Halleluiah! The best news I have heard in years about Old Naples is (drum roll, please) the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club is doing a complete redesign of its golf course, and by none other than the great Jack Nicklaus!
I needn’t go into the detail of the sorry state of the course that was largely neglected as the Beach Club (as all of us locals call it) focused on years of updating, renovating and adding to the rest of the property to bring it up to its deserved AAA 4 Diamond status. When the driving range was truncated to make room for the hotel’s new conference center (and the pro shop began issuing Cayman plastic golf balls for warm ups,) I could no longer recommend it to any of my clients who are serious golf enthusiasts.
A 300-yard range is going to be worked into the site as it is all brought up to a standard to match the best hotel resort courses in town. And it will be right here in Old Naples. I can’t wait!
I had my first golf lessons at the Beach Club in 1960 with local legend Paul Bell, and recall with great fondness my first forays on a real golf course, having spent my earliest times knocking old balls across sand flats in Provincetown on Cape Cod, using buried coffee tins as holes. In the early 1990’s, I had occasion to play at the Beach Club with then-retired Mr. Bell, and he regaled me with stories of the club, including the day he shot a course record 64 on the day he played an exhibition round with Gene Sarazen. “Gene was one of the greats,” Paul said, “but I beat him that day.”
Now the Beach Club is writing a new chapter in its celebrated history as an iconic Naples landmark with a remake by another legend, Jack Nicklaus, who, most serendipitously, broke 40 for the first time on this course in 1951! By fall of next year, Old Naples will have its own world-class golf course…and a driving range! 2016 is already shaping up as great year.
At this crucial juncture, I cannot help but add my admiration and respect for the Watkins clan who have kept this legacy property in tact in honor of their patriarch, Henry B. Watkins, Sr. One can only imagine the value of the golf course if turned into a new neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes. With this play, the Watkins are doubling down on the extending HB’s vision of a beach hotel and golf club well into the 21st century. Kudos to Watkins!
Bill Van Arsdale