Charting a new course: Island Country Club readies renovated golf links

Lance Shearer

The entire back nine at the Island Country Club is one huge sand trap – for now.

Hotels and shopping centers are not the only major facilities on Marco Island in the midst of major makeovers. Along with the JW Marriott, the Hilton, and Island Plaza shopping center, Marco’s signature golf course is undertaking a massive rebuild of their championship layout.

Workers lay sod on the back nine. The Island Country Club's golf course has been shut for months as the course gets a $6-million makeover.

The course has been closed since the beginning of April, and will remain closed until Dec. 1, when renovations are complete and the grass has had time to grow in. The course turned 50 last year, and the membership is spending freely to give it a facelift. By the time the crews who are swarming over the turf finish their work, the price tag will be right at $6 million, said Island Country Club general manager Peter Cizdziel. That makes him, you could say, the six-million-dollar man, although he laughed at the suggestion.

“The members made this decision before I came on board” in June of last year, he said, and opted to go big, bringing the course up to modern standards for a first-rate track.

“Basically, we’re tearing up the course and starting over. Every hole will be completely redesigned,” he said. The course will remain a par-72 championship layout, and pars on individual holes will remain unchanged, but the lengths of some holes will change, and the club won’t be ready to print new scorecards until they can take physical measurements once the earth-moving is done.

One major thrust of the work is adding varying elevations to the course, as opposed to the flatter look that was acceptable back in 1966. Along with mounding, numerous sand traps are being added to make the course more challenging, and new “lakes” or water hazards are being created.

The royal poinciana tree behind general manager Peter Cizdziel was planted to honor Gene Sarazen. The Island Country Club's golf course has been shut for months as the course gets a $6-million makeover.

In Florida real estate parlance, any body of water that does not evaporate and dry up on a hot summer afternoon is a lake, but there are some sizable spans of water that used to be land.

“We’ve added two and a half acres of lakes, and increased the size of the greens by 50 percent, and also added 50 percent more bunkers” on the contoured fairways, said Cizdziel.

Another very noticeable change is at the edges of the lakes, where wooden bulkheads are being replaced with ornamental rock walls made of massive chunks of limestone. Watching a worker delicately maneuver the heavy stones into place next to number 18 green and the clubhouse, Cizdziel spoke glowingly of the level of professionalism displayed by the contractors.

“It’s like a ballet,” he said. “Everybody knows exactly what they need to do, with five or six crews all working at the same time. They’re using GPS technology, ensuring that all the elevations are exactly to spec.”

The Island Country Club's golf course has been shut for months as the course gets a $6-million makeover.

The work is two thirds complete, said Cizdziel, with the front nine mostly completed and sodded, and growing in, and the back nine getting its turn with earth movers drawing down the enormous piles of various sands and soils for greens, fairways and bunkers. While one crew laid sod on number 17, another crew installed the underground drainage lines under a sand trap that, although invisible when construction is complete, will ensure that rainwater doesn’t create a pool in the trap.

The rainy season impacts construction, but once the grass sod and sprigs are down, will help irrigate the turf, along with several waterings a day with water drawn from the course’s lakes. One feature of the former course that will remain is the many mature trees that have grown up over the last half century and help give the ICC layout its distinctive look.

“It was very important to our members that we retained these beautiful old trees,” said Tony D’Agata, chairman of the greens committee, who has been the point man for the club’s members on the renovation. “We’ve maintained much of that unique island golf course, but improving it to modern standards.”

Rock walls replace wooden bulkheads along the lake in front of the clubhouse. The Island Country Club's golf course has been shut for months as the course gets a $6-million makeover.

The club’s other facilities, including the tennis courts, health spa, dining room, bar and grill, and pro shop, have remained open during the renovation. The pro shop has held sales, and the dining room is offering a series of specialty dinners, including a lobster fest and Italian night. Next up is “Thanksgiving in August,” a traditional turkey-day meal slated for August 25.

While the course has been closed, members have enjoyed reciprocal privileges many area country clubs, said Cizdziel. While these generally end on November 1, ICC has made special arrangements to ensure their members access to golf.

The club is at capacity for tennis social members, and has just half a dozen slots available for equity golf members, said membership and marketing director Heather Hall. She and Cizdziel projected the club will be full by the reopening tournament on Dec. 1.

Increased mouning and hazards will be part of the new golf experience, as in this sand trap. The Island Country Club's golf course has been shut for months as the course gets a $6-million makeover.

“We’re taking an old Florida course, and creating what will be one of the premier courses in Southwest Florida,” said Cizdziel. “It will be more visually appealing, more challenging, and in better playing condition. In four weeks, this will look like a golf course.”