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Wondrous West Bay Club Still Wows Southwest Florida
By Scott Kauffman
When Glara Yi-Powell and her husband Eliot Powell started scouting for a future Florida home 14 years ago, the couple settled on a relatively pristine pocket of Southwest Florida called West Bay Club. Situated in the village of Estero along the Estero River that eventually flows into Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, the new private club community was a peaceful pocket of paradise compared to the Powell’s previous New York/New Jersey home.
The fact West Bay Club was perfectly located between bustling Fort Myers and Naples made the decision even easier for Yi-Powell, an eye doctor who eventually relocated to West Bay for work purposes in 2007.
“(West Bay) is conveniently located so that was very appealing to us,” recalls Yi-Powell, who serves as West Bay’s community association vice-president. “It is a very very short distance to the (international) airport which made getting in and out of Southwest Florida very easy for us, our guests and family. … That location is what really drew us first to the community.
“West Bay is also located well west of the majority of development in the area (or the busy north-south corridor known as Tamiami Trail/U.S. 41), which really means there’s a lot less congestion in our area so that’s really lovely.”
What turned out to be even lovelier was the West Bay Club lifestyle. If Yi-Powell’s initial decision was predicated on ‘location, location, location,’ what soon solidified her decision about this gated enclave was a compelling package of unparalleled amenities and a private club community/membership surrounded by thousands of acres of untouched nature preserve and coastal Florida at its finest.
In other words, Powell’s perfect place to live is now all about ‘lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle.’ At least that’s one to describe the blissful nature of West Bay which, as one of the club’s promotional videos aptly touts, seemingly has ‘Endless Possibilities Under the Sun.”
Indeed, the intimate member-owned club features a Pete and P.B. Dye-designed golf course that opened in 1999, and reopened last November after being completely renovated by architects Dana Fry/Jason Straka; the Golf House, a fine-dining restaurant inside the clubhouse; and Niblick, a casual bar featuring a variety of local brews. Elsewhere by land, members have the Bay House, an activity center with casual dining and meeting space; eight tennis courts; resort-style swimming pool with tiki bar, kiddie pool and adult spa; fitness center; and 2.3-acre Sports Park, featuring four pickleball courts and a dog park with ample parking and restrooms.
Next door along the Estero River, West Bay boating and beach enthusiasts have the River Park with private boat launch and storage, canoeing, kayaking and fishing, as well as an open-event field, children's play area, basketball courts and picnic pavilions. About 20 minutes away to the south in neighboring Bonita Springs/Naples, Club members enjoy a rare private Beach Club fully staffed and equipped on the Gulf of Mexico with an old Key West-style Beach House restaurant – also rare by Southwest Florida permitting standards.
Then, of course, West Bay also features its wondrous natural amenities: a low-density development comprising just under 700 single-family homes and mid-rise condominium units laid out across 868 acres adjacent to Estero Bay and bordering 500 acres of nature preserve and wetlands. Views atop the two condo towers are stunning, featuring sunrise/golf course views to the east and sunset views over Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
For Gene Delaney, a retiree from Chicago and part-time West Bay resident since 2005, the golf course views and setting are equally as exceptional now that the club completed its $4 million renovation, highlighted by completely rebuilt green complexes and an overall golf experience that’s become both more challenging and playable/enjoyable for all skill levels. Neighboring Collier County/Naples calls itself the 'Golf Capital of the World.’ It’s a well-earned title what with the 2nd-most golf holes per capita composed of 70-plus mostly private courses.
Delaney, West Bay’s golf club board president, says his course is now even further well positioned for the future, thanks to the financial commitment from all his fellow golf members and “full engagement” during the recent renovation project. Delaney, who tries to play a couple times a week, flat-out remarks, “I think it’s one of the best natural environments of a golf course that I played.”
“Now, we have the challenge of Pete Dye and playability,” adds Delaney, whose wife, Gayle also enjoys the game when they’re at their West Bay home during the traditional ‘season’ from September to mid-March. “We have some of the most challenging holes in Southwest Florida. You hear about (Pete Dye courses) and you want to play it. Our new green complexes are also more challenging which adds a whole new level of excitement.
“All of the members here we’ll tell you the uniqueness and beauty of our course is spectacular. What we’re most proud of at West Bay is the ability to create a community where we’ve enjoyed new and lasting friendships that are not only confined to the sanctuary of West Bay, but the friendships expand throughout the year with members going on vacation together all around the world. We’re blessed to say the least.”
This all-inclusive club culture or true community feel is ultimately what keeps Delaney coming back each season and Yi-Powell happier than ever that she picked this place to call home. As Yi-Powell points out, this close-knit community goes “above and beyond any great amenities” that anybody can build.
“It’s all about the people, the homeowners,” Yi-Powell adds. “We’re not a huge community. There are some communities that are 3,500 doors. We’re not that big so when I’m walking my dog in the morning, I know my neighbors; I know the where they’re going; what they do; I know what their routines are
“If I don’t see a neighbor out for a couple of days, I’ll ask them, ‘what’s going on, where you been?’ And then they tell me, ‘Oh my son’s in town so we’ve been out and about.’ So, it’s that real sense of community that is so valuable and can only be created by the people you attract.”
The people West Bay keeps attracting are so special one of the more compelling aspects of the club is a new West Bay Academy. The academy was started by homeowners, “who believe in lifelong learning,” according to Yi-Powell, and has organically grown into a very popular weekly “edutainment” series during the peak member season. Usually held on Friday afternoons at the Bay House, one experience involved a West Bay couple with a passion for photography and they conducted a walking photography class throughout the “campus” – many members in tow with their cameras or iPhones - gaining tips on nature photography.
Other speakers have been brought in to discuss topical health or societal issues, and one session was held by a West Bay couple discussing their experiences doing the Camino de Santiago, or pilgrimage trail into Spain and France. This type of engaging programming is just one more way the West Bay Club continues to bond. This connection becomes even more valuable for those older widowed residents, which Yi-Powell knows first-hand from living next to a couple.
“What’s really important, irrespective of the age of your homeowner, is the ability to continue to live in your home,” Yi-Powell says. “(West Bay) has some older homeowners and the longer they can live in their homes and live independently, it’s really important to them. To be able to provide a mix of not just amenities but activities that keep people engaged and enthusiastic about living where there at. …
“One thing that was really encouraging about a couple of my neighbors is after both of their husbands passed, they still wanted to keep their second home here. They were still interested in coming here for season because they had their friendships. They were engaged in the community; it went beyond just a golf club or just a house.”
In many respects, that sums up the essence of West Bay – the quintessential private club community.