NAPLES, Florida – Most every golf course in south Florida was impacted when Hurricane Ian hit the area on Sept. 28. That included Bonita Bay Club, long recognized as one of southeastern United States’ premier facilities.
Bonita Bay, Florida’s largest private club, has five golf courses spread over two campuses that are 10 miles apart. The crowned jewel of those layouts, the Cypress Course, re-opened after a 14-month renovation on Oct. 14 but it took a while for the word to get out on just how elaborate the project was. Hurricane Ian had a lot to do with that, though relatively minor damage was reported at Cypress.
Two of the club’s courses – Cypress and Sabal – are at the Naples location and the other three – Creekside, Marsh and Bay Island – are in Bonita Springs, which was harder hit by the hurricane. The trio there are Arthur Hills designs created between 1985 and 1994.
The Tom Fazio Design Group created Cypress and Sabal in the late 1990s, Cypress opening in 1997. The Naples site is about 1,000 acres, and about 500 are donated to conservation projects. There are no homes around the property, a rarity for Naples area courses.
Not only does Bonita Bay have five golf courses, it has most everything else that might entice a prospective club member – as evidenced by the fact that the club has a long waiting list. When it was deemed time to upgrade its facilities the membership was all in, but it wasn’t a quick fix at Cypress.
“It took about a year to do the renovation but we needed three years of planning,’’ said Paul Fissel, Bonita Bay’s greens committee chairman. “Both of our courses there needed refurbishing to bring them up to a more modern era. Tom and his team delivered exactly what he said he would — a golf course that plays firm and fast in conditions now that normally are soft and wet.’’
There was no question about who would oversee the renovation project. Tom Fazio’s architectural firm was brought back with Tom Marzolf, a senior associate of the Fazio team and a member of it since 1983, directing the effort. Marzolf was well qualified, having done work on such nationally known courses as Oakmont, Merion, Winged Foot, Firestone, Oak Hill and Riviera.
At Cypress the entire course was raised by 12-18 inches to improve drainage. Six new lakes were created and four more expanded, resulting in 200,000 cubic yards of earth being spread over the property.
The fairways were widened, and 450 new catch basins added. Perforated pipe was laid underground to steer water away from playable areas and the tee placements were increased from five to seven per hole. One tee was added in front of the previous front set and another was added behind what had been the tips.
“We wanted the course to play shorter (to accommodate older players), plus the (Florida) section pros play a lot of their events there so we picked up yardage for the back tees,’’ said Marzolf.
Tee markers are now at 500-yard intervals – from 4,500 yards to 7,500. Cypress is the first Fazio-designed course to have a 3,000-yard spread between the front and back tees.
“From a club professional’s perspective we have a course that is championship-ready” said E.J. McDonnell, Bonita Bay’s director of golf.
“Our members enjoy the variety of playing options afforded by having five courses,’’ said Paul Nussbaum, chairman of Bonita Bay’s board of directors. “Cypress remains our most competitive but – with seven sets of tees –our golfers will find the right challenge for their games.’’
The number of bunkers was reduced from 70 to 50. “But now more are in play,’’ said Marzolf. The new bunkers also have a “cleaned up, Augusta look.’’
Greens and collared areas were also re-designed, resulting in more fun options to get the ball to the flagstick. Putting from off the green may now be more popular than chipping.
Work at Cypress created an exciting new layout at great expense to the membership. However, Bonita Bay’s other courses are already slated for major renovations, according to the club’s Golf Master Plan. Creekside will get special attention in 2023 and Sabal in 2024.
Among many projects discussed and pending approval are performance centers for both Marsh and Creekside and a renewed clubhouse at Naples.