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January 2022

WIR LIEBEN ALTEN KORKENZIEHER

“We Love Old Corkscrew”

By Steve Eubanks

You go past what looks like the world’s largest limestone quarry and make a left. But not before telling yourself, “It can’t be here.” Cranes and conveyors and enough white dust to blot out the sun mark one of the entrance roads to Old Corkscrew Golf Club in Estero, Florida, about a 15-minute drive inland off I-75 between Fort Myers and Naples and in an area of the state where you’d expect to find panthers and bears before one of the best daily-fee courses in the state. Yet, there it is, a Nicklaus-designed 18 holes and practice facility that leaves you with the distinct impression that you’ve found the best-kept secret in the South. 

Then you ask yourself the next obvious question: How did the German National Team end up out here? 

“It’s a great spot, isn’t it?” German LPGA star and major champion Sophia Popov asked with a smile when talking about Old Corkscrew. “It’s quiet, but the golf course is fantastic. The National Team has been working out of there for some time. I think it’s just one of those places where you feel like you’ve found a hidden gem.” 

Few would disagree with Popov’s observation, especially not David Hoffmann, a resident of Naples who owns dozens of businesses from commercial real estate, to a trolly, to a cruise line, to the local minor-league hockey team. Hoffmann bought Old Collier, a private club in Naples,  with a $375,0oo initiation fee, in October. This April, he will close on Old Corkscrew.

The facility was originally built as part of the Bonita Bay development, a high-end real-estate and golf destination. It was originally to be called The Retreat, given its out-of-the-way location. That project, and name, never materialized.

Unfortunately, the golf course opened in 2007, a year before the mortgage crisis that launched the Great Recession. After a bankruptcy, a group of original members bought Old Corkscrew in 2012. Since then, it has quietly become one of the most popular spots in the region. The course hosted an elite senior amateur event for years. And despite the fact that the nearest residents are a family of alligators that look like they could have been extras in Jurassic Park, the course has gained a reputation as a great and accessible test of golf.

“There’s not a lot of quality daily-fee golf in this area,” said club general manager Mark Iwinski. “There is a ton of golf. There’s golf everywhere between Tampa and Naples. But it’s either private, resort or value-driven public or municipal. This is, I’d say, the best daily-fee course you will find in the Southwest Florida corridor.” 

Initial plans are for it to stay that way. Hoffmann will likely do some renovations to the design, but the concept – the best daily-fee course in Southwest Florida – will remain in place.      

But back to the Germans. How, exactly, did Old Corkscrew become the winter home of the National Team?

“Several of their players came out and practiced,” Iwinski said. “Sophia was with them. That had to be nine or ten years ago. They really liked the place. Then Stephan Morales (the German National Team coach) asked if the entire team could come down. I said, ‘Sure, we’d love to have them.’ Now, every year about Thanksgiving, they bring their better players, especially the ladies, and this is where they set up shop. 

“This area is a winter destination for a lot of people from Central Europe. (The Germans) were impressed with the caliber and accessibility of this golf course, which you don’t find a lot of in this area. So, that’s how it happened. They’re happy. We’re happy. It has been a great relationship all around.”  

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