PLAY­ING ‘THE FORT’

Be­hind the walls of ‘The Fort’

Gulf & Main - - Contents - BY RICK WE­BER

While play­ing Fort My­ers Coun­try Club’s sis­ter course, East­wood, I asked two veteran play­ers of both cour­ses to give me an idea of what to ex­pect at “The Fort” after its $5.8 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion project. “I felt like some­body had dropped me on the moon,” one of them said.

He wasn’t kid­ding. I went out two days later and hardly rec­og­nized the course. Granted, some of that was due to brain fade caused by a 15-year sep­a­ra­tion be­tween rounds. But make no mis­take: The changes are dra­matic.

De­signer Steve Smy­ers said he wanted to ap­proach the project as if the orig­i­nal ar­chi­tect—the famed Don­ald Ross, whose de­signs in­clude Pine­hurst No. 2, Oak­land Hills, Oak Hill, Semi­nole and Inverness― came back to life and was cre­at­ing a course on the same site to­day. Smy­ers wanted to ac­com­mo­date the ex­pec­ta­tions of the modern golfer, wield­ing to­day’s tech­nol­ogy-fu­eled equip­ment, while also re­main­ing true to Ross’s orig­i­nal vi­sion in 1916.

The 100-acre facelift on the city-owned course, which started April 21, 2014, and was com­pleted Oct. 30 of that year, in­cluded: in­stalling a drainage sys­tem for the first time, ac­count­ing for $2.5 mil­lion of the price tag; adding six new wa­ter haz­ards in the form of fil­ter marshes and lakes, and us­ing 96,000 yards of that dirt to craft el­e­vated bunkers and greens,

cre­at­ing as much as 8 feet in el­e­va­tion on a track that was “the flat­test pan­cake ever,” ac­cord­ing to di­rec­tor of golf Rich Lamb; switch­ing the turf to TifEa­gle greens and Cel­e­bra­tion fairways; chang­ing No. 12 from an easy par-4 to a treach­er­ous par-3 sur­rounded by wa­ter; length­en­ing most of the holes, pri­mar­ily Nos. 2 and 16; turn­ing No. 5 from a hole that went up against U.S. Route 41 into a dog­leg right that goes through woods formerly oc­cu­pied by tran­sients; dou­bling the size of the prac­tice putting green and re­mod­el­ing the bath­rooms and pro shop.

What would Ross think if he saw it to­day? “You know what? I think he would be ab­so­lutely en­thralled and im­pressed,” Lamb says. “Our men­tal­ity was that in 1916 when they started the course, there was no such thing as a fr ont-end loader or trac­tor or the things you have to­day. But cour­ses that have a lot of money, or cour­ses like Pine­hurst that al­ready have some el­e­va­tion, were able to cre­ate what Don­ald Ross re­ally wanted.

“Now, we have el­e­va­tions all over the place. Good play­ers just come in and go, ‘That was so much fun.’ It’s a chal­lenge. All the bunker­ing is dif­fer­ent. It has the Don­ald Ross look, with col­lec­tion ar­eas where if you miss the green, the ball can roll down the slopes 15, 20, 30 feet away from the green. Some of the things we see on TV at Pine­hurst we’ve tried to cre­ate with­out just com­pletely mak­ing it up­side down. And at the same time, we def­i­nitely had a bud­get we had to ad­here to,” Lamb ex­plains.

It’s not what Thomas Edi­son and Henr y Ford en­coun­tered when they prowled the fairways of The Fort in the 1920s.

It’s bet­ter. 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.

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