Pelican's Nest Golf Club
This is what we know today about architect Tom Fazio: No living designer has more credits on Golf
Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses and Golfweek’s collection of America’s Best; after he won Golf Digest’s poll for Best Modern Day Golf Course Architect three years in a row, the award was discontinued; and he was only the second architect to receive the highest honor given by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America—the Old Tom Morris Award.
But when Fazio was hired in 1985 to design Pelican’s Nest, he was only beginning to develop his aura and reputation after years working in the course-design business with his uncle, George Fazio. For that simple fact alone, Pelican’s Nest will always be inextricably linked to Fazio’s legacy.
The course was specifically designed by Fazio to serve the nearby Ritz-Carlton and Registry hotel guests from sister community Pelican Bay. It drew immediate rave reviews, landing in the No. 3 spot on Golf Digest’s Best Public Golf Courses in the U.S. in 1986—Fazio’s first appearance on the list—and became a desired destination for golf luminaries such as Sam Snead, Lee Trevino, Al “Mr. 59” Geiberger and Fred Couples.
Pelican’s Nest is certainly not as grandiose as Fazio’s Shadow Woods (which cost $60 million to create in the Las Vegas desert in 1989), but Fazio does only what his clients want, and he ended up creating 36 memorable holes—what are now the Hurricane and Gator courses—that stand the test of time.
“We realize how good we have it during reciprocal play,” says A.J. Szymanski, director of membership sales. “Our members come back and say, ‘I played so and so, and now I realize how special this place is.’ We’ve got two great golf courses.”
As Pelican’s Nest grew in popularity, the developer began purchasing the surrounding property. In 1989, the new community, named Pelican Landing, emerged. Fazio built the second 18 holes in 1994. The club went private in 1999.
Pelican Landing sits on 2,365 acres in Bonita Springs, bordered on the south by Spring Creek, which the state of Florida designated “Outstanding Florida Water,” and on the west by Estero Bay, an aquatic preserve leading to the Gulf of Mexico.
Carved from a forest of live oaks and scrub pines, it features 138 acres of lakes and wetland, 70-plus acres of fairways, 67 greenside bunkers, 156 identified bird species and various wildlife. In 2001, the courses were certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
During the past five years, superintendent Jason Zimmerman and his crew have cleared out some of the palmettos that gobbled up golf balls, providing additional landing areas. The Gator is the longer of the two courses (7,042 yards from the tips, and a par-73 because of five par-5s), but only one hole (par-3 17th) is a forced carry over water. The Hurricane is a bit more challenging, with water, marsh and bunkers coming into play on several holes.
“We have by far the two best finishing holes on each of our golf courses in all of Southwest Florida,” Syzmanski says. “At sunset, these four holes offer views that are just breathtaking.” Rick Weber has won the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism and two Associated Press Sports Editors awards (column writing and features), has written a book, Pink Lips and Fingertips, and contributed to three Chicken Soup for the Soul books.