 4s are equally demanding, even though the 345-yard 12th and the 325-yard 13th look short from the blue tees. The watery, par-3 14th completes the run.

"In the wind, it is a tough stretch of holes," Nixon said.

Stoneybrook continues to remain a popular public playground amid a sea of private and semi-private golf courses in the Naples area. To keep pace with the competition, Stoneybrook has invested in important upgrades. The greens were resurfaced with Champion Bermuda two years ago. The fairways of the back nine were replaced last summer. The front nine will be redone this summer. A lighted range allows for night practice.

Nixon also raves about the club's collection of par 3s. The daunting fifth looks and plays spectacular.

"We're just a really good course with good conditioning," he said. "It's not often courses are hooked up next to a sports bar (adjacent to the clubhouse). We are patterned after Haggin Oaks (an Alister MacKenzie classic) in Sacramento (with) fun, affordable golf. We want all our players to enjoy the experience."

Sue Phelps regularly plays Stoneybrook when visiting from Connecticut. She likes the value.

"I've played tons of private and semi-private courses in the area," Phelps said. "This ranks up there with the semi-privates because of the conditioning. They have the total package."

Sue Palmer, her playing partner from Connecticut, left with a good first impression after a recent round.

"I like the layout," she said. "You get to use a lot of different clubs. I like the greens. The design doesn't seem to be straight away. There are a few interesting holes where you have to think about what you're doing."

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