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Perfect weekend: Ocean Reef Club, Key Largo.

For years, most of us could only look longingly at the exclusive, members-only Ocean Reef Club and Resort. So when they opened it up to the public for the first time in late December, we checked in and discovered one of the best world-class vacation spots, practically in our own backyard.

Welcome: Non-members can enjoy this famous Key Largo resort, but for two visits only, so make them count. Reservations, however, must be make through a travel agent. If you find that it's your place in the sun, apply for a club access membership: $4,000 initiation fee; $1,800 annual dues.

Ambience: Laid-back elegance is the feeling here, with custom golf carts the flavored mode of transportation. The atmosphere is definitely family oriented, yet the rich flora of the Keys and a reverence for privacy bring it an air of romance, too. Environmentalists will love the acres of protected mangroves, 1,000 of which have been put aside as a sanctuary for the North American crocodile. Relax by the Caribbean-colored Atlantic, or get involved in an endless array of activities.

Tee up: The Ocean Reef Club's two golf courses have challenged President Bush, Richard Nixon and his pal Bebe Rebozo, Dan Quayle, Sam Sneed and Jack Nicklaus, to name a few. The Harbor Course is, by far, the most unique and challenging, having been carved out of a hardwood hammock forest. The 10th and 18th tees are built on stilts 20 feet above the mangroves, requiring tee shots to sail above the protected wetlands. One golfer lost a record 117 balls on this course!

Fish stories: You'll catch the big ones here, Hemingway-style. Sailfish, marlin and tuna are just some of the 30 varieties of blue-water fish caught here in record-breaking sizes. We saw huge tuna being brought in, which were cooked up by the chef that night for the angler's dinner. Bonefishing flats are some of the best in the world. More than 600 species may be caught if you're into reef fishing, and night fishing for tarpon is definitely exciting. Crewed charters or do-it-yourself boat rentals are available.

Underwater: It's in the clear, clear waters off the Keys that scuba and snorkeling excel. Carysfort Reef and Carysfort West, both part of the National Marine Sanctuary, are just off Ocean Reef. But we found driving the short distance to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and taking a snorkel/dive boat from there offers more undersea beauty. There are glass-bottom boats out of the club for landlubers who want a peek at Carysfort Reef.

Boating: The "Yankee," a 63-foot schooner, takes you for a three-hour sail, exploring the protected waters of the Pennekamp reef. Morning cruises include a Bloody Mary brunch, and afternoon and evening sails feature wine and cheese parties. Cruising in on your own boat? The 175-slip marina and accomodates yachts of all sizes, and we say some glamorous Monte Carlo types. Sailboats are limited to an 8 1/2-foot draft because of the shallow channel.

Landlubbers: We thoroughly enjoyed touring the resort via golf cart. Tennis, croquet, 8 a.m. group walks, jogging and bicycling are all popular. Buccaneer Island is a favorite gathering place, with its Olympic-sized pool, saltwater lagoon, windsurfer, catamaran and water ski rentals, as well as outdoor dining and the Pelican Bar, home of the Oyster Shooter (oyster, vodka, Clamato juice and spicy seasonings). The Dolphin Pool is the site of three dolphin shows a day. There's a supervised children's program, and baby-sitters

are available.

Dining: As we expected, the food and drink are magnificient. Of the six restaurants, we particularly enjoyed an elegant evening meal of sauteed yellowtail with fresh citrus sauce at the Carysfort Grille. The creme brulee and frozen praline souffle are too good to be true. The casual Raw Bar excels in shrimp, stone crab and yacht watching, and we loved the conch chowder and conch fritters at the Caribbean Cafe. Don't miss the Saturday night seafood buffet.

Accomodations and packages: Everything from hotel rooms, condos and private homes are for rent, most with waterfront views ($90-$400 per night through Sept. 30). Summer packages include a Golf Unlimited Plan that starts at $190 per person for 3 days/2 nights; the Dive Plan at $170 per person for 3 days/2 nights; and the Honeymoon/Anniversary Plan that starts at $175 per person for 3 days/2 nights. The Family Plan starts at $99 per room per night with a kitchenette. Info:(305)367-2611.

Getting there: A private airstrip and helicopter pad are on-site. Boaters coming down the Intracoastal Waterway should take Anmelfish Creek (Marker12), which is just north of the club. Drivers should take I-75 south to Alligator Alley, then right on 29 off the Alley and left at the first light onto 41. Follow the signs through Homestead and make sure you go over Card Sound Toll Bridge. Signs will lead you to Ocean Reef. It's about a four-hour drive from Sarasota.
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Title Annotation:facilities of Ocean Reef Club and Resort
Author:Frawley, Janis R.
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Jun 22, 1991
Previous Article:Hot fun in the summertime!
Next Article:Ivory Coast.

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