70 Years Young!
It only feels like yesterday when The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club opened its doors to vacationing families who were looking for the perfect beachfront hotel in Florida. Celebrating 70 years in 2016; is that even possible? Recently we were trying to imagine how many family vacations, romantic getaways, golf outings, tennis matches, golf and tennis lessons, business meetings, weddings, reunions, meals, spa treatments, events, concerts, and cocktails that have been part of our historic journey that began in 1946…too many to count for sure, and so many wonderful southwest Florida memories.
Generations of families have returned over and over again to experience something that just isn’t available anywhere else in Naples. We know, everyone says that; but our family has always believed there was something uniquely special about this hotel from day one, and remains confident that those who have experienced our corner of paradise agree. There is just no other place like The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
Plus, there must be something special about a place that attracts a legendary golfer like Jack Nicklaus to celebrate his past and that of The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club by helping to redesign the same course on which he first broke 40 at the age of 11. It was in 1951, on a family vacation to Naples, Florida, and a friendly round of golf alongside his father, that the Ohio-native accomplished the very impressive feat of first breaking 40 over nine holes on the resort’s course, shooting a 37. At just 11 years old, he came within a shot of shooting par, and just one year after he picked up golf clubs for the first time. This round, in particular, is what drew Jack to request involvement in re-designing our championship golf course, which is slated to be completed by Christmas 2016.
If you aren’t familiar, the original hotel, first constructed in the 1880’s and aptly named The Naples Hotel, was built two blocks east of the Naples fishing pier, and 1 and 1/2 miles south of what would eventually become the site of The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
In 1930, Allen Joslin, nephew of the founder of the Jergens hand lotion fortune, built the first 18-hole golf course in the Naples area. Additionally, he purchased the beachfront property adjacent to the course where he built The Beach Club, the first building of what would later become The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Prior to the construction of Joslin’s golf course, the only golf played in Naples was at a 9-hole city course, complete with sand greens, which doubled as the airport. Golfers had to use 3rd Street and 5th Avenue through downtown Naples as fairways.
In late 1946, Henry B. Watkins Sr., a 56-year-old retired toy manufacturer from Ohio, bought The Naples Hotel, embarking on a very successful second career. A few years later, he purchased The Beach Club and the 18-hole golf course from Joslin, who had closed both of the properties in 1939, creating a new beach resort between the golf course and the Gulf of Mexico: The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. The pleasure that he received from observing his satisfied resort guests, in addition to his pure love of golf, finalized his decision to purchase the properties. The Naples Hotel, Watkins’ initial property near the pier, remained in service for several years, occasionally serving as a dormitory for staff, until it was torn down in the 1970’s.
Over the years, widely recognized celebrities have experienced the charm of The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Inventor Thomas Edison enjoyed Sunday dinners at the resort during his stays at his nearby winter home in Fort Myers, Fla. Actor Gary Cooper settled in at the resort while filming his 1951 movie Distant Drums, and Austrian actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr often took lessons from the resort’s golf professional. More recently, guests of the hotel have included former President George H.W. Bush and General Norman Schwartzkopf.
In 1989, following the death of his father Henry B. Watkins Jr., Michael Watkins became President of the company, with brother Henry Watkins III as Executive Vice President. Since that time, there have been continual improvements and upgrades to ensure that everyone visiting The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club would have an experience they’d never forget, no matter what the purpose of their visit was for.
We could go on and on about the incredible memories that have been created here. One things for sure, hotel guests don’t leave here without being keenly aware of a sense of family at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Many of the guests that first began coming to the hotel when they were younger, have made it a tradition to bring their own children to the resort. This family tradition directly reflects on the Watkins family’s love of the Naples area and the tropical paradise that they have tried to preserve for their guests.
We hope you’ll join with us in celebrating 70 years of memories.