A new multi-purpose clubhouse/community concept with a unique interaction of indoor and outdoor space has been added to a distinctive golf course to enliven the rebranded Naples, Fla., property.
In December 2003, Kevin Shields stared out at a treeless, 465-acre property on the edge of the Naples, Fla., city limits. As a golf course superintendent for WCI Communities, Shields had been brought to the property to work with designers Greg Norman and Pete Dye to create a new course out of what had until that day existed as tomato fields.
Over a year and some 1.5 million cubic yards of fill later, that course opened to great acclaim, as the centerpiece for the new Tuscany Reserve Golf Club. With 115,000 sq. ft. of bunkers, water features on all but one hole, and lush Sea Dwarf Paspalum turf laid wall-to-wall for all of its fairways and greens, the community’s initial homebuyers/members enjoyed a distinctive playing experience that the new course offered from others in southwest Florida.
It wasn’t soon after the course opened, however, that the plans for creating a club and community around what had first been created from the tomato fields began to wither on the vine. WCI filed for bankruptcy in 2008 as a result of the housing-market crash that hit Florida particularly hard, and control of the Tuscany Reserve property then transferred among a series of banks and overseas investors while plans for its further development came to a standstill.
After nearly a decade of inertia, the property was acquired in 2012 by Kitson & Partners, a real-estate investment trust firm that had also been involved with golf-course management through its Kitson & Partners Clubs division (it subsequently turned over its portfolio of 13 other managed properties to Billy Casper Golf in 2013).
Kitson was initially impressed with how the Tuscany Reserve golf course had been kept in top condition, under Shields’ direction, through all of the uncertainty. It also saw the promise of following through with plans for a club and community that could be equally distinctive.
New Name, New Concept
Today, Tuscany Reserve has been rebranded as Talis Park Golf Club, and under its new name it has been jump-started back toward full membership and buildout, with an eye to eventually becoming member-owned. The boost has been provided by combining inventive approaches to club operations and activities, as executed by an enthusiastic and experienced management team, with the excitement of finally having a full-fledged clubhouse facility available (the first-floor slab foundation for the one that was originally planned had stood unfinished for years).
And it has proved to be well worth the wait, because it is much more than a single facility. The clubhouse concept that opened in 2015 for the new Talis Park GC came in the form of The Vyne House, a multi-purpose “village” center designed as a community gathering space with a strong emphasis on the interaction of indoor and outdoor areas. In addition to the multiple facilities that comprise this unique central area and house the golf club, a resort-style pool, boutique spa, fitness center, café and other dining and event venues, a separate sports-park facility was created for tennis, bocce, lap swimming and a children’s pool and playground.
These new facilities have blended seamlessly with parts of the property that had been completed and stood alone for years—most notably the expanse of circular lawn that surrounds an obelisk fountain feature and is ringed by an elliptical paver drive. The clubhouse was always planned by the original developers to be in this central area at the highest part of the property (“highest” being a very relative term in this especially low-lying part of Florida), with residents coming to the island site by car, golf cart, bicycle or on foot, using a bridge that spans a surrounding lake.
As the Tuscany name originally suggested, the bridge, fountain, paver drive and other elements on the property were created as part of a plan to evoke a European atmosphere, with an emphasis on classic Italian design. As the new owners trying to revive the property’s long-delayed completion, Kitson & Partners not only saw the need for a rebranding, but also a redirection that would reflect how the club business had changed in the twelve years since the first load of dirt was hauled into the tomato fields to start construction of the golf course.
Talis Park was selected as the new name because it could continue to suggest a connection to Europe, and specifically to some of its most famous parks. And the architectural/interior design firm engaged for the clubhouse facilities, Peacock + Lewis, was directed to introduce an appropriate new image, while also trying to make the best use of whatever it felt could be retained.
“We wanted to have a more contemporary design that would be more relaxed, and not stuffy, and that meant getting away from the heavy Tuscan look, which had fallen out of favor,” says Milt Flinn, Talis Park’s Chief Operating Officer. “But with the existing layout, we saw the potential for introducing additional architectural styles, such as Mediterranean or Caribbean or Californian, that could still fit well with what was already here”
It was also immediately seen how the central, elevated location had value as a natural gathering spot, especially with the appeal of the great lawn and events that could be held there. The site and its accessibility also fit perfectly with the new “village” concept’s emphasis on walkability and on taking as much advantage as possible of Florida’s own primary attraction—its weather.
“Many of the people who want to move here come from the north, where they have to be stuck inside a lot of the time,” notes Butch Stewart, PGA, who came to Talis Park in November 2015 to be its General Manager. “Our ‘clubhouse’ was actually designed with more outdoor space than indoor [34,000 of the total of 55,000 sq. ft. is either completely open or not fully enclosed], so everyone can enjoy Florida as much as possible.”
The open-air feeling that prevails throughout the clubhouse concept is accomplished through a series of features designed to recreate a European piazza. These include a trellised loggia, which was constructed to create a “sidewalk” and separate the first building that is closest to the circle from the roadway. This first building houses Talis Park’s fitness area for cardio and strength training, and the boutique cafe known as Fiona’s (see photo, above right), on either side of an entry plaza. Fiona’s also offers “streetside” seating from which to enjoy its coffee, drinks and other food, and is a preferred spot for getting a closeup view of any activities that may be taking place on the “Village Green.”
As they proceed to the entry plaza, first-time visitors are pleasantly surprised to find that they still won’t step right in through where they would expect to find the doors of a “main” clubhouse. First, there’s a central gathering courtyard with a large oak tree that provides shaded outdoor seating during the day and an illuminated canopy in the evening.
The fitness area and Fiona’s can be entered from the courtyard—or, pedestrians can proceed through a brick archway into the arrival court, which can also be entered through side archways by vehicles that are dropping people off by car. This area can also double as an outdoor event plaza, either tented or uncovered.
The arrival area to the main clubhouse from the motor court/plaza is distinguished by a large, elliptical brick arch, highlighted by decorative iron sconces within a traditional porte cochere. The doors of this archway lead to a main entrance foyer featuring a checkerboard floor and near-full-length windows, from which a reception area, staff offices and a boardroom/meeting room can be immediately accessed to the left or right.
But by going straight ahead, it doesn’t take very long to get back outside again—this time, into a central courtyard that is framed with covered loggias and serves as a large “light well” during the day, to provide an abundance of natural light to the enclosed building spaces that surround it. At night, the courtyard, which features a large central fountain, can also be tented or strung with festive lights.
Many Happy Returns—and Hours
After the first year for which all of The Vyne House facilities have been fully operational, Talis Park’s managers are unanimous in reporting that usage has exceeded expectations in every aspect of club operations. Director of Tennis Anthony Hatori, who joined the staff in time to help open the new sports center at the end of 2015 and has worked at private, development and resort properties in his career, says he’s found the members of Talis Park to already be as engaged and active as any property he’s been associated with.
“It was the busiest summer I’ve had in nine years,” Hatori says. “I was getting texts every day from someone who wanted to play bocce or get a tennis lesson. In fact, while I’ve always made it a point at every club where I’ve worked to give my cellphone number out and encourage people to use it, this is the only club where they really do.”
From his COO perspective, Milt Flinn reports that Kitson, which he says purposely went “shopping in Naples during the slowdown, looking for good long-term investments,” has been “thrilled” with the experience it’s had since getting back into the golf business as an owner.
“[Talis Park] has turned out to be a great investment,” says Flinn, who describes what’s been spent on improvements for the property since it was acquired as a “$35 to $40 million ticket.”
And both the initial purchase investment, and the expenditures to provide members with club facilities that match the standards maintained by the golf course, are already showing strong returns, Flinn adds.
“After we announced the relaunch and then committed to accelerate [the clubhouse project] and move ahead to create one of the first truly new clubs in Naples in 10 years, that really helped [real-estate] sales, and we’ve blown the doors off our projections,” he says. “Almost all of the single-family lots have been sold, and about half of the condo units. I think we will now sell everything in four to five years.”
In large part, Flinn attributes this level of interest and activity—a pace that he says would lead to the club becoming member-owned sometime in the first few years of the next decade (the club must have positive cash flow before that process can begin)—to the new type of clubhouse concept that has been rolled out within the old Tuscany Reserve boundaries.
“We had a challenge in keeping the bones and the big gates and not making it look like a bomb went off,” he says. “But we certainly didn’t want to create huge ballroom space that you have to air-condition all the time; that’s just not sustainable. And if you’re down here during the most beautiful times, why do you want to be inside anyway?
“We wanted to come up with a clubhouse concept that would be a unique and flexible blend of interior and exterior space, and that has proved to be a huge success in creating the right social atmosphere. Food-and-beverage sales are two times as much as anticipated per member, and for wine and alcohol, it’s three to four times as much.”
The appeal of the “village” is now regularly in evidence, in fact, by the reception to Talis Park’s Thursday night Happy Hours, which have quickly evolved in members’ minds from the opportunity to stop by for a quick drink to a can’t-miss, build-our-evening-around-it activity. They are held in an outdoor venue (the courtyard), of course, and now feature live entertainment and full menus that feature specialties from Executive Chef Rob DeFrancesco, such as faro-crusted Scottish salmon, that go well beyond the usual cocktail-hour bites.
The Happy Hours are “packed, with always over 100 people,” says Nancy Muschong, the club’s Membership & Activities Director. After taking her position when Kitson acquired the property, Muschong says she “can’t believe the difference” that four years has brought.
“There was nothing here” in the way of clubhouse amenities, she says. “They had to start from scratch.” And in the process, she notes, even a small golf-department structure near the driving range that had been used for many years as the temporary “clubhouse” has been saved and turned into a lively sports bar.
Hatori, who has worked for larger development clubs in his career, also thinks that the limits Kitson established and communicated for full golf memberships (325) and home building (620 doors, despite securing approval for nearly 800), have also helped to generate interest, activity and member satisfaction that they are then telling others about.
“I’ve been at communities that really make members feel packed in, and I don’t think people really knew what to expect when Kitson bought the property,” he says. “But it’s now been made pretty clear that they not only weren’t going to spare any expense to do a nice job with the facilities, but they wanted to do it in a way that people would see it will still all be the right size for the [full projected] membership.”