Club de Bonmont Plantation Getting New Look

By: Mark Leslie

Members of the exclusive Club de Bonmont Plantation Bay here will get more than “a new-car smell” when their reconstructed Club de Bonmont golf course is reopened in November. With its greens complexes rebuilt, fairways recontoured, angles changed, bunkers removed while others are built, and a dramatic increase in distance, the course will be unrecognizable to many of the club’s 480 golfing members.

“Only the playing corridors will remain the same,” said golf course architect Steve Smyers of Lakeland, who has been engaged by Plantation Bay owner ICI Homes to revitalize the 18-hole Club de Bonmont. The facility also boasts the 18-hole, 6-year-old Prestwick Golf Course and the nine-hole Westlake track, which opened in March.

Smyers, who had not designed a course in Florida since highly acclaimed Old Memorial in Tampa in 1998, returned to his home state in 2003 to completely redesign Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Windermere – the home of Tiger Woods and a dozen other PGA Tour pros – and the former International Golf Club in Orlando, now known as Marriott Golf’s Grande Pines. He is also designing a golf course to stand as the cornerstone of the new Bridgewater golf community in Lakeland, and is working with Nick Faldo to create the golf course for Bella Collina, a community under construction in Montverde.

His mandate at Plantation Bay is similar to that at Isleworth. “We’re updating to today’s game and our goal is to be one of the best in the Southeast,” said Managing Director Greg Brousse, who has been with the club for six years. “We want more than a facelift. We want Smyers to give us that new-car smell. He is basically building us a new golf course.

“Steve got rave reviews from Isleworth. We researched his work and everyone highly recommended him.”

With demographics changing, more young professionals are blending with older members at Plantation Bay, and club officials want the course to change in accordance. “We’re looking to be attractive to the next generation of golfers,” Smyers said. “We are lengthening the course dramatically. It will be one of the better tests of golf in the Southeast – but not a penal test, a strategic test – and there is a big difference.”

Besides the golf course, Plantation Bay next year will build a new 15,000-square-foot main clubhouse, plus a new fitness center and maintenance complex. The entire project is forecast to cost $12 million, about $5.5 million of that for the golf course.

Golf course builder MacCurrach Golf began construction on April 25 by closing the front nine, then the back nine two weeks later, according to Brousse. Working with MacCurrach and Smyers is irrigation designer Tony Altum of Altum & Associates of Indianapolis, who said the new $1.2-million system is a remote-controlled Toro OSMAC with a Flowtronex pumping station capable of watering both Club de Bonmont and Westlake.

“I love this site,” Smyers said of the spacious Plantation Bay property. “It has three beautiful, well-shaped lakes, nice forested edges and the homes don’t impede on the course.”

Playing corridors throughout the 120-acre course have “enough breadth and width so that we can dramatically change the angles and strategy of the holes,” he said. “We’re getting the golf holes to better connect to the environment. We’re opening up some forest and getting down close to the water, and positioning tees and greens for a better feel of the water and forest edge.”

Known for his creative, undulating fairways that entice golfers to play a British Isles-type ground game, Smyers is also greatly changing the greens complexes. “We’re trying to create exciting shots, a lot of different options going into the greens and interesting situations in and around them, and take advantage of the natural beauty of the property and expose it in a golfer’s journey around the course.”

In keeping with Smyers’ love for the Scottish roots of golf, he is able to take advantage of coastal breezes from the Atlantic Ocean, just two miles away. “Our emphasis, as always,” he added, “is allowing people to work with contours and slopes. If they know how to do that, it will be a fun and exciting game for them. At the end of the day it will be a pretty photogenic golf course as well as a great test of golf.”

The greens will be built to United States Golf Association specifications, while greens will be regrassed with Tifdwarf Bermudagrass, the fairways with Tifsport and roughs with 419 Bermudagrass.

While reshaping the fairways, Smyers is grading them to move water off the course. “We have tons of lakes but the water wasn’t able to get to them,” said Brousse, who worked at the prestigious North Shore Country Club in Chicago for four years. “Now everything will be draining to where it should be.”

Design associate Patrick Andrews of Smyers Golf Course Architects is co-designing Club de Bonmont and will oversee major landscaping around the new clubhouse, which will overlook Plantation Bay Lake and the 16th, 17th and 18th holes.

As ICI Homes projects a major expansion of the current 1,000-home community over the next 10 years, Brousse said club members desire what he said will be a “spectacular” clubhouse.

Smyers has designed more than 40 golf courses since opening his own firm 15 years ago. His Wolf Run Golf Club in Zionsville, Ind., is ranked 19th and Old Memorial in Tampa, Fla., is No. 71 among modern-era golf courses in America.