Treviso Bay is 'just a big field right now'

Editor's note: This is the first story in a monthly series on a behind-the-scenes look at the construction of the TPC at Treviso Bay in East Naples.

Four white-tailed deer danced and pranced on what will eventually be the first hole of the TPC at Treviso Bay. This is the first foursome at the prestigious PGA-owned course.

But it won't be until late 2007 before anyone can play golf.

"This is it," said Chris Gray, the project manager for VK Development, as he drove down a dirt road in the middle of the former Lely citrus grove. "It's just a big field right now. It doesn't look like much but it will come together pretty quick."

For now, the land is a duffer's nightmare. Heavy brush and abandoned cars fill the landscape. The exotic red pepper trees that had engulfed the property have been removed. But it still looks like somewhere a wayward John Daly drive might end up.

"The guys on the PGA Tour don't worry about hitting fairways anymore," Gray joked.

Currently, there are no bunkers or lakes. But don't breathe easy. The hazards are coming.

The land has yet to be squeezed into tight fairways, undulating greens and picturesque views. Lakes will eventually flank the 18th and 9th holes, which will both lead to a glorious clubhouse. This is similar to the layout to the original TPC (Tournament Players Club) in Ponte Vedra Beach where the PGA Tour is playing this week.

Along U.S. 41 south of Rattlesnake Hammock Road in East Naples, the much-anticipated development finally broke ground in late January. Permit approval from the Army Corps of Engineers caused a longer-than-normal delay. VK Development, which is in a partnership with the PGA Tour, had hoped to break ground last September. It has been two years since the Tour had announced the project.

"The schedule is being dictated by the development," said Tim Hawes, the vice president of sales, marketing and development with the PGA Tour. "These projects don't happen overnight."

Gray, who was hired away from the PGA Tour by VK Development and has worked on 15 of the 27 TPC courses, said this "goes with the territory. We built in some extra time for things like this. So the project is still on schedule."

On U.S. 41, the Treviso Bay billboard shadows the property. Big boulders outline what will eventually be the front entrance. Backhoes dig out lakes. A pile of rubble burns brightly. The intense red flames are indicative of the impact this project will have on the East Naples area.

The visible construction that's occurring at the present time will result in most of the 1,200 dwellings. Land prices surrounding the development have skyrocketed with the start of the project. An owner of a half-acre parcel across the street is selling his land for $1.3 million.

However, the championship golf course, designed by world-renowned architect Arthur Hills with PGA Tour pro Hal Sutton serving as a player consultant, faces a minor roadblock.

Until a roadway is cleared through the state-owned Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve, the first divots made by bulldozers or golf clubs will have to wait. The development has been granted an easement through the reserve, which 150 birds and animals call home.

Construction crews could access the golf course via Southwest Boulevard but it would disturb the surrounding Trial Acres neighborhood. The new thoroughfare will be completed in the coming weeks.

Gray leans over his dusty, green Land Rover and expands the rolled-up drawings. Hills and Sutton have already collaborated on the layout of the course. They used aerial photos to create the potential masterpiece.

Gray explains that the 1,050-acre project is actually four parcels of land. One parcel, called B, won't be developed for several years.

"People don't realize how big this development is," he said.

The 7,200-yard course will occupy the south end of the project. It stretches almost to State Road 951. The golf course will be separated from most of the housing development by the wetlands. Only 40 estate sites will be for sale on the golf course.

"It's going to be pretty core golf," Gray said.

As Gray said, it doesn't look like much. He cites the TPC at Summerlin in Las Vegas as an example of starting from scratch.

"If you think this looks barren you should have seen the TPC at Summerlin," Gray said. "You're talking about a desert floor there in Las Vegas. So they have a lot to work with here."

For the time being, the wildlife, the deer, the birds, the snakes, the hogs and the bears (yes, Gray has seen Florida black bears) still have free reign of the TPC at Treviso Bay.

But once constructions starts in the coming weeks, the animals will have to find a new place to play.

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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