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June 2019

West Bay Academy offers Community 'Edutainment'

By Scott Kauffman

In one of the marketing videos highlighting West Bay Club in Estero, Florida, the tagline for this private member-owned community describes the club as having, “Endless Possibilities Under the Sun.”

Take a trip to this 20-year-old southwest Florida club and the catch phrase couldn’t be closer to the truth.

Among West Bay’s main amenities to enjoy “under the sun” are a championship course originally designed by Pete and P.B. Dye and completely renovated last November for $4 million by Dana Fry and Jason Straka; resort-style swimming pool with tiki bar, kiddie pool and adult spa; tennis courts; and brand new 2.3-acre Sports Park, featuring pickleball courts and a dog park. Then, for boating and beach enthusiasts, club members have the River Park with private boat launch and storage, and rare private beach club on the Gulf of Mexico with a fully staffed/equipped restaurant.

But one of the more unique amenities or experiences for West Bay members is something that can’t be built: West Bay Academy. Based indoors at the club’s Bay House, a separate facility which features additional dining/meeting space for members, West Bay Academy is a growing series of club programming inspired by members, “who believe in lifelong learning,” according to longtime member Glara Yi-Powell.

Acclaimed aforementioned amenities notwithstanding, Yi-Powell says this community-based programming is one of the more compelling aspects of West Bay and one way to share the wealth of knowledge and experiences various members bring to the club. Held during peak member season, which is typically the fall and winter months, the West Bay Academy has organically grown into a very popular weekly “edutainment” series of presentations.

Usually held on Friday afternoons at the Bay House, one recent session involved a West Bay couple with a passion for photography and they conducted a walking photography class throughout the club’s “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,” says Yi-Powell, who moved to Florida 16 years ago for work-related purposes with her husband. “(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 they’re 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 (at West Bay). They were still interested in coming here for the season because they had their friendships. They were engaged in the community; it went beyond just a golf club or just a house.”

For course owners and operators like Troon, which now manages West Bay Club and the community association, it goes to show some of the most valued amenities at a private club or course can be “built” at no cost right from within the club’s membership itself.

Scott Kauffman is a golf business writer and the managing director of Aloha Media Group. 

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