OPINION

Guest opinion: Questions still abound about future of Naples Beach Club golf course

Robert Patten Burns
Special to the Naples Daily News

Athens Group says proposed changes from the existing 18-hole Nicklaus championship golf course to a new 10-hole golf course are “based on recommendations from outside experts.”  Athens’ assertion must be rigorously challenged by Naples City Council to preserve in perpetuity the existing Naples Beach Hotel golf course.

Here are the key questions.  Who are these experts?  What parameters were set by Athens for using the existing 104.6-acre golf course?  When did Athens first consider a golf course on 70 acres?  Why did Athens allocate only 70 acres?  Why did Athens wait over a year to inform neighbors and residents of Naples about a 10-hole plan?  What is Athens’ planned use for the remaining 34.6 acres of the existing golf course?

One of the experts asked by Athens for golf course ideas is Sanford Golf Design, who partnered with Jack Nicklaus Design in 2016 to prepare plans and oversee renovation work of the current 18-hole championship golf course.  I spoke with John Sanford on April 2, 2021.

A sign that alleges a bait and switch by The Athens Group in their Naples Beach Hotel redevelopment project is placed in a yard on South Golf Drive in Naples on Friday, April 16, 2021.

Athens has been saying the existing 18-hole golf course is not a championship golf course.  I wanted to ask Mr. Sanford if he believes the Naples Beach Hotel golf course is a championship golf course.  He does.  Championship golf has taken place there over 69 times in recent years according to South Florida Section of the PGA. 

Mr. Sanford told me Athens asked him over a year ago to redesign the Naples Beach Hotel golf course to fit Athens shrunken plans.  Sanford said Athens kept moving the golf course boundary eastward until it ended up near the existing maintenance building, and a size of about 70 acres of the 104.6-acre existing golf course.  Sanford said 70 acres of land Athens chose for a golf course was too small for an 18-hole, regulation, championship golf course.  Sanford said on 70 acres, all holes would be par 3s and not qualify as a regulation golf course.  It is impossible to fit an 18-hole regulation golf course onto the 70 acres of land Athens made available.

Robert Patten Burns

Fortunately, in January 2019, Athens submitted a master site plan showing the existing 18-hole Sanford-Nicklaus championship golf course in Athens’ application for rezoning to redevelop the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club.  By doing so, the existing 18-hole golf course became an integral part of the planned development zoning code when it was approved in December 2019 by a previous city council.

By doing so, Athens must maintain all elements of the master site plan unless a current city council allows Athens to make a change.  Athens plans to shut down the golf course during construction which Athens now says will start in July 2021.

In February 2021, Athens released a sales brochure showing a 10-hole golf course on approximately 70 acres designed by a different golf course designer, Tom Fazio.  If Athens submits a revised site plan for anything less than the current 104.6-acres, Sanford-Nicklaus, championship golf course, the City Council should reject it because it would be a violation of the approved master site plan from a previous city council when preservation of the existing 18-hole golf course was promised by Athens Group through its legal representative at the April 17, 2019 city council meeting.

Robert Patten Burns is a Naples resident. He is an Iowa Architect/Urban Planner and Course Rater for Golfweek magazine, as well as a Rules Official, Iowa Section PGA.