FORT MYERS, Florida – The “Sunshine State” also known as Florida, has a number of historical golf courses, with one of the more famous being Fort Myers Country Club, locally known as the “Fort.”
If you’ve visited Lee County, you know that Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone wintered in the ‘City of Palms’ where Edison initiated a plan amongst the winterbirds to have a golf course built. They enlisted the services of one of the best architects – Donald Ross – to design the 18-hole club.
In 1917 the course opened as the Fort Myers Golf and Yacht Club. It was was built on a piece of property on the Palm tree-lined MacGregor Boulevard about a mile from Edison’s Seminole Lodge and Henry Ford’s Mangoes Estate.
Chicago Tribune golf writer George O’Neil came to visit and review the new layout. He wrote, “Fort Myers is very fortunate to have a number of real golfers who thought the best none too good for their tourists when they started to build a golf course. They have put Fort Myers on the map and every golfer who plays here will have a word of praise and surely plan to return. Donald Ross never has done better work and again the committee showed great wisdom in selecting the well-known architect. I have never seen as pretty a set of 18 consecutive greens. After looking over most of the golf courses in Florida, I can conscientiously say that I have seen none that offered the golfer the thrills and pleasure that this course will.”
During its heyday, the Club entertained the likes of Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, plus Fort Myers own Hall of Famer Patty Berg, and 1964 PGA Championship winner Bobby Nichols. The first year the Club hosted Willie Park Jr. and Jock Hutchison in an opening exhibition. The Fort Myers Open was played at the course for many years.
After the turn of the century and the real estate boom, ‘the Fort’ lost some of its luster with new fancy clubs opening and developers paying for fully manicured layouts to lure homebuyers to their new-gated residential enclaves. Knowing they still had a true gem on their hands that had gotten ‘long in the tooth’ the City Fathers along with longtime Director of Golf Rich Lamb chose Lakeland, Florida based accomplished Golf Course Architect, Steve Smyers to put the shine back.
Smyers list of first-class Florida designs includes Southern Dunes Golf & CC, Interlachen CC, Isleworth CC, Bella Collina CC and Twin Eagles Golf Club’s Eagle course down the road in Naples. Steve and his associate Patrick Andrews took their task to heart using the original Ross design as their basis to bring the “Fort” into the 21st century. They completely redid the drainage including new water hazards that are actually water filter marshes disguised as lakes, new irrigation and native plantings to reduce water consumption.
“I believe golf courses should be designed to make every golfer who plays them a better player by giving them options that require strategy, creativity and imagination,” said Smyers in a recent interview. “We approached this project as if Donald Ross came back and laid it out today on the same site, given the modern playing equipment, new turf grasses, maintenance practices and all the changes that have evolved over the last 100 years. I am confident he would not have drawn the same plans as he did in 1917. That is what we did our best to accomplish. What came out of the redesign and upgrades is a remarkable classic for everyone, young and old alike, an enjoyable golf experience.”
Locals and snowbirds fell back in love with the ‘Fort’ and they are doing a whopping 70,000 rounds a year.
Mark Twain was credited with commenting, ‘golf is a good walk, spoiled.’ Had the crusty Twain had an opportunity to step onto the hallowed grounds of Fort Myers Country Club, his tune might have changed. Walking is still welcomed at the “Fort’-in fact it is encouraged. Director of Golf Lamb and his staff support junior golf with fun activities to introduce the game to the youth of Lee County and host many of the local high school matches.
Now this 18-hole, par 70 golf course has six sets of tees to allow all levels of golfers to enjoy a round at the ‘Fort’ that range from 4300 yards from the forwards to 6,600 yards from the tips with a rating and slope 72.9/131. The course is pretty much what you see in front of you-challenging but fair. The tifeagle bermuda greens are the teeth of the course. Accurate approach shots will be awarded with one or two putts. Miss the pin by too much and the ball will roll off the green. Blame Smyers for keeping the Ross designed greens.