Sports and Athletics

Southwest Florida is a paradise for sports and recreation, whether you’re simply spectating or participating on land or sea

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Everblades. Image courtesy of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

Regional Parks and Recreation Centers

Lee and Collier counties are home to dozens of neighborhood and community parks. For the biggest variety of activities, regional parks and recreation centers go as far as including disc golf courses, aquatic playgrounds, horse trails, and off-leash areas for dogs. To meet surging demand in sports tourism, another major multisport facility is being built in east Naples.

Lee County

Estero, North Fort Myers, Veterans (Lehigh), and Wa-Ke Hatchee (South Fort Myers) parks and recreation centers: The fitness centers in each of these four county parks offer a full lineup of indoor programs and classes. Outdoors amenities are just as extensive. There is some variation from park to park, including which options are lighted, but mostly they have:

  • Paved and natural exercise paths
  • Fields and courts for basketball, baseball, softball, football, soccer, tennis, racquetball, pickleball, and sand volleyball
  • Disc golf courses
  • Off-leash dog parks
  • Fishing at Estero and Veterans parks
  • Skate park, cricket field, and splash pad at Veterans Park

Lakes Regional Park: Created around an old limestone rock quarry, this park in Fort Myers is popular with families for its bike and kayak rentals, many playgrounds, rentable pavilions, and other amenities. Miniature train rides, including with holiday-themed scenic decorations, are a specialty of the Railroad Museum of Southwest Florida.

For more on Lee County facilities: leegov.com

Cape Coral

Cape Coral Sports Complex

The largest of Cape Coral’s athletic complexes, this 52-acre park has five soccer fields, five softball fields, four baseball fields plus three concession stands, a playground, and picnic shelters. It is the home of the Cape Coral Youth Soccer Association for ages 4 to 16 and league baseball for ages 13 to 18. It also houses adult men’s softball leagues and hosts tournaments throughout the year.

Other Cape Coral Recreational Amenities

The City of Cape Coral has 53 fields at 11 athletic complexes where weekly league competitions and regional, state, and national tournaments take place. And there’s a lot more to come. In 2018, Cape Coral voters approved a $60 million expansion and upgrade of the city’s parks and recreation amenities that are expected to be completed by 2022.

The city’s athletic division offers youth and adult sports, including basketball, football, baseball, and tennis. A number of other organizations for all ages, ranging from soccer and cheerleading to BMX motocross, also use the facilities. Here are a few specialty centers:

Eagle Skate Park: Next door to the William “Bill” Austen Youth Center, this is one of the largest skate facilities between Miami and Tampa, featuring nearly 27,000 square feet of ramps, rails, street obstacles, and a bowl.

Strausser BMX Sports Complex: BMX racers have converged on this popular motocross track for state and national BMX races since 1977. In addition to the lighted BMX track, three lighted softball fields, and a playground, the park is adjacent to a boat ramp for access to freshwater lakes and canals.

William “Bill” Austen Youth Center: With a large rec center and after-school programs, this is a great place for kids ages 8 to 18 to play computer games and sports, get help with homework, learn martial arts, or attend a dance.

For more on Cape Coral facilities: capecoral.net

Collier County

Eagle Lakes Community Park: This East Naples facility includes an aquatic complex, fitness center, community center, 2.5-mile nature trail, 1-mile paved path, and lighted courts and fields for basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, and football.

Golden Gate Community Park: A dog park and boat ramp are among the amenities at this park, which also boasts a fitness center, aquatic park, paved fitness trail, and numerous lighted facilities including tennis and racquetball courts.

North Collier Regional Park: The state-of-the-art Sun-N-Fun Lagoon, exhibit hall, and Can U Dig It playground highlight this park’s amenities. It also includes a fitness center, boardwalk, walking trails, soccer fields, and more.

For more on Collier County facilities: collierparks.com

Paradise Coast Sports Complex: This new $70 million facility is being built at the northeast corner of Collier Boulevard and Interstate 75 and is slated to have 16 multipurpose fields upon completion. The first phase including soccer fields, a welcome center, concessions, and restrooms—covering about 60 of nearly 180 acres—is opening this year. The next phase will be a stadium. More information: colliercountysports.com

Canoe/Kayak/Paddle Sports

Southwest Florida is overflowing with natural beauty often best seen from its picturesque coasts and endless waterways. Grab your binoculars and long-focus lens, or your fishing gear. And don’t forget your life vest, sun protection, and plenty of water. It’s the Sunshine State, after all. Here are key paddling locations. For more suggestions, see “Reach the Beach” and “Get Outdoors.”

