American architect Chris Wilczynski has been hired by housebuilding firm Taylor Morrison to execute the masterplan and course design for the Esplanade Golf & Country Club at Naples, a new 1,798-acre residential, master-planned community, including an eighteen hole golf course on Florida's Gulf Coast.
“Given that there's only a handful of courses being built these days in the US, I feel privileged,” said Wilczynski, a former partner with Hills & Forrest.
Wilczynski met Tony Squitieri, Taylor Morrison's vice president of land resources in 2001, when Squitieri was representing another homebuilder-developer as lead executive in the development of Heritage Harbour in Bradenton, Florida. Wilczynski was Hills & Forrest's lead architect on the two golf courses at Heritage Harbour.
“Through the years we've kept in touch,” Squitieri said. “I've always been impressed with the quality of Chris's architectural designs, his work ethic, and his communication skills. We understand each other well, and we executed seamlessly from the planning stage, through construction, and into the operation of our courses at Heritage Harbour.”
Squitieri said his company wasn't in the market for a 'name brand' architect for Esplanade. “It was more important to find a teammate who could execute and integrate our golf course design with our homebuilding and community development operations,” he said. “We were looking for the right architect who could design a membership-friendly layout that integrates the surrounding environmental features with the golf course, community neighbourhoods and other amenities.”
Wilczynski said the topography of the Esplanade site is typical of southwest Florida. Along the western and northern boundaries of the golf course is an environmental preservation area featuring specially designed birding zones. A wetland stream will border some residential areas and holes two to five. “There are also a couple of wetlands pockets within the confines of the golf course and alongside residential areas, but they will not be integrated into the course or affect its playability,” Wilczynski said.
The subsurface of the property is coral rock. “We're going to excavate these formations and create storm water lakes, which will enhance community water quality and provide flood protection areas,” Wilczynski said. “We'll use the excavated rock from the lakes to develop the base grades for the course. Many of the holes will be designed adjacent to the lakes, but we're going to strategically locate them so that we don't burden the everyday membership players. There will be a few heroic carries to challenge those golfers who choose to play from the back tees. But the water will typically be off to the side and away from the greens and landing areas.”
Esplanade is slated to open for play in early 2014. The course will max out at just less than 6,900 yards, Wilczynski said. The architect is a fan of short, risk-and-reward par fours, and players will encounter those at the fifth, tenth and fourteenth. Eight holes have no home sites on either side.
While it may appear that Taylor Morrison is sailing into a headwind by creating a golf community at a time when more courses are closing than opening in the United States, Squitieri notes that the golf market in Southwest Florida has remained comparatively robust. “History tells us that people associate the Naples area with golf,” he said. “The game draws people to Florida. Homes in golf course communities in this area continue to prove their value to those who seek the Florida lifestyle. Esplanade will deliver the kind of amenities expected by home buyers who live an active lifestyle.”