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The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club History

The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club has a rich history in the Southwest Florida region. The hotel was originally constructed in the 1880's and was aptly named The Naples Hotel. The hotel was built two blocks east of the Naples fishing pier and 1½ miles south of what would eventually become the current location for The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Historically, guests predominately from the Midwest, arrived for the “season” in December and returned home in the spring.

In 1929, Allen Joslin, (married to the heir of the Jergens hand lotion fortune) and wife Lois, built the first 18-hole golf course in the area. He obtained the adjacent beachfront property where he built The Beach Club – the first building at the site of what would become The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Prior to the construction of the golf course, the only available golf in Naples was at a 9-hole city site with sand greens that doubled as the airport. Golfers had to use 3rd Street and 5th Avenue as fairways.

In late 1946, Henry B. Watkins Sr., a 56-year old retired toy manufacturer from Ohio, bought the original hotel along with The Beach Club with its golf course. Watkins Sr. then proceeded to create a new beach resort between the golf course and the Gulf of Mexico – the site of the current resort. The pleasure that he received through the enjoyment of his guests and his pure love of the game of golf, all added in his decision to purchase the property.

The old hotel remained in service for many years and even served as a dormitory for the staff until it was demolished during the 1970’s. Over the years, Henry B. Watkins Sr. continued to add buildings as demand grew. The final guest room building was constructed in 1971. Prior to his passing at age 91, Watkins Sr. placed the company in the able hands of his son Henry B. Watkins, Jr. Henry’s wife Mary was a good assistant serving in various roles.

In 1989, following the death of his father Henry B. Watkins Jr., Michael Watkins became President of the company, with brother Henry Watkins III as Executive Vice President. Since that time, there have been continuous changes and improvements and constant upgrading to keep a competitive edge without losing the original South Florida charm and grace. 

Improvements at the resort have included completion of a 75,000 square foot Spa and Clubhouse, award-winning Mary C. Watkins Tennis Center, completely new and modernized Everglades Room, meeting rooms and public areas. All guest rooms have been renovated and guests enjoy their decor of tropical hues and textures. The Gulf side restaurant, HB’s on the Gulf, offers lunch and dinner menus, or visit The Sunset Beach Bar & Grill, or Poolside, where the new swimming pools and whirlpools are located. Since 1998 over $65 million dollars have been spent for improvements at the Resort.

A unique Naples destination, nature has always played an important role at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Each evening, the hotel becomes a sunset mecca for hundreds of locals and tourists that wish to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. An orchid nursery was also started, where over 3,000 orchids are cultivated and then displayed throughout the resort, along with bromeliads and other native plants. The resort is proud to support local artisans with works of local potter Jim Rice, photographer Clyde Butcher, artists Phil Fisher and Paul Arsenault.

Nature has also figured prominently in some of the area's most unforgiving events. September 10, 1960 brought hurricane Donna to the resort. It did immense damage to Naples and the hotel. Henry Sr. said “we’ll just build it back better”. Rooms were re-opened in October. The population in Collier County was less than 10,000 in 1960. In 1992 Hurricane Andrew swept through Florida resulting in the destruction of more than 400 of the resort’s trees and causing substantial damage to the golf course. As part of a $13 million renovation, the course has been restored and more than 700 native trees were planted on the grounds.

Over the years, widely recognized celebrities from all different mediums have come to experience the charm which is…The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Inventor Thomas Edison enjoyed Sunday dinner at the resort during the many years he owned a winter home in Ft. Myers. Actor Gary Cooper stayed at the resort while filming Distant Drums. Hedy Lamarr often took lessons from the resort’s golf professional. More recent guests to the hotel have included President George Bush and General Norman Schwartzkopf. Jack Nicklaus first broke 40 strokes for 9 holes on the golf course as he was age 10 at the time.

Since the very beginning, the Watkins family has been deeply involved in the town of Naples. Henry Watkins Sr. donