History - The Forest Country Club

Our History

The Forest Country Club has a vibrant history.  Click here to be a part of it today!

  • Beginnings
    • On Monday, December 27, 1920, the long-gone Iona Drainage District filed with Lee County a plat indicating that three parallel canals were to be dug from points east of the Tamiami Trail (US 41) west to Hendry Creek, a tidal estuary emptying into Estero Bay.

      The canals designated as Canal K and Canal T marked the northern and southern boundaries, respectively, of a somewhat square 420-odd acre tract of timbered-over but still raw land. The third canal, designated Canal S, ran through the center of the property and with the others was part of a scheme to drain semi-swamp land for mosquito control and possible agricultural use.

      The canals eventually were dug in 1927, mainly to realize their original intent but also to drain water left behind by a hurricane that in September of that years, hit the southwest coast of Florida, including flooding the Tamiami Trail to depths of as much as four feet.
      The principal “crop” on the newly drained land turned out to be an almost impenetrable proliferation of melaleuca trees, imported early in the century from Australia. By nature thirsty, melaleucas were to help dry the spongy land. The trees soon began to elbow aside native tees and vegetation.

      Inhabiting this forest-like tangle was an array of less than hospitable wildlife. Rattlesnakes, many in the four-to-five foot range, water moccasins, coral snakes, bobcats, alligators and feral boars discouraged all but the most intrepid of outdoorsmen. Nonetheless in hunting seasons and out, gunfire market to dispatch of deer, ducks, fox, quail and the occasional wild turkey.

      In all, then, hardly a promising spot upon which to forge a high-end gated golf course community. But almost 40 years ago, just about anything seemed possible to optimists David Swor and John Santini.

      Swor, originally a Kentuckian, met Santini, a native of Fort Myers, in 1974 when both were active in brokering area real estate. They soon joined forces as Swor & Santini, Inc., their principal business being forming real estate syndicates as tax shelters. This activity in turn led the partners into the high risk world of Southwest Florida real estate development.

      On a fall day in 1978, it was suggested to Swor that he talk to the owners of a piece of property considered by most observers of the area’s real estate market to be too remote to be of much immediate value. It had been the intent of its owners to build a golf course, but at the time the nation’s economy was in a slump and financing for such speculative ventures was scarce. What’s more, have been told building a golf course on the property really wasn’t feasible, they were anxious to bail out.

      Initially, Swor & Santini’s interest in the property was in brokering its sale. But within a day or two of meeting with the property’s owners, Swor strolled into Santini’s office and half-kidding said, “How’d you like to own a golf course?” His partner impulsively replied, “Why not?”

      Accordingly, an option contract entered into in the late fall of 1978 calling for the partners to buy the property for $3,100 an acre. They had in mind a 27-hole layout around which both high-end residential condominiums and single family homes would be built. They called the development Timberlakes, it’s club to be the Timberlakes Country Club.

      Based on their past experience as developers, they determined they’d need at least $1.8 million to get the project underway – i.e., building both the golf course and the needed infrastructure of roads, power lines, water lines, sewer lines and so on.

      To raise the money, they formed a syndicate called Timberlakes Limited, which eventually numbered 30 limited partners. Once the $1.8 million was raised, Swor and Santini met a man named Bill Maddox, a golf course construction contractor, who at the time, was building the Spanish Wells course in Bonita Springs.

      Swor told Maddox that two golf course architects had said it wasn’t possible to build a course on the proposed site because the elevations, ranging from 3-6 feet overall, were too low. Maddox, who had built a golf course near New Orleans where some of the ground was 21 feet below sea level, expressed interest in what the partners had in mind and agreed to look at the project.

      Although Timberlakes would remain the development’s “on-paper” name, those working on the project, ever mindful of its heavily wooded expanse, began referring to it as “The Forest” which soon thereafter became its official designation site. The next day, after looking over as much of the property as was accessible in a four-wheel drive vehicle, he said he’d first want to clear out the 3 canals, which since being dug in 1927 had become overgrown, their flow into Hendry Creek choked off. If clearing them adequately drained the surrounding land, the contractor said he could build the partners a golf course.

      The involvement of Maddox proved providential, for if a key man was needed to turn raw, swampy acreage into what eventually would become a luxurious golf course community, he was that man. Armed with experience, a “can do” imagination and a “heavy duty bulldozer and a lot of dynamite”, Maddox mounted an all-out assault on the site’s 420 acres.

      After first clearing out the tree drainage canals, he then hacked out areas where the proposed roads, residential areas and similar features of the needed infrastructure could be located.

      Once the property was surveyed and the required permits applied for and obtained, the almost overwhelming task of turning dreams into reality began in earnest. Ground was officially broken in late 1979 and that the whole came into being at all is a tribute to the determination and perseverance of those charged with bringing it off.

      While the golf course was under construction, work began early in 1980 on Phase I – installation of water and sewer lines and systems, power lines, the building of roads, the staking of home sites, even the construction of residential units. An on-site sale office had been set up in the waning months of 1979 but initial sales were less than brisk. From the very beginning, survival of the project was touch and go.

      “For the first 4-5 months, most of our lot sales were to locals”, said Swor. “After that, the out-of-towners just started showing up. As it worked out, word-of-mouth was probably our best advertising”.

