Golfweek Comp Issue — November 21, 2014
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Southern Revival
Bradley S. Klein

Smyers recaptures Ross’ vision at Fort Myers Country Club

Fort Myers, Fla.

The Fort is back. Six months after it closed for renovation and almost 98 years after it debuted, the Donald Ross-designed, municipally owned Fort Myers Country Club has reopened with a new look and newfound sensibility.

For all its popularity in town as an affordable operation, Fort Myers CC had become tired, stale and underperforming in terms of drainage, turf quality, operational efficiency and fun. Now it has been restored to the kind of glory that was envisioned when it opened in 1917. Credit for the rebirth goes to Lakeland, Fla.- based designer Steve Smyers and his longtime sidekick, Patrick Andrews. And thanks, too, go to the Department of Public Works in this self-styled “City of Palms,” which had the vision – or nerve, depending upon your point of view – to invest $5.8 million in the upgrade.

Unlike many municipal golf investments, in which balance sheets are overlooked by rosy-eyed managers, this one likely will prove sensible in terms of generating a net return on investment. That’s because the new layout’s drainage will allow the course to withstand heavier rainstorms. It will be more efficient to maintain, which means less irrigation water, less labor and more happy golfers.

A partial rerouting and some extensive plantings along the perimeter also will provide for a safer environment for players, cars and surrounding buildings in this busy neighborhood.

From a playing standpoint, there is far more variety in the length of the par 4s instead of the previous, repetitive formula of two-shotters in the 380-yard range. The greens have been rebuilt and lost perimeter hole locations reclaimed. Some creative engineering led to expanded drainage capacity onsite, both through basins and ponds, to enhance what had been nothing more than an old, half-silted-over ditch that traversed the southern third of the property. The fill dislodged to create these low areas enabled Smyers and Andrews to build modest platforms for greens and approaches, recapturing the classic Ross style.

A complete restoration according to Ross’ 1917 plan was out of the question – and it’s not even clear that the original design was ever fully implemented. The old scheme on paper called for vast waste areas of exposed, native sand for many forced carries off the tees. The new routing calls for diagonal carries with optional angles, more variation of tee placement and makes good use of internal pockets of land that previously had gone unused. The result is a walkable, connect-the-dots routing that should prove attractive to the public golf market.