When a man gets a second chance at life, he often seems to live life to the fullest. Chicago businessman and venture capitalist Gary Chensoff is such a man. After surviving a rare and often deadly form of cancer, Gary's philosophy was to play the remainder of his life from the very tips. That strongly influenced how Calusa Pines Golf Club was designed and built.
Before stricken with his illness, Gary considered Hurdzan/Fry to design a 36-hole golf complex near Naples, Florida, after inspecting our accomplishments at Naples National, Sand Barrens and StoneWater, all of which were created from flat sites. Like many first-time clients, he hadn't heard much about us. He came to our office, met the staff, examined how we worked, called some past clients and thoroughly considered our qualifications and background.
On past projects, he'd chosen to work with celebrity designers whose marquees could help with marketing. We explained that we've never won a major championship and weren't the offspring of any famous family, so we were trying to earn name recognition through a history of diversely styled and successful golf courses. Gary asked, “If I hire you, can you produce a course that will be more unique than any other golf course in south Florida?”
"Sure," we said. "No problem." But privately, we wondered. Could we do the seemingly impossible? Every golf course site in south Florida has virtually the same characteristics -- flat, boring, densely vegetated ground highly regulated by all sorts of agencies. But we knew if any firm could come up with some fresh ideas, it would be us.
We were blessed with a site that (for Florida) had an unusually deep ground water level of two feet. This meant we had two whole extra feet of soil to work with, crucial because most of Florida is extremely limited in how far you can dig down or build up. Gary made no requirement for housing, but suggested it would be nice if we found room for a few cottage sites. This complex was to have two completely different 18-hole courses, each with its own clubhouse, one being private and the other public.
To distinguish the site we decided to build several long sand ridges to meander through the golf courses. Both clubhouses would be located on a ridge top with holes playing down off and back to high points. The largest ridge would be built through a non-treed area on the private course and was designed to meander through several holes.
About the time we'd concluded our preliminary routings, Gary was diagnosed with a potentially deadly form of cancer. During the final permitting of the project, Gary underwent an operation and chemotherapy treatments. Always the optimist, he authorized the start of construction on the private course, even though he was uncertain of the outcome of his medical treatment. Things were humming along just fine, the contactor had pretty much completed the largest of the golf course fills, when Gary came out to the project, having beat the odds.
Always the opportunist, we suggested to him that the largest fill might look even better if it were just a couple of feet higher. Gary agreed. That was just the beginning of our pushing the limit, each time with Gary's blessing. Before it was all over, we'd created the highest elevation in Collier County, if not south Florida. It's 46 feet of fill, giving a finish elevation of 58 feet above sea level. The effect is incredibly dramatic. This "mountain" now influences golf on eight holes. Smaller fills along with a number of huge pine trees, give the other ten holes a special character.
It indirectly led to the name of the club. Gary had spent a lot of time studying the history and culture of the area, and visiting local points of interest. He was fascinated that the earliest inhabitants, the Calusa Indians, had built on Marco Island a fairly significant mound made of sand, conch shells and other materials. That prehistoric relic reminded Gary of our golf course fill, which in turn inspired him to come up with the name Calusa Pines.
Words can’t describe the sensation you feel when you encounter the earthwork of such a huge scale at Calusa Pines. It doesn't look artificial. It looks believable. I guess there is some truth to the old saying that if you’re going to tell a tale, tell a tall one, for there's a better chance it will be believed. One thing not exaggerated at Calusa Pines is it’s wonderful, fun, laid-back atmosphere. Players enjoy a special brand of south Florida golf at Calusa Pines.