Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Last marks are left on The Golf Club

By Pete Skiba
Originally posted on August 01, 2006

Like cutting their name into a tree when they were young, golfers wanted to leave a memory of themselves along The Golf Club course during its final day of operation Monday.

Divots, normally replaced after a club tore through grass, were left in place. A golf ball was buried near a palm. A golf glove was left beneath shrubs.

And with those new artifacts and memories gathered over almost 35 years of play, the 175-acre Cape Coral course closed for the final time at 6:08 p.m.

After tapping in the final putt at The Golf Club in Cape Coral, Bo Shipley, of Fort Myers, high-fives Virgil Judah, 63, of Fort Myers, as John Van Voorhis, 52, of Fort Myers, far left, watches at the end of their round on hole #9 in Cape Coral. They were in the final group to play at the club before it closed.
More than 100 players played their final 18 holes at The Golf Club on Monday. Afterward, there was a party for staff and members. Today, only wildlife will enjoy the 18 holes. No flags will be on the greens. No more great rounds or shots will go into the books.

The course, opened in 1961, is a victim of economic reality and too few members, said its managing partner, Scott Siler, at the going-away party. A debt of about $3 million had been accumulated over the past five years since Siler and his partners purchased the facility.

“There are about 200 of our members, spouses and children here,” Siler said. “There just weren’t enough to make it profitable.”

On this final day, many golfers didn’t keep score. They shared memories, laughed and some cried.

“Keeping score got a little fuzzy toward the end,” said Fort Myers’ Brad Shipley at the after party. “It was just about playing the last round.”

Shipley, 25, with his father Bo Shipley, 43; Larry Rose, 54; Wally Bixby, 62; John Van Voorhis, 52; and Virgil Judah, 63, made up the group that played the last round before the course closed.

The playful nature of the last round came out as Van Voorhis tried to sink a putt. As he hit the ball, four other balls hit the green, tossed by the golfers.

Van Voorhis missed.

There were high fives all around for Bo Shipley as he gently nudged the last ball into the cup and the group headed to the clubhouse party.

Everyone spoken to during the day and at the party described the day in words associated with a wake. Sad. A shame. Too bad. It was a good course. It looked good. It was well-maintained.

“There are a lot of sad folks around here today,” said Cape Coral resident and club member John Birch, 56. “I live on Country Club Boulevard. It might as well be dandelion drive now.”

The worst part of closing seemed to be the effect it would have on the young.

The Golf Club was a major part of the development of the Southwest Florida Junior Golf program. Through the years, young golfers were there on a daily basis using the practice putting and chipping areas.

“We would go and play 18 holes and theses kids would still be practicing when we got back,” said Fort Myers resident and club member Jim Reid, 46. “I’m a Scotsman. It is in my heritage to play. These kids are just for the love of the game. It’ll hurt their program to close the course.”

More than six younger golfers chipped and putted on the practice areas and played a couple of holes before the course closed at 6:08 p.m.

“I used to come here five, six times a week,” said Chance Marinell, 14. “It was convenient, it is a good course. I’ll miss it, but I’ll still play no matter where I have to go.”

Hitting drives, putting and then taking the flags from the holes after golfers finished their play, course employee Clarence Rimmy, 71, with a “Caddyshack” smile said he didn’t bother to putt the last hole.

“I hit it wide and left that putt to the members,” Rimmy said.