Bay Colony Golf Club reveals a golf course restoration of historic proportion.
Bay Colony Golf Club this season celebrates the grand reopening of the par 72 18-hole championship course after a monumental master restoration of the greens, tees, fairways, bunkers, bulkheads and infrastructure.
Arguably the most comprehensive golf course restoration ever to be completed in just over six months with a $7.7 million dollar budget, the Bay Colony Golf Course was completed this past November within budget, without any assessment to members, and with a grand reopening delivered in time for the launch of golf season in Naples.
The extraordinary achievement is earning word of mouth buzz all around town this season, particularly because the Bay Colony Golf Course is in such spectacular condition. Why is the Bay Colony Golf Club course restoration significant? After all, with so many courses in Naples, it is commonplace to hear of a club closing for renovation of the greens, tee boxes or fairways.
The greatest significance about the Bay Colony Golf Course restoration is, rather than a “renovation” in piecemeal fashion, this was a restoration of the Bay Colony Golf Course in its entirety. Nothing of this scope and magnitude has ever been completed before in the short amount of time that it was accomplished within the budget that was allocated and achieved. Not ever. Not anywhere. Not in the history of golf, to the best knowledge of any professional involved in the project.
“Collectively, there was nearly 1000 years’ worth of experience between those associated with this project and nobody can recall ever seeing anything like this ever being done before anywhere,” reports Josh Levitre, Bay Colony Golf Club Superintendent. The Bay Colony Golf Course project was one of massive proportion requiring Herculean efforts by an entire team of staff members, crew, contractors and club members alike.
A project of this magnitude makes one pay attention. The Bay Colony Golf Course was originally designed by Robert von Hagge in 1996 and built by WCI. Robert von Hagge has designed 250 courses around the world and is known for his gently rolling fairways, moguls and complex greens. The Bay Colony Golf Course borders the Cocohatchee Strand Nature Preserve and, in the words of von Hagge, “Water and nature preserves add dramatic beauty to many of the Bay Colony Golf Club holes. The course is a timeless design that looks as though nature itself routed it through the elegant surroundings.”
At this time last year, the question could be asked, “Why do anything?” It had all the appearances of a championship quality golf course, club member satisfaction was at an all-time high and the demand for memberships was exceeding the supply.
The answer is that the life of an average golf course in Florida is about 19 to 20 years. Virtually all of the private courses in Naples were constructed at a similar point in time, and the longevity of a course is imminent. Greens shrink over time. Bunkers lose their original shape. Lake banks erode. Cart paths and bulkheads deteriorate. Invasive turf creep into fairways. Technology advances and courses become antiquated.
All private clubs are being faced with the same decisions about updating, renovating or restoring their respective courses. Clubs lacking a long range strategic plan or funding may choose a more reactive approach and manage course improvements piece by piece. The disadvantage to that approach is that when a club renovates the greens and not the fairways, greenside bunkers or bulkheads, the end result is an amalgamation of all these different pieces that don’t match and capital improvements are required through perpetuity.
The Bay Colony Golf Course restoration included recapturing the original design and size of the greens to increase pin placement and target areas; removing multiple cart paths to enhance landing area and aesthetic beauty; enlarging tee boxes for increased flexibility with tee positions; upgrading the quality of the turf to ensure championship-quality turf conditions for decades; restoring all bunkers and replacing sand for improved consistency, drainage and playability. The club also replaced two and a half linear miles of trees and tropical plants along the perimeter at the same time.
To date, only Bay Colony Golf Club has undertaken such an aggressive restoration of the entire course at one time and in under seven months. The visionary long-term strategic plan, combined with value engineering, relentless commitment and tenacity of spirit has resulted in an extraordinary achievement. A one of a kind masterpiece.
The golf course restoration project was the brainchild of an enlightened Board of Governors who envisioned a long-term strategy to stay ahead of the curve and take a proactive approach before any element of the infrastructure failed or the member experience was compromised.
By ensuring an eminently premiere golfing experience for the next thirty years, Bay Colony Golf Club has set the bar higher and sealed the club’s stature as one of the most elite private golf courses in Southwest Florida.
The even larger story is the long range planning process which spanned six years and involved an exceptionally committed collection of members and management; multiple greens and grounds committees, golf committees, governing boards, club presidents; multiple architectural firms; a handful of exceptional contractors; and a course maintenance crew of 14 ladies and gentlemen who rose to the occasion.
Initially, the club brought in a series of construction consultants. All came to the same conclusion – that the infrastructure was antiquated, the game of golf had changed in the last 25 years, lake banks were deteriorating and bulkheads and greens sub-surface drainage had to be replaced. For the strategic planning team, there was no question that the way to do this right was to restore the course in its entirety all at once.
