Golf course architect John Sanford’s latest project in Naples, Fla., has nothing in common with his recent work in the South Bronx in New York City, but the design challenges he faced at each site were daunting.
In New York, the obstacle was transforming an unsightly, abandoned, 222-acre municipal dump into the spectacular Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point.
In Naples, Sanford’s ingenuity was tested as he had to redesign and stretch out a tight 105-acre course into a playable but interesting 6,900-yard circuit. And for good measure, he intends to tuck a 300-yard practice range into the facility as well, at the 70-year-old Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
Sanford is also bringing a bit of the Ferry Point magic to Naples with him.
At Ferry Point, Sanford served as project manager and collaborator on the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. In Naples, Nicklaus was brought in to work with Sanford, making it a Jack Nicklaus redesign in collaboration with John Sanford.
“We are very excited about the project, working with the Watkins family and again with Jack,” Sanford said. “The course will get a lot of exposure at this prestigious hotel. The Naples area has come so far in the last 20 years, and there is great demand for another premium resort/daily fee course. All the stars are aligned for this project to be a really good one.”
For Nicklaus, the Naples project is a special homecoming of sorts.
“That was the place I first broke 40 for nine holes in 1952,” Nicklaus said. “I was just 11 years old and vacationing with my family in Naples. I played with my father that day, and shot 37 on the front nine with a double bogey.”
Michael Watkins and his brother, Henry B. Watkins III, are third-generation owners of the landmark beach hotel that was developed by their grandfather, Henry B. Watkins, Sr.
“This renovation will bring our golf course in line with the rest of our AAA Four Diamond resort and enhance the overall guest experience,” Watkins III said. “The added bonus of Mr. Nicklaus collaborating on the redesign of the course on which he first broke 40 for nine holes is wonderful and further enriches the deep history of our property."
Sanford said the first logistical hurdle was the small driving range where players were restricted to hitting only irons. Recognizing the hotel’s need for parking, he proposed turning the current three-acre range—located directly across the street from the hotel lobby and valet area—into parking.
“We are shifting the range inside the golf course, and we will move a few holes around, reconfigure some lakes, and redesign the entire golf course,” he said.
Nicklaus visited the site during the design stage and spent a day with Sanford driving around, looking at all the proposed holes, and sharing ideas for the new layout.
“The green complexes are relatively small, and Jack wanted them partially open to running shots, so about 50 to 60 percent of each green is open to allow the ground game,” Sanford said. “We are keeping it simple—not too much contour in the greens and nice, gentle pitches with bunkering that plays into the tee shot strategy. By relocating several lakes, a number of the greens will be lakeside. We have two double-green complexes, the second green and the eighth green share a complex, as does the third and 15th greens.”
Prior to the redesign, the course measured just over 6,400 yards. Incorporating double greens in the design helped in gaining some distance and lengthening the layout to 6,900 yards from the back tees.
“While we were on site and meeting with the Watkins family one of Jack’s staffers contacted the Jack Nicklaus Museum in Ohio and located the original score card from Jack’s memorable round in 1951, What an incredible piece of memorabilia for the family.” Sanford said.
Sanford said the Watkins family’s respect for the area and the environment were factors in his redesign.
“As the site runs from west to east, we will transition from the beach to Everglades in terms of the look and the feel of the landscape,” Sanford said. “Of the 100 acres of turf, we will take 30 to 35 acres out of irrigation, resulting in unirrigated natural areas. We end up with 65 or 70 acres of irrigated turf, which will reduce the watering requirements. All of the infrastructure will be new, including the irrigation and storm water drainage systems.”
Sanford said the course is designed to play hard and fast. Despite reducing the maintained areas by one-third, with five sets of tees the course will be playable and enjoyable for all resort guests. “It’s a great piece of core golf property which you don’t get much of these days, especially in Florida where most sites are broken up by housing lots,” he said.
Since 1946, the Watkins family planted many trees and palms, some of which are exotic species that will be removed, but many mature specimens will be relocated within the new course preserving an important landscape history.
“When you move lakes around, and relocate golf corridors, much of the vegetation must be cleared, but we’ve been careful to maintain the most significant vegetation on the property,” he said.
Sanford said, Ellin Goetz, a prominent local landscape architect, has designed the new treescape, drawing on her knowledge of the history of the property and the original course as her firm reworked the treescape after it was devastated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Ellin is vice chair of the board of directors of the Everglades Foundation and Jack Nicklaus is also a member of the Everglades Foundation board.
The project will cost between $9 and $10 million, including new maintenance equipment, rebuilding the maintenance facility and creating a new parking lot.
The seven-month golf course renovation, which begins April 11, will complete a $55 is million refurbishing of the hotel, which began a few years ago, including its 319 rooms and suites, meeting space, ballroom, beach bar, and grill. A new beachfront pool complex, including two pools, two whirlpools, and a pool bar with food service, were also added.
Sanford Golf Design is based in Jupiter, Fla. With his associates, the veteran of 30 years in the golf course design industry has completed more than 70 new design and renovation projects around the world in Asia, the Caribbean, Middle East, and throughout the United States.
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