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Take a Walk Back in Time at the ‘Fort’

Enjoy Fort Myers and Sanibel Beaches & Golf

Florida has a large number of historical golf courses throughout the state, and one of the more famous is the Fort Myers Country Club, locally known as the “Fort.” If you haven’t been to Lee County, Florida, you might not 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 greatest golf architects, Donald Ross to design the 18-hole club and the course opened for play in 1917 as the Fort Myers Golf and Yacht Club.

The Club 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 reporter George O’Neil came down 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’s 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. 

Steve discusses his design philosophy, “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. 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.” Long time players fell back in love with the ‘Fort’ and players who had gone elsewhere have returned. They are doing 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.” 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 4,300 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. Visit Club to book your next round.

After golf players can enjoy the fare at the Edison Restaurant & Event Center, which can accommodate full-field charity tournaments, has an excellent menu selection for lunch and dinner, and overlooks the golf course with inside and alfresco dining.

If you have never been to the “Fort”, give it a try on your next visit to the area. The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel are a golf mecca with an endless selection of championship golf available year-round in this tropical paradise. From public municipal layouts to luxurious resorts to exclusive clubs that allow public play, Lee County has endless opportunities for golfers of all levels. In fact, Fort Myers was recently named the #1 place to retire in America by U.S. News & World Report. 

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