“When we started this, we had letters from everyone in the profession telling us how risky it was for our club to do this scope of work in this short amount of time: 120 acres and five months of construction is 24 acres worth of construction every month. It is mind boggling,” reports Levitre.
“Then, on top of this, we added the perimeter project; removing two and a half miles of trees and plants along the perimeter, building a 10 foot berm, erecting a fence, landscaping and planting again. Throwing that scope of work on top of what was already viewed as an impossible timeline, it seemed like it couldn’t be done. That’s the adversity we knew we were up against.”
The club started bid negotiations with five preeminent golf course construction companies, and after pitting the final two contractors against one another, secured what all believe was the best contractor, Ryangolf. Waldrup Engineering, JTM, and O’Donnell Landscaping were also selected.
After vetting many course architectural design firms, the club chose architect Mike Smelek of Smelek Design due to his familiarity with the property and the course. Smelek was partner in the original course architectural design firm of von Hagge, Smelek and Baril. He worked with Robert von Hagge for 30 years and was involved in the original Bay Colony Golf Course construction.
“I was with the architect every minute, every hour, every day he was here, and he always considered ‘what would Bob do?” (Robert Von Hagge), keeping in mind the original designer’s intent,” reports Levitre. “Smelek is professional to a fault, highly intelligent, brings his own skills and artistry, has a very good understanding of what it takes to maintain a golf course, and he’s a great golfer, so he understands what it means to play a great golf course.”
A decision had to be made whether to replant the same grass or select a different turf. A tremendous amount of due diligence was conducted, including multiple consultations with golf clubs to ensure the right decision was made for Bay Colony Golf Club. The turf is, after all, at the heart of any golf course construction. Ultimately, the decision was made to switch to Tif Sport everywhere with the exception of greens, for which Tif Eagle was selected. Both are sub-species of Bermuda grass.
Selecting the turf and “watching the grass grow” was its own challenge. There are only a limited number of turf farms that grow Tif Sport; one in Texas, one in central Florida and Pikes Creek Turf in Georgia, which was ultimately selected to grow the Bay Colony Golf Course turf. Pikes Creek Turf, it was determined, had the better product and best program, but the challenge was that they only had 40 acres of Tif Sport and the Bay Colony Golf Course required 94 acres.
The Bay Colony Golf Course restoration inspired the creation of an entirely new field at Pikes Creek Turf, and Tif Sport was planted and grown just for Bay Colony Golf Club. Levitre visited the farm regularly during the growing process for multiple reasons, and, after initial challenges, it worked out perfectly. “Almost too perfectly,” said Levitre. “The last turf laid on property was the last turf they had grown.”
Last summer, Naples experienced perfect weather up until the record rainfall of September and October 2014. Tragically, just after construction was completed and signed off on, the newly constructed course, in a very vulnerable state, experienced massive storm damage. According to Levitre “It wasn’t as much the quantity of rain as it was the intensity of rain – four inches in a period of only two to three hours repeatedly over days caused massive damage.”
The Bay Colony Golf Club maintenance crew and general contractor virtually had to rebuild holes #14 and #15 three times in those two months. Finally, the most difficult part of any golf course construction is the maturation process. Grass needs sunlight to grow, and there was a stretch during those rainy months when the course only saw sunshine 30 of 75 days.
There were challenges every step of the way. Over five years of pre-planning, the scope of work had increased, yet the original budget had to be honored. Staffing, construction and permitting detours all posed challenges that had to be adapted to as well.
In the midst of the project, Bay Colony Golf Club lost the assistant course superintendent. Finding time to hire and train a qualified professional for this key position was daunting, considering the intensity of the schedule. Key players on the maintenance crew, including the horticultural manager Matt Prato and equipment manager Jeff Hill, volunteered to step up and meet the challenge. Each learned a whole new set of skills on the job while, at the same time, meeting the demands of their existing roles.
Despite all of these challenges, the team prevailed and an extraordinary achievement in golf course restoration is recorded in the annals of history.
“One of the biggest opportunities in course construction is to be involved in all of the decisions, stay involved and remain committed to the project every step of the way, from the ground up, so you can ensure that you build the course correctly. In doing so, it will be easier to maintain and will last longer. That’s what we did,” said Levitre. “In my opinion, this course is now tough to compete with. It has every opportunity to last 25 to 30 years.”
Bay Colony Golf Club is a private Club within the gated Estates at Bay Colony, located within Pelican Marsh. The club is operated by a seasoned management team with hospitality veteran Jerry Thirion at the helm. Members and their guests enjoy “no tee time” access to the championship golf course year round, superlative fine dining and an exquisite social lifestyle in a spectacular private setting.
Inquiries and Membership Information: Lisa Wilson Spiller 239.449.4564.
Bay Colony Golf Club, 239.592.9515, 9740 Bent Grass Bend, Naples, FL 34108 www.baycolonygolfclub.com.