When the Founder Members hired Louis Sibbett "Dick" Wilson (1904-1965) to design Cypress Lake's golf course in 1959, Wilson was at the height of his career....
THE LEGEND BEGINS
When the Founder Members hired Louis Sibbett "Dick" Wilson (1904-1965) to design Cypress Lake's golf course in 1959, Wilson was at the height of his career. Dick Wilson made his reputation in an age of golf course architecture where by aerial approaches dominated the design process. He had renovated Seminole in North Palm Beach, and recently completed course design for the Hole in the Wall Club at Naples and West Palm Beach Country Club. Wilson began his career as a golf course designer after World War II. He designed and renovated sixty courses over his career, of which nine are still ranked highly by leading golf publications. His best known work includes Bay Hill in Orlando, Cog Hill # 4 ("Dubsdread") in the Chicago area, the Blue Monster at Doral, Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania and Pine Tree in Delray Beach.
At that time, the Cypress Lake Country Club property was located on the outskirts of town. Three landowners donated 164 acres for use as a golf club. Much of the land was covered with trees. It was a promising setting for a championship golf course. At the time, Fort Myers, Florida, was known as the state's "gladiolus" capital for its fields of brilliant flowers and had a population of 14,000 people. Although golf courses were already plentiful on the state's east coast, Fort Myers had only one course, Fort Myers Country Club, which opened to the public in 1927. Thirty-two years later, this course was crowded, play was slow, and the time was right for bringing on another course.
On February 22, 1961, the first nine holes were ready for play. Two hundred and three members rejoiced. They sighed with relief when restrooms were built 1963 (cost: $785.) Wilson had developed a style that was very effective for Florida. Utilizing elevated, cannily bunkered greens; broad fairways; and lakes that provided visual interest, challenge and fill for the greens and other newly created hills, his courses were designed to complement and challenge the aerial game played by the modern golfer. Cypress Lake was, and remains, typical of Wilson's work: simple, graceful, and more challenging than it looks. In July 1962, all 18 holes were open for play. Initially the club accepted some daily fee-paying patrons, and it was not unusual to spot a five-some on the course. Greens fees were a dollar for nine holes and $2 for eighteen. Members paid an annual fee of $75, with an extra $75 for golfing privileges. Local farmers were generous in providing their tractors to mow the fairways. For his efforts, Wilson was paid $12,500.
In 1966, the year that the Cypress Lake course was finally declared fully playable, it was ranked among the 200 toughest courses in the United States by Golf Digest. Dues in that year were $300. The club was able to buy its first tractor. A new clubhouse was begun in 1967 to replace the temporary quarters that had served since the beginning. Budget for the project was $125,000. The club went completely private on May 15, 1972. In September of that year, Tom Case, Sr. was hired as the new Golf Professional.
FOUNDATION FOR TODAY'S CLUB - THE LEGEND CONTINUES
The year 1978 brought a young Ron Leatherwood to the club as Golf Professional. Ron is an anomaly among golf pros. "I would say that the head golf professional, probably throughout the country, has probably the same span as a running back in the NFL," Ron stated after recently celebrating 30th anniversary with Cypress Lake Country Club. "I think it's about two to three years. It's like they're in and out and get hurt and they're gone." Ron was named Southwest Florida Golf Professional of the Year by his peers in the Southwest Florida PGA in April 2005. Ron heads an excellent staff of golf professionals; he and his staff are trademarks of calm, friendly and efficient management and adherence to the game's highest standards.
The old clubhouse no longer met the needs of the expanded membership by 1988, and construction of a new clubhouse was approved in that year. Recent years have seen substantial work on the club property. In 2001, Ron Garl, the creative and prolific course architect who designed Fiddlesticks' Long Mean and the Crown Colony course locally, supervised the renovation of the course. Ron's mission is to design and build memorable courses that challenge players to excel. His goal as a golf course designer is to plan golf courses that artfully employ the unique characteristics of the natural terrain, while adhering to sensitive land management where both the environment and man can not only coexist ~ but also thrive. Ron's work truly embodies the spirit of Cypress Lake County Club, while staying true to Dick Wilson's original design.
During the summer of 2003, the interior of the clubhouse was remodeled. The summer 2004 brought two projects: a new clubhouse roof and construction of a new golf course maintenance building. The roof was completed less than a week before Hurricane Charley blew through and it survived nicely. Progress on the maintenance building slowed, and it was completed in early 2005. The club faces the future with confidence and optimism, certain of its identity, the loyalty of its members, the quality of its resources and the power of its rich history and lasting traditions.
Note: The source of much of this material is the excellent "Brief History of Cypress Lake Country Club" by James A. Franklin, Jr. with notes by James Suffridge.