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Joe Durant birdied the last two holes to beat Steve Stricker and win the Chubb Classic at TwinEagles Club on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018 in Naples, Fla. Greg Hardwig/Naples Daily News

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It took an old friend to return the Chubb Classic to one of its old courses.

Back in late August, Kevin Diaz had just been named the tournament director of the PGA Tour Champions tournament as well as the LPGA's CME Group Tour Championship that Octagon Sports manages. 

Related: Kevin Diaz named new CME/Chubb tournament director

John Calabria, who moved to Naples in 1993 and was the first head professional at Naples National Golf Club, read about Diaz's hiring in the newspaper.

The next day, coincidentally, Ron Philo, a golf instructor and Diaz's father-in-law (he's married to LPGA Tour golfer Laura Diaz), called Calabria and mentioned that Diaz was looking for a new course for the Chubb Classic, which had been played 12 of the past 17 years at TwinEagles.

Calabria, who has lived out at Lely Resort since he first came to town, thought Lely's The Classics Country Club, the private one of the resort's three courses, may be a fit, and knew director of golf Charles Lostracco. So Calabria called him, then talked to Diaz.

The three met for lunch the next day, and that led to an agreement announced two months later for the Chubb Classic to return to Lely Resort next week for the first time in 23 years.

"I ate my food, did my intro, kept my mouth shut, they talked, went out and took a look at the golf course, and there you go," said Calabria, 70, who's now at Grey Oaks Country Club. "It was a great fit. ... We like the idea of bringing professional golf to East Naples, which is a great place. A lot of folks in town don't even know East Naples."

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Calabria came as a spectator to the then-Greater Naples Intellinet Challenge in 1996 when Al Geiberger, golf's "Mr. 59", won by a stroke over Isao Aoki and two over Simon Hobday.

Twenty-three years later, much has changed in Naples — obviously.

That includes Lely Resort, which was bought by Stock Development in the early 2000s. (The name comes from the Van der Lely family of the Netherlands who started the development in the 1980s). Construction has blossomed in and around the resort that goes from Collier Boulevard all the way across to Tamiami Trail East, and features the sculptures, the "Freedom Horses" at its entrances.

Lely becomes the second course to have Naples' PGA Tour Champions event, which is in its 32nd year, return after being held there once before. Coincidentally, TwinEagles, which it just left, is the other.

More: New Lely horse sculptures at Collier Boulevard entry

"I know it was a little bit of a challenge," Jack Wert, Collier's tourism director, said during a panel discussion at Media Day on Tuesday, referring to getting the Chubb Classic to Lely. "We hope that it's just the start of many years to come in this part of Florida's Paradise Coast."

"Being part of the community, we want to see the continuation of what's become an annual event here — in the 32nd year here in Naples — and we didn't want to see that go away," Leverant said.

Not many members are still around from 1996. So when Diaz hosted a question-and-answer session, helped set up by member liaison Chip Powell, a few weeks ago, Diaz wasn't sure what to expect.

"There were more than 250 members," Diaz said. "It was incredibly positive. ... This is a very active club. It's been really great to meet them."

Powell is from Warwick Hills Country Club in Grand Blanc, Michigan, where the Ally Challenge, a PGA Tour Champions event, was played for the first time last year, and where the PGA Tour's Buick Open was played from 1958 to 2009.

"Chip's been tremendously helpful," Diaz said.

And Diaz was correct describing the Lely membership as active. Regional manager David Leverant said, of the club's 585 golf memberships, a total of 1,100 people are playing golf, and the resort averages over 600 rounds per day for the five months of season. There are 60 different men's golf groups, and its 18-hole women's association has nearly 200 members, with another 150 in the 9-hole group.

"We are truly a golf mecca here at Lely," said Leverant, who's been at the resort for six years and is over three other clubs in American Golf Corporation. "We are very excited as a membership (to have the tournament)."

The Classics was designed by Gary Player. The two resort courses — the Flamingo Island and the Mustang — were designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Lee Trevino, respectively.

Two years ago, The Classics had some renovation and a total regrassing — Bimini on tees and roughs, Celebration fairways, and Champion greens. And then Hurricane Irma came through in September 2017. Leverant said $6.4 million of damage was done to the Lely courses.

