If all goes according to plan, Island West’s residents and fans of its golf course will be playing before May Day.
The 6,803-yard course, designed by PGA Tour star Fuzzy Zoeller and Clyde Johnston, has been closed since April 2020, but will reopen thanks to the determination of the development’s 258 homeowners to buy the course and fix up the clubhouse.
Course management company Brown Golf announced in January 2020 that the course was closing and course owner Fording Island West LLC was selling it to a developer. Pratt Reed and the Reed Development Group had already drawn up plans to redevelop a large portion of the course right at the front of the property on U.S. 278.
The announcement came as a shock to the entire community.
“We were told the course was closing because it was losing money,” said Richard Myers, president of the community’s homeowners association.
It didn’t take long for the residents to spring into action.
“This was a collective decision from the (HOA) board because we didn’t want all the development around us. The developer was going to put a hotel on No. 1, and a strip mall, apartments through here (the clubhouse area) and patio homes there,” said Myers. “We didn’t want all that.”
From their “Save the Island West Golf Course” Facebook page to bending the ear of every elected official who would listen, Island West’s homeowners organized their community and implored neighboring golf communities to support them.
“We did our defense, got our community behind that,” Myers said. “Then with COVID – that probably worked to our advantage, because it gave us some time and we were like, ‘let’s try to buy it.’ We thought we had first option to buy it anyway. And that fell through.”
John Isaac, one of the residents doing the carpentry and repairs on the clubhouse, said they started writing letters to all the county officials, saying they were against the plans, which would require a rezoning of the property.
“We did everything we could to fight it. That lasted many months,” Isaac said.
The HOA board sent out a notice in September, seeking permission from the residents to make an offer on the property. The sale amount – $1.375 million – would be paid by assessing each resident, who had a choice to pay the whole amount at once or over a five-year period.
What remained was to refurbish, repair and repaint the clubhouse to bring it back to a pristine condition. That also was a challenge the residents took on, sometimes with gusto, but always with a steady aim to reopening in April.
“Some days we have five people, and other days a dozen or more,” said Isaac. “One day we decided we’d paint the whole inside on a Friday night, and we must have had 18 or 20 people show up that night.”
“It helped that we also announced there would be pizza and beer,” said Isaac’s wife, Briana. A local company, which had painted the Isaacs’ home last summer during the pandemic, voluntarily pitched in to help get the clubhouse painted.
“Papa Charly’s Painting came in and said they would help us with the painting. They don’t even live in the community and they love our community,” said Briana. “They donated their time and their crew. They did the ceilings, the pro shop, and helped us out tremendously by getting the main part of this done. The community has helped out by coming in and doing everything else. It has been a lot of help. It’s been a huge difference.”
The pro shop, dining room, bar and bathrooms have all been repainted.
For avid golfer Greg Gilman, getting everything up to speed will hasten his return to his community’s course.
“I’m pretty much a daily worker, about four hours a day, plus landscaping,” he said. “This is important to me because when the golf course closed last April it was really disappointing. We moved here about seven years ago, and wanted to live on a golf course, and when it closed we kind of went into a little bit of a depression for a while.”
When he heard the golf course would reopen, he got excited and wanted to contribute the energy to get the place in good shape.
“That’s so we could get out on the golf course again and start playing. So that’s my motivation to get down here,” said Gilman. “The layout of the course will be the same. They’re going to do some work on the cart paths, do some work on the bunkers, get some sand for the bunkers. Not immediately but as the years go by, we’ll continue to improve those.”
He added that the main concern about the golf course right now is the greens, and six to 10 of them will be replaced, but they will have to wait for the growing season to do that. Gilman’s immediate concern, though, was finishing the kitchen he was painting and fixing up.
As work goes on indoors, attention is being paid to the outside woodwork and landscaping. Bob and Linda Gold, who are 80, have been at the course nearly every day for about three weeks, according to Briana Isaac.
“The primary reason why it was important for us to buy the golf course is they tried to commercially develop our front entranceway, and it would have probably done damage to the price of our homes as well as the property,” said Gold, as he applied paint to one of the wooden pillars. “Our members voted almost unanimously to buy the course to prevent any future development out front.”
Island West residents were not alone in this effort to deny further development of their golf course.
“The community has been behind us, which has been a huge part of this. When we were challenging this by the developer, everybody was ‘There is no way this is happening.’ Everybody got together,” said Briana Isaac, who added that Island West was communicating with Baynard Park and similar communities. “We said you’re going to be affected by this, too. If this goes through, it isn’t going to be just us. It’s going to be you, too. They got on board and everybody was sending letters to anybody that mattered.”
The HOA has since signed with Stephens Golf, which manages Rose Hill Golf Course, to manage Island West’s course operations and clubhouse.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.