Lee County

Cape Coral: The 120-square-mile peninsular city is home to 400 miles of canals that link to the Caloosahatchee River to the south and east and Matlacha Pass to the west. Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve is one major launch point with various amenities. More information: capecoral.net 

Great Calusa Blueway: It’s not called the Great Calusa Blueway for nothing. All-encompassing paddling trails meander 190 miles through Lee County coastal waters and inland up the Caloosahatchee River and its many mangrove-lined tributaries. Trail maps and well-marked signage on the water guide beginners and avid paddlers on various-length excursions. Access points, outfitters, and guided tours are available throughout. The options are unlimited, as are the plant and wildlife viewing. More information or to download a map: fortmyers-sanibel.com 

Tarpon Bay and J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge: Located on the northern, inland side of Sanibel Island, Tarpon Bay was named by Canoe & Kayak Magazine one of the nation’s top 10 places to paddle. Tidal flats and sunset tours are rich with wading birds and chances to see dolphins and manatees. Travel inland on mangrove-lined Commodore Creek Trail. Or connect with the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the famed habitat to more than 245 species of birds. The 6,400-plus-acre refuge, named for the conservationist and Pulitzer Prize–winning editorial cartoonist who persuaded President Harry Truman to create the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge Act in 1945, also boasts a 4-mile Wildlife Drive busy with foot, bike, and car traffic. More information: dingdarlingsociety.org or tarponbayexplorers.com

Collier County

Paradise Coast Blueway: This network of paddling routes in Collier County is led by GPS waypoints and will have future phases of development. The Ten Thousand Islands route begins in Everglades City and ends in the village of Goodland on Marco Island. The next two phases will extend north in the Gordon Pass area through Rookery Bay and then up the Gordon River and along the coast to connect with Lee County’s 190-mile Great Calusa Blueway. More information: paradisecoast.com

Sugden Regional Park: Home to one of Collier County’s only freshwater beaches, this park in east Naples is centered around 60-acre Lake Avalon. It is best known for water skiing and sailing, including classes for able-bodied and special-needs students. Additionally, paddle sports and other amenities are popular family attractions. More information: collierparks.com

Ten Thousand Islands: The endless number of passes and islets through this maze of mangroves and keys only makes it feel like they number 10,000; the actual count is somewhere in the hundreds. But by water is the only way to access these almost-entirely uninhabited spits of land off the most southwestern edge of Florida. Fishing and birdwatching opportunities are everywhere. For more advanced paddlers, research the many multiday options on the 99-mile Everglades Wilderness Waterway. More information: fws.gov

Court Sports 

Whether it’s tennis or its young cousin, pickleball—the fast-growing, badminton-like sport—Southwest Florida has got it, day and night.

Tennis: Lee and Collier counties have dozens of parks with hundreds of courts. Most are lighted and have lightning-warning systems. Some have clay courts open to the public (with a membership or court fee). Many include shorter 60- and 36-foot varieties to help kids learn the game in a comfortable setting. An array of associations and organizations offer lessons, organize leagues, and provide support. They’re a great place to start:

  • Lee County Community Tennis Association: leecountytennis.com
  • Sports Council of Collier County: colliercountysports.com/collier-county-tennis/
  • USTA Florida: ustaflorida.com 

Pickleball: In case you haven’t heard, young and old alike love this fast-paced paddle sport that owes plenty of its surging popularity to Southwest Florida. East Naples Community Park and its 58 pickleball courts has been the only home to the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships since its inception in 2016. More parks are adding pickleball courts—sometimes new, sometimes converted tennis courts. Play is also held indoors. Here’s more information:

  • USA Pickleball Association: usapa.org
  • US Open Pickleball Championships: usopenpickleballchampionship.com
  • Collier County Parks: collierparks.com
  • Lee County Parks: leegov.com

Baseball/Softball

Whatever your age or skill level, there is a rec league or travel circuit on a diamond near you. Many facilities have wall-to-wall games and tournaments scheduled, so check before going. Here are some associations that organize leagues and teams and oversee facilities:

Lee County

Cape Coral Athletics: Men’s, women’s, co-ed, 45-plus, 50-plus, and church softball leagues play at the Cape Coral Sports Complex or 15-acre Northwest Complex. More information: capecoral.net

Lee County: Various softball leagues play across the county’s array of facilities, including CenturyLink Sports Complex, which has four softball fields next to Hammond Stadium, the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins. More information: leegov.com

Youth Sports: For Little League, Pop Warner Football, youth soccer, lacrosse, track, Swim Florida, and other youth sports organizations, this list is fairly comprehensive: leegov.com/parks/athletics/youth-sports. You can also find many Cape Coral–based organizations through the Cape Coral Parks and Recreation Department: capecoral.net.