"To come back and to get the course in championship-caliber condition to host the Chubb, it's a real privilege to have these guys here," Leverant said. 

"I think the golf course is going to show really well on TV," Calabria said of The Classics.

Calabria even helped get an endorsement for the course.

Tour player Rocco Mediate and Calabria are friends, and Mediate called Calabria wondering if he could take a look at the course. So just over a week ago, Mediate came out to play.

"Rocco loved the golf course, raved about it," Calabria said. "He even spoke with Lee Janzen (Mediate's college teammate and a two-time U.S. Open winner) on the phone while we were playing and told him how good it was.

"That was really something. To have him give his stamp of approval to the golf course was a big deal."

So was Calabria in helping get the tournament to Lely.

Chubb Classic

When: Wednesday-Sunday, Feb. 17

Where: The Classics Country Club at Lely Resort

Info: chubbclassic.com

SCHEDULE

Monday

Gates closed to general public

Tuesday

Gates closed to general public

Wednesday

7:45 a.m. — Chubb Classic Pro-Am shotgun

8 a.m.-5 p.m. — Admission gates open

9 a.m.-4 p.m. — Subway Family Putt For Dough

1 p.m. — Chubb Classic Pro-Am shotgun

Thursday

7:45 a.m. — Chubb Classic Pro-Am shotgun

8 a.m.-5 p.m. — Admission gates open

9 a.m.-4 p.m. — Subway Family Putt For Dough

1 p.m. — Chubb Classic Pro-Am shotgun

Friday

9 a.m.-5 p.m. — Admission gates open

9 a.m.-4 p.m. — Subway Family Putt For Dough

9:30 a.m. (approximately) — Chubb Classic first round tee times

Noon-2 p.m. — Golf Channel telecast

2 p.m.-5 p.m. — Taste of SW Florida

Saturday

Waste Management Go Green Day

9 a.m.-5 p.m. — Admission gates open

9 a.m.-4 p.m. — Subway Family Putt For Dough

10 a.m. (approximately) — Chubb Classic first round tee times

2 p.m.-5 p.m. — Taste of SW Florida

3 p.m.-5:30 p.m. — Golf Channel telecast

Sunday

8 a.m. (approximately) — Chubb Classic final round

8 a.m.-5 p.m. — Admission gates open

9 a.m.-4 p.m. — Subway Family Putt For Dough

3 p.m.-5 p.m. — Golf Channel telecast

PARKING

General Admission and Volunteers

From North: Follow Tamiami Trail/U.S. 41 South. Turn left to continue on Tamiami Trail/U.S. 41 South for 3.5 miles. Turn left on Rattlesnake Hammock and follow for three miles. Turn left on Collier Boulevard. Turn right on The Lords Way Street. Turn right onto Celebration Boulevard.

From South: Take I-75 South to Exit 101 for County Road 951/FL-84 toward Naples/Marco Island. Keep right at the fork and merge onto County Road 951/Collier Boulevard. Continue south on Collier Boulevard for four miles. Turn left onto The Lords Way Street. Turn right onto Celebration Boulevard.

Legends Lot

From North: Follow Tamiami Trail/U.S. 41 South. Turn left to continue on Tamiami Trail/U.S. 41 South for 3.5 miles. Turn left on Rattlesnake Hammock and follow for three miles. Turn right onto Grand Lely Drive and follow for two miles. Turn right onto Celeste Drive. Turn left into Legends Lot.

From South: Take Exit 101 for County Road 951/FL-84 toward Naples/Marco Island. Keep right at the fork and merge onto County Road 951/Collier Boulevard. Continue south on Collier Boulevard for five miles. Turn right onto Grand Lely Drive. Turn left on Celeste Drive. Turn left into Legends Lot.

TICKETS

Bubly Family Four-Pack,  Wednesday-Sunday, $70 for one of those days (includes four Pepsi products, four hamburgers or hot dogs)

General Admission, $15 for one day or $30 for week

Parking, $5 per day or $20 for week

Legends Lounge, one day, $150 (includes seating at 18th green skybox, parking in Legends Lot, access to full buffet, bar)

Taste of Southwest Florida, Friday and Saturday, $40 per day

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