In 1916, the Fort Myers Country Club (FMCC) was designed by legendary architect Donald Ross and became the center of social life for the southwest Florida town in 1917. A few years ago I was invited by the Lee County Convention and Visitors Bureau to do a feature story on the golf courses in and around the area. I visited some, played a few and ignored a couple because of their condition.
The once center of golf in Fort Myers had been surrounded by real estate expansion and most of the folks who called the “Fort” home had passed on or moved to the ‘burbs’. The course had simply grown long in the tooth. In discussions with the city fathers, Lakeland based ASGCA member Steve Smyers came up with the idea to fix up this tired old golf course as if Donald Ross had reappeared to get the whiskers removed, smooth the lines and give FMCC a Ross facelift. ” From the very beginning, our main goal was to update Fort Myers Country Club in the same way Ross might, were he alive and designing a course on the same site today,” said Smyers. Steve was also fortunate to have a copy of Ross’s original design to help him and Patrick stay true to the Ross conception.
“Ross was a master of using landscape forms to create space and develop and define interesting targets and challenges. Keeping that at the forefront of our thought process throughout the entire project, we made a conscious effort to remain true to those same patterns that were the hallmark of his career- patterns Ross employed in his green settings, bunkering and developing soft mounds, hollows and ridges, not only to create interesting landscape settings but to define shots that were interesting and stimulating to the golfer.”
Steve Smyers and his associate Patrick Andrews have added yardage to the course taking it from the 6,388 yard original Ross-designed length to a new distance of 6801 yards with a par of 71.
Numerous other elements of the course were updated as part of the first renovation the course has seen since it opened.97 years ago. Modern hybrid Bermuda grasses were introduced throughout the course with Celebration on the fairways and ultra-dwarf Tifeagle on the greens. Drainage was improved through an intricate water management system of ponds,creeks and canals. This system now provides much needed water retention and serves as a filter for storm water runoff, thus improving water quality for the entire local area.
One important aspect of the project was the addressing of player safety. The new design repositioned tees and landing areas to better accommodate the superior equipment in use today and improved the standard of play.
“Ross always believed, and even wrote ‘that a great golf course should be designed in direct relationship to the ability of the golfer’,” said Smyers. “He devoutly believed an elite player should have a stern challenge through the way the golf course could be set up, whereas an older or a higher handicap player could have a golf course they could easily move around. He also believed a great course should produce solid shot-making. It would require the player to hit a long and accurate tee shot and require them to hit a long and accurate long iron to several holes. There should be a blend of long and short holes so that a single round of golf should provide a total examination of one’s golfing abilities and require the player to hit every club in their bag.”
Smyers added, “It was those beliefs and convictions of Donald Ross that we used as our guide as we went about every aspect of the updating of Fort Myers Country Club from the planning process all the way through construction and grow in.” The course reopened in November 2014.
Fort Myers Country Club is one of the courses included in the Florida Historic Golf Trail and is a step back in time where walking golfers are welcome to enjoy the game the way it was played in the 1920’s. The clubhouse has a pros shop, the Edison Restaurant & Bar and banquet facilities. To reserve a tee time or get more information you can call 239-312-7488 or visit www.cityFtMyers.com/Golf.