Collier County

Collier County Senior Softball: Formed in 1991, the league has more than 250 members ages 50 and up in three divisions. Games are held at North Collier Regional Park and Veterans Community Park in Naples. More information: colliercountyseniorsoftball.org

Collier County Super 60 Softball: The co-ed league for men 60 and older and women 50 and older plays at North Collier Regional Park through the winter. There are five outfielders and five infielders, no stealing or sliding, and other senior-friendly rules. More information: colliercountysuper60softball.org 

Youth Sports: The Sports Council of Collier County has a directory of youth sports for Little League, Pop Warner Football and Cheer, golf, hockey, running, and much more: More information: colliercountysports.com

Ice Skating

Don’t look so surprised. Southwest Florida is heavily populated with plenty of Midwestern converts, fed straight down I-75 from cold-weather states. Sometimes they bring their quaint accents and love of winter sports with them. 

Fort Myers Skatium: Group and private lessons, figure skating instruction, youth and adult hockey leagues, open public skating, and private group bookings all are available at the public facility. There’s food, rentals, gear, and equipment as well. More information: fmskatium.org 

Hertz Arena: Located in Estero in southern Lee County, the 7,200-seat arena—when set up for hockey—has been home to the Florida Everblades of the East Coast Hockey League since the team and facility were created in 1998. The arena’s recreational rink hosts adult and youth hockey, figure skating, lessons, public skating, parties, and more. More information: skateeverblades.com

Spectator Sports

For much of this century Southwest Florida has ranked No. 1 in the nation for golf holes per capita. Naturally, professional golf tournaments are a popular spectator draw—but there are other options too. Lee County is also home to two Major League Baseball teams for Spring Training, NCAA Division-I Florida Gulf Coast University, minor league baseball and ice hockey teams, and more. And they mostly have a strong history of winning. 

Baseball

The American League’s Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins have both spent their springs in Fort Myers for more than 25 years.

The Red Sox, winners of nine World Series and spring tenants in Fort Myers since 1993, showcase their talent at the10,823-seat JetBlue Park in south Fort Myers. More information: mlb.com/redsox

The Twins play at 9,300-seat Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex in south Fort Myers. They won the last of their three World Series titles in 1991 in their first season after moving their spring home from Orlando to Fort Myers. Hammond stadium underwent an expansion and major renovations in 2015. More information: mlb.com/twins

Fort Myers Mighty Mussels: The Class-A Advanced baseball affiliate of the Minnesota Twins also makes its home at Hammond Stadium. Along with perennial success in the High-A Florida State League, the Mighty Mussels (formerly known as the Miracle) games are known for affordable prices and fan-friendly promotions, including themed events and take-your-dog-to-the-park games. More information: milb.com/fort-myers 

Roy Hobbs Baseball: The adult amateur baseball league, played in various age brackets across America, has held its World Series in Fort Myers for more than 25 years. More than 4,000 players on 240 teams compete in more than 20 divisions each year at the City of Palms Park, Terry Park, Hammond Stadium, and JetBlue Park. More information: royhobbs.com

Golf

Southwest Florida can boast a professional golf trifecta, with the best on the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, and PGA Tour Champions competing every winter in Naples. Tiburón Golf Club, designed by World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman, is home to both the LPGA Tour’s CME Group Tour Championship in November and his 24-player QBE Shootout in December. The Champions circuit’s Chubb Classic has had many homes in 32 years in Naples, but it returns every February.

Find out more:

  • PGA Tour: qbeshootout.com
  • LPGA Tour: cmegrouptourchampionship.com
  • Champions: pgatour.com/champions/tournaments/chubb-classic.html 

Hockey

Florida Everblades: Founded in 1998, the Everblades have been a dominant team in the minor-league East Coast Hockey League from the outset, reaching the Kelly Cup Finals four times. The Blades, an affiliate of the Nashville Predators of the National Hockey League, have long been a popular draw in 7,181-seat Hertz Arena in Estero in south Lee County. More information: floridaeverblades.com 

College Sports

Florida Gulf Coast University: FGCU, as it’s better known, opened as Florida’s twelfth public university in 1997. In 2013—its second season competing as a full member of NCAA D-I— FGCU rose to national acclaim as the only No. 15 seed ever to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The March Madness fame is one of many successes across FGCU’s 15 sports that have made the Eagles one of the nation’s premier mid-sized athletics programs. FGCU’s athletics centerpiece is the 4,633-seat Alico Arena. More information: fgcuathletics.com 

Florida SouthWestern State College: The former community college trumpeted its return to junior college athletics participation with the opening of 3,500-seat, $28 million Suncoast Credit Union Arena on its Fort Myers campus in 2016. The Buccaneers already have become legitimate national title contenders in multiple sports. More information: fswbucs.com

 

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