      While the partners were wrestling with adequately financing the project, work on Phase I forged ahead. The infrastructure was in place, 96 single family home sites were staked out, 56 condominium units (Partridge Place) as well as 17 detached villas (Pheasant Court) were under construction. It already had been decided that roadways designated as streets would be named for animals and that multifamily units would be named for birds. Exceptions would be made later on, but most of the original names remain and serve to lend The Forest much of its undeniable ambiance.

      Adding to that ambiance was and is the distinctive gumbo-limbo tree upon which The Forest logo is based. It still occupies a prominent spot on the road leading to the clubhouse.

      In October of that same year, 1980, construction began on the 16 condominium units of Partridge Court. At about where the golf practice range is now, four tennis courts were built. Also put up was a small building that doubled as a clubhouse and golf and tennis shop. Behind the present tee on the north end of the practice range, where the small putting green is now, a swimming pool was built. The golf course, designed by Gordon Lewis, was completed and opened for play in December of 1980.

      Golfer were quick to find the course a challenge – thick woods right and left and several fairways appearing almost punitively narrow. What is more, uncertain as to how cranky the property’s previous occupants might be about having been so rudely dispersed, there was a certain mystery involved in what might be lurking in among the thickets. Accordingly, shots straying into the trees and palmettos tended to be written off as lost.
  • Moving Forward
    • In January of 1981, construction began on a 20,000 sq. ft. split-level clubhouse. Construction was completed in July and an open house cocktail party was held to dedicate the new building. About 500 guests showed up, most of whom were buyers of either home sites or condominiums. Also on hand were a number or sales prospects as well as some friends of the management. The hours of the open house were to be from 5:30 until 9:00 p.m., but to quote a then-contemporary account, “the party lasted until the wee hours of the morning”. Perhaps more than any single event up to that point, the open house resulted in an attitude and an awareness that in many respects continues to this day. It united its guests as family. The Forest was fun and so were the people who cared about it.

      In 1982, as prospects for the project’s success were looking up, construction began on a third nine holes and by late fall it was ready for play. Shortly thereafter, the developers held a “Name the Courses” contest among resident and members. Because it was deemed feisty and aggressive, the first nine was named the Bobcat and the second nine the Bear, as it was thought to be toughest and strongest. The new nine was named the Deer because it seemed “placid and easygoing”.

      If any year could be designated a pivotal year for the fledgling development, a strong argument could be advanced on behalf of 1982. Not only was the new nine started and completed, but as its construction began so did construction of The Forest’s Phase III. By that time, over 90 percent of the single family home sites called for in Phase I and Phase II had been sold. Phase III called for 84 such lots to be established on Timberlakes Drive and by July the roads and the allied infrastructure for new home sites were in place. Also completed in July were the Quail Cove and Dove Hollow condominiums.

      The development’s seeming success would prompt Santini to dream of broader horizons. He cast an eye on some acreage farther south along Tamiami Tail, suggesting to his partner that perhaps they might have a go at developing yet another gated golf course community. But Swor, believing his plate at The Forest to be sufficiently full, counted himself out. The partners then agreed to disagree and Swor bought Santini out, thus dissolving Swor & Santini, Inc. in the process of becoming The Forest’s sole general partner.

      During the development’s early years, an additional 155 acres that abutted the original property’s west side were purchased. The acquisition, in addition to making possible the building of more residential units (Forest Oaks), enabled the number of golf holes to be expanded to 36. The Forest thus became one of the few private gated golf course communities in Southwest Florida to offer its members and their guests the luxury of playing two par-72 courses, both of popularly deemed to be among the area’s finest in terms of both layout and conditioning.

      In May 1987, The Forest tennis complex was opened and the following month, its building, including a pro shop, was completed. The complex featured 6 state of the art Har-Tru courts, three of which were lighted. It remains one of the outstanding such complexes in all of Southwest Florida.

      Another amenity enjoyed by The Forest family is a special children’s playground known as Ruthie’s Park, located on Forest Oaks Drive. This was a memorial founded by Bill Maddox, The Forest’s golf course architect for his wife Ruth, who adored children.

      The pool saw little use, many of the community’s residents having private or condominium pools; hence down the road, a decision was made to fill it in.
      Although the thought had been bandied about since virtually the inception of The Forest, it wasn’t until January 1988 that a meeting was held to discuss and plan the membership’s assuming ownership and operation of the clubhouses and the golf courses. Following a year of planning, the purchase of the club and its facilities from Timberlakes Limited was completed. The Forest Country then began operating as a private entity owned by its equity members, its affairs administered to by an elected Board of Directors.

      Secure in its financial health and optimistic about its future, the club began an ambitious program of improvement and upgrading of the golf courses and expansion and renovation of the clubhouse. Thus the start of the 1997-1998 season saw both the golf courses and the clubhouse pretty much as they exist today. Added in 2000 was a fully equipped clubhouse Fitness Center, its building coinciding with extensive work on what had been known as “the terrace”, an outdoor lounge with an awning that overlooked the cart staging area. The terrace was eventually enclosed and given a permanent roof. Named the Gumbo-Limbo Lounge, the now air-conditioned facility opened in December 2000.

      Of The Forest, it can truthfully be said that caring and innovation are but two of the characteristics giving both the community and the club their unique appeal. The Forest is a special corner of paradise and those who live, play and socialize within its confines appreciate that maintenance of even a corner of demands that constant attention be paid to it.

      There’s no secret involved, no magic ingredient. The community and the club are, in literal truth, reflections of those concerned with the welfare of both, the result being unusual harmony in the conduct of its affairs.

      The Forest is, then, a special place enjoyed and cared for by special people.
  • The Future is You
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