Finding a top-flight golf course to play in Southwest Florida is like trying to differentiate between the best white sandy beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.
There’s no mediocre option to choose from, and all come with a certain expectation.
Where the game of golf used to merely be measured by how many yards away from the pin a player lied, how pretty his or her swing looked to fellow group members, or a matter of getting outside and enjoying the peace and quiet of nature (which it still is to many), golf in Southwest Florida has become a lifestyle that expects luxury.
And this summer has been no exception to the rule, backed by a number of local projects taking place in recent months across the region.
With over 80 championship level golf courses in Naples alone, the self-proclaimed “Golf Capital of the World” is a mainstay for worldwide golfers who flock to golf paradise anticipating nothing but the best. What Southwest Florida golfers get today is much more than what it used to be, and the biggest hit comes by way of the amenities.
As such, out with the old in terms of a recent summer closure—Golden Gate Country Club, which was purchased in 1972 as one of the first courses in Collier County—and in with golf course and facility renovations spanning the booming SWFL landscape.
This summer the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club’s golf course is in the midst of a redesign spearheaded by all-time golf legend Jack Nicklaus, along with architect John Sanford. The Naples Grande Golf Club announced future plans to build upon its 55 acres of land and to construct a new home development situated with lake and golf course views. In neighboring Fort Myers the Pelican Preserve Golf Club is undergoing a 27-hole renovation this summer, which includes updated dining venues at the forefront.
And in surrounding Bonita Springs two country clubs—Quail West and The Colony—are enduring a $12 million enhancement that includes a new pro shop and enlarged practice area, while the latter is adding a 28,000-square-foot clubhouse to go along with 18 rebuilt greens.
According to an expert in the field, Michelle Tanzer said Southwest Florida’s movement highlights a greater shift in golf from a game to a pay-to-play lifestyle.
“The number one change in the physical construction is to modernize, whether it’s irrigation or other aspects of the physical components of the course to reduce the operating costs and to be more environmentally sensitive. Those are two big areas. Overall aesthetics and playability are the primary goal, but also to keep other things in mind,” said Tanzer, the South Florida Attorney and Chair of Residential, Resort & Club legal practice at the GrayRobinson, P.A. law firm.
Tanzer, who has represented golf clubs across Florida, California, Texas, Delaware, New York, Virginia, and Michigan during her time—in addition to her non-golf related hospitality practice in Asia and India—has witnessed golf’s luxurious transformation firsthand by serving on the board of the National Club Association.
Doing her part to drive home amenity growth at golf clubs nationwide, Tanzer said the demand for competition in close knit geographical areas has created a growing space for constant modernization.
Keeping up with the times is a must to attract golfers with unlimited resources today, she assessed.
“Naturally the players’ experience is what’s going to keep bringing them back,” said Tanzer, additionally a council member for the Club, Spa & Fitness Association of America. “What we know is spa and fitness is the fastest growing segment of the club industry. Second to that is having a resort-style pool and a really fabulous state-of-the-art spa and fitness facility. 10 or 15 years ago fitness was the 20-by-20 room with a stationary bike; today they’re building 15,000-square-foot facilities with restaurants and resort-style attributes. Those are the most desirable products.”
Supplying such masterpieces creates a demand for excellence across the board, especially in what has become a “what can you give me” world. Golfers with the ability to afford the price of lavishness are soaking in more than just a daily round.
As a result, the final mark on their scorecard is followed by immediate bliss.
“It’s simply a matter of supply and demand. How do the facilities compare to competition? The more phenomenal they can be the greater competitive advantage they’re going to have, as long as they don’t out price themselves,” Tanzer valued, expanding on her experiences with revolutionized golf clubs behind the scenes.
In all, golf clubs—especially those that are considered to be the finest Southwest Florida has to offer—are being obliged to provide something beyond just a beautiful course to keep up with the lofty expectations from year-round visitors.
That’s where Tanzer comes in, lawfully making these transformations a reality.
“Golf and golf clubs are trying to appeal to a wider demographic inclusive of all genders, inclusive of younger people primarily. For years and years the primary member was 50-plus years old. If you have a luxury course, a difficult course, but not diverse players, you might offer a variety of accessories or other types of aspects that would allow the course to be appealing and challenging, not only for superior players but to average players.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated that Jack Nicklaus was involved in the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club’s redesign of its facilities, along with its golf course. In truth, Mr. Nicklaus is leading the redesign of the golf course, along with architect John Sanford. Naples Herald regrets the error.
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