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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 at 5:11 AM

SWFL SPORTS

PICK YOUR SPORT AND FIND YOUR COURT, COURSE, TRACK OR FIELD
SWFL SPORTS
CoolToday Park, Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves

Source: COURTESY PHOTO

Any sport that doesn’t require mountains or snow likely is played somewhere in Southwest Florida, a sunsplashed haven for nearly every sporting dream. Well, almost. We’ve got go-karts and disc golf, traditional golf, mountain biking, tennis and pickleball plus spectator sports such as professional baseball and Division 1 collegiate basketball. There’s also bocce ball and shuffleboard, swimming and tennis, softball and volleyball.

Four Major League Baseball teams make their Spring Training homes here: the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins in Lee County, the Tampa Bay Rays in Charlotte County and the Atlanta Braves in North Port, which is in Sarasota County.

Southwest Florida is blessed with a Division 1 collegiate athletic program at Florida Gulf Coast University and also features a top-flight junior college athletic program at Florida SouthWestern State College. Both schools are in Lee County and have on-campus arenas for their basketball and volleyball teams. In Collier County, Ave Maria University has a robust athletic program that includes men’s baseball, basketball, football, golf, tennis and women’s basketball, soccer, lacrosse, softball, and volleyball.

The region has minor-league sports such as the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels baseball team and the Florida Everblades hockey team.

FastTrax Electric Karting & Duckpin Bowling 

FastTrax on Summerlin Road south of Fort Myers was closed in the weeks after Hurricane Ian. Check the website for reopening updates.. 

Until July 2021, it was a defunct place called Zoomers. But new owner Pat Ciniello knows about transforming concepts. He owns HeadPinz and other very 21st century bowling centers under the umbrella corporate name of Bowland. 

Mr. Ciniello and the Bowland team know that what worked in a 1950s bowling alley won’t work two decades into the 21st century, and they apply that knowledge to FastTrax. 

“It’s right in our wheelhouse,” Mike Cannington, corporate marketing director for Bowland, says about turning the old Zoomers into the FastTrax of today. 

The focus here is the Italian-made karts, which come in different sizes and at varying maximum speeds depending on the age of drivers. Duo karts are available so parents can take kids for a spin around the track. 

Then there’s the bowling. 

FastTrax bills its Duckpin bowling as the only such venue in Southwest Florida. In Duckpin, the ball and pins are smaller and competitors get three tries to knock down pins instead of two. FastTrax has seven Duckpin lanes upstairs.

Stay tuned for more from FastTrax, Mr. Cannington advises. Some vacant land adjacent to FastTrax is owned by Bowland. “There is room for major expansion,” he says.

Karting at FastTrax
Karting at FastTrax; COURTESY PHOTO

 

Disc, not disco, golf 

This variation of the traditional sport doesn’t require as much space or money and the courses aren’t as numerous around Southwest Florida. But we do have disc golf courses scattered around the region, from the Bird Bay Executive Course in Venice to courses in Collier County, Estero, North Fort Myers and Port Charlotte. 

Fort Myers resident Tim Brown is a professional disc golfer and course designer who has played the game since 1988. He and his colleague Baxter Frost are redesigning and installing an updated disc golf course at North Fort Myers Community Park. 

How many of these courses can be found in Southwest Florida? 

“There’s got to be at least 15,” Mr. Brown says. 

He expects the list to grow with the possibility of new disc golf courses in Cape Coral, Lemon Bay and Lehigh Acres. 

Mr. Brown grew up playing the other form of golf but has over decades been an avid disc golf player. “I like it because it is a lot cheaper than ball golf,” he says. Most Southwest Florida disc courses are free. Not only that, a Frisbee is a lot cheaper than a set of clubs and a package of balls. 

And you can play a round of disc golf in about 90 minutes compared with five hours for the other version of golf. Mr. Brown also points out disc golf is environmentally friendly. “There’s no irrigation, no fertilization,” he says.

And also fun, with or without disco music.

Disc golf
Disc golf; COURTESY PHOTO

 

Pickling away 

The sport of pickleball didn’t even exist when many of its most fervent players were born. The sport was created in 1965. The cross between badminton, table tennis,and court tennis has boomed beyond what anybody could likely have imagined half a century ago. 

And today in Southwest Florida, pickleball courts are nearly as ubiquitous as chain drug stores. 

East Naples Community Park has 64 courts and is the home of the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships. 

But the sport is played all over the region, from the 16-court PicklePlex on the Charlotte County campus of Florida SouthWestern State College to courts in thriving new communities such as Babcock Ranch and some that have been converted from tennis courts at the venerable Fort Myers Racquet Club. 

Courts can be found down south at the Marco Island Recreation Center and up north at the Venice Community Center and in between at Cape Coral parks.

Pickleball
Pickleball; COURTESY PHOTOS

 

Mountain biking 

They’re called the Florida Mudcutters, a band of mountain bikers who participate in their sport a very long way from the nearest mountain. Its 100-plus members in Collier, Lee, Hendry, southern Charlotte and southern Glades counties pedal trails from Fort Lauderdale to North Port, Gainesville and Lakeland. Caloosahatchee Regional Park near Alva in east Lee County has 11.5 miles of trails that the Mudcutters website refers to as “single track.” 

Trails are typically open from mid-October to June or July, depending on the amount of rain that has fallen (most trails are made from clay-based dirt that becomes slippery when wet). 

For more information, visit www.mudcutters.org or send an email to [email protected].

mountain biking

 

Spring Training 

MLB training has been a Southwest Florida fixture for nearly a century, dating back to 1924 when the New York Giants started training in Sarasota. In the nine decades since, many teams that have trained here have won the World Series. 

The first Southwest Florida World Series winners were the Philadelphia As, who won it all in 1929 and 1930. They trained at Terry Park in Fort Myers from 1925-1936. 

Teams arrive in February and play about 17 home games in what is called the Grapefruit League. Find out more about the 2023 Spring Training season at www.mlb.com.


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