By Mike May

Fort Myers, Florida is the original home of the ‘rich-and-famous,’ well before that term became affiliated with places like the Hamptons, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills.  Yes, back in the day, Fort Myers was the winter getaway for the men and their families whose last names were Ford, Edison, and Firestone, as in Henry, Thomas, and Harvey, respectively.

As you would expect, there’s also a certain amount of star power affiliated with the Fort Myers Country Club (3591 MacGregor Blvd., Fort Myers, Florida), as it was designed by one of golf’s most famous architects, Donald Ross, who was hired at the urging of Edison.  Construction of this golf course began in 1916 and it opened for play in November 1917.  James B. McGovern, one of Ross’ associates, oversaw course construction.  It’s worth noting that while Edison was influential in getting Ross hired to design the golf course, he was not an avid golfer, but he and Ford did play in the 1920s.  For the most part, Edison felt that golf had “too much walking.”  Edison’s wife, Mina, also played golf on occasion.

The historical map showing the original Donald Ross layout of the Ft. Myers Country Club The original entrance and clubhouse of the Ft. Myers Yacht & Country Club

Other prominent people who have played this course include former major championship golfers Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Jock Hutchison, Horton Smith, ‘Babe’ Zaharias, and Arnold Palmer.

In 2014, the Fort Myers Country Club – nicknamed “The Fort” – was given a major facelift by accomplished golf course architect Steve Smyers, who treated this project as if Ross worked alongside him.

Smyers successfully replicated what Ross had designed back in 1917.  He also made a few course changes to reflect the expectations of today’s golfers.  In the end, Smyers pulled off an amazing duplication.  Ross would have been pleased with the efforts of Smyers and his team.  The most significant changes were the addition of six water hazards that are now filter marshes disguised as lakes.

Today, this 18-hole, par-70 golf course has six sets of tees that range in length from 4,300 yards from the forward tees to 6,600 yards from the back tees.

Today, this 18-hole, par-70 golf course has six sets of tees that range in length from 4,300 yards from the forward tees to 6,600 yards from the back tees.

As you would expect of a golf course that has been the site of so many ‘star sightings’ over the last 100 years, the Fort Myers CC is one of the 53 golf courses on the Florida Historic Golf Trail.

As a tribute to golf’s roots, walking is permitted at the Fort Myers CC.  The course also strongly supports the growth of junior golf in the area.

“Here, we encourage walking 365 days a year and our prices are affordable throughout the year,” said Rich Lamb, head golf professional at the Fort Myers CC.  “We also host many high school golf matches each year and we have lots of kids’ activities throughout the year.”

Regardless of the time of year, the Fort Myers CC is forever in tip-top shape, thanks to the efforts of superintendent Aaron Mills and his crew.  While the sun shines throughout the year, the weather in Fort Myers remains a daily mystery as southwestern Florida deals with high temperatures, intense humidity, powerful thundershowers, and intense hurricanes, which can be crippling.

“At times, Mother Nature is our friend and sometimes our foe,” admitted Mills.  “For instance, the rainfall is not always consistent.  In May 2018, we had more than 13 inches of rain and in May 2019, we had less than three inches.  As for hurricanes, they take months to recover from and sometimes years.”

Mills says he and his team must be strategic with their time on the course, which hosts more than 50,000 rounds of golf a year.

“Our work on the golf course starts at 5:00 am, when the golfers are still asleep,” added Mills.  “Once the sun rises, my crew works around the golfers on the course.”

After completing play at the Fort Myers CC, stop for a snack at The Edison Restaurant where three of the favorite menu items are the Edison House Burger, The Bright Idea Burger, and the   1 (Very Big) Meatball and Spaghetti for 2. 

After dining, enjoy a ‘rich-and-famous’ experience by taking a tour of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates:  20 acres of historic buildings and gardens.  It’s less than a mile’s drive from the golf course.  The most popular destinations at the Winter Estates are the Edison Botanic Research Lab and the Edison Ford Museum.  Decades ago, the Edisons, Fords, and Firestones were neighbors.  Did Mrs. Edison ever have to borrow a cup of sugar from Mrs. Ford or Mrs. Firestone?

To experience “The Fort,” call the pro shop – 239-321-7488 – to secure a tee time.  A descendant of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, or Harvey Firestone might answer the phone.

#   #   #