Bonita Bay Club
the largest member-owned golf facility in Florida
Boasting outstanding facilities, beautiful surroundings, and facilities high-end amenities, Bonita Bay Club drives the competition
Outshining the competition and offering unmatched facilities, Bonita Bay Club has been providing an exemplary one-of-a-kind experience in Southwest Florida since 1985. Generations of members have enjoyed the club’s top-notch amenities and services – offering options that cater to an active, social, and leisurely lifestyle.
As the largest privately owned golf club in the state, golfers of all abilities can choose between 5 world-class 18-hole courses. Spanning two campuses, Bonita Bay is home to 2 clubhouses, with 6 restaurants offering a variety of dining options. The club also features a Sports Center with tennis, pickleball, and croquet courts, and a 60,000 square-foot Lifestyle Center offers a state-of-the-art fitness area, a luxury salon and spa, and 3 practice facilities. Bonita Bay Club truly has it all.
“We’re a big club. Right now, we have over $100 million in assets,” says Fred Fung, CEO, and General Manager. “We embarked a few years ago on an intensive golf master plan. Over the course of five years, we will have reopened five renovated golf courses, two golf performance centers, a new Naples clubhouse, new practice facilities, and the short game area, investing over $60 million.”
In the summer of 2019, the Bay Island course was the first to be renewed, an intense process that meant basically building a brand new golf course, as Hal Akins, Director of Golf Course Operations describes, “These are complete renovations. Basically, we took them back down to the dirt, put in irrigation, and completely reshaped them, everything from tee to green. None of these were lipstick, these were all from the ground-up renovations.”
The plan was in its second phase, the Marsh Course when COVID hit. Akins shares, “They started closing restaurants and schools and things of that nature, and that was when reality hit, but it was too late because that morning we had started the process of killing the turf. We were locked in, which at the time felt a little uneasy, but quite frankly, we’re very happy that we decided to do that. By the time we got to the end of summer, COVID was still going, but people had become somewhat accustomed to it, and we had a brand new golf course to celebrate.”
In October of 2022 the Cypress course, which is part of the Naples campus was opened, after an extensive 14-month project that included addressing drainage issues that the club had been enduring for years. “We used Fazio for that design, and they were great partners for us,” he notes.
He adds that the first two renovations were designed by international golf course architects Hills & Forrest. Along with the golf course renovations, EJ McDonnell, Director of Golf reports that a two-and-a-half acre short game practice area was also created, a project that was key to being awarded Best Renovation by the Golf Range Association of America.
The Bonita Bay Club’s Naples Campus is an area that Fung suggests is “pure golf.” He elaborates, “Everything revolves around that. There’s no pickleball, there’s no Fitness Center. This is a destination in and of itself. It is a separate campus, 1000 acres with no residential, which is very unusual in the state of Florida.”
With the Cypress course completed, and recently awarded 2022 Best Golf Course Renovation by Golf Aficionado, the master plan has the Sabal course slated to be renovated in 2023. “We looked at the entire campus which essentially includes only those two golf courses, the practice range which will also be redone, and the clubhouse, and we said what a great opportunity to make this into something that does not exist in Naples at this time.”
Noting that this is not Bonita Bay’s main clubhouse he says this new 12,000-square-foot facility will be built from scratch, repositioned with the majority of the outdoor dining overlooking the 18th holes of both the Sabal and Cypress courses. “It really is set up for everything that is golf-centric, going out and playing, dining, having a cocktail, tournaments, and the like. It’s going to be a great facility,” he relays. This project is expected to break ground in the summer of 2023.
With much of the golf master plan completed Bonita Bay Club credits partnerships with Glas Golf, who have been responsible for the completion of a large portion of the course construction work, equipment suppliers Toro, irrigation supply company Rainbird, irrigation installation company Nutt Construction, and Callaway Golf, for the successful implementation of the project so far.
As for other valued relationships McDonnell asserts, “We’re always on the forefront when it comes to renovations and forward-thinking, trying new things. We are a large facility, so we are able to take some risks. We have excellent partnerships with other vendors and a big network of other professionals that we work with as well. We have good guidance, we have good senior leadership staff, and we’ve always had really strong boards that support and look toward the future so that we’re not doing a bunch of deferred maintenance and capital projects. It’s all forward thinking.”
Restricting membership to 1,250 full-golf members, Fung admits that the club has seen an overwhelming demand. “Even pre-pandemic, we were sold out with a full waiting list. We now have a waiting list for the waiting list for the waiting list, as far as membership goes,” he quips.
“Golf is king at Bonita Bay Club. As I mentioned, we’re the only facility in all of Florida with 5- 18 hole golf courses. We know that’s the differentiating factor between us and everyone else. So, we felt it was important to take that and make it even stronger.”
Highlighting the renovations and supplemental amenities like short game practice areas he boasts, “From a membership standpoint, we are, and I believe continue to be, the undisputed value proposition of any club in southwest Florida.”
With so much demand for membership, Bonita Bay Club has designed a unique system to admit people within certain levels. Fung explains, “We have categories, and as you progress through the waiting lists you get progressively more access to golf until you get to the final level, where you have full and unlimited access to golf.”
You don’t have to be a proficient golfer to play on Bonita Bay’s courses, and beginners are welcome. Fung maintains that many who start off with minimal experience will find themselves advancing their skills. Many of these are retirees who he notes will have more time to play due to their own schedule and the amenable weather conditions.
The courses themselves are also set up for all levels, as McDonnell recounts, “What we have done here at the club, to be inclusive of the high handicapper, new golfer and also our scratch golfers, is when we redid the Bay Island golf course, we built Tee It Forward tees. When we did the Marsh course, we integrated par three tee boxes within all 18 holes of the regulation golf course, for a quicker round of golf for golfers of all abilities and ages. With the newly opened Cypress golf course, we have expanded our tee selection from five to seven. And that, of course, includes another shorter tee for golfers of all abilities.” For those who want to learn from the best, the club has instructional staff including 18 PGA pros who are available to teach and train everyone from beginner to professional status level golfers.
With significant investment into improvements to Bonita Bay Club completed or underway, Fung says the next project will be a major overhaul of the main clubhouse. “We are in a strategic planning phase right now to determine whether it’s a renovation and expansion or whether it’s a complete rebuild from scratch of the facility,” he conveys.
“That’s the big one, and everything that is involved in what the club of the future looks like has to be considered. So, getting everything else done, that’s the last big project over the next 10 years.” Bonita Bay Club also has plans to introduce employee housing in 2023, something that no other private club in southwest Florida offers to seasonal staff. The project will convert a 10,000-square-foot sales center into accommodations for 42 individuals.
Fung remarks, “It’s so new that the city doesn’t even have a zoning application category for employee housing. Our biggest challenge is that no one’s done it. So, we’re trying to make sure that we can get that done through the regulatory agencies.”
As Bonita Bay Club continues to evolve, holding its status as the largest member-owned golf facility in the state, Fung shares his personal motivation. “Whether I’m talking about holding the door open for someone as they come in or are departing the club or a long-term improvement strategy over the next 10 years to make this club better, making that incremental positive difference in people’s lives is what drives me every day.”
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AT A GLANCE
Bonita Bay Club
What: A 5 course member-owned golf facility with many services and amenities
Where: Southwest Florida
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