PLAYING ‘THE FORT’
Behind the walls of ‘The Fort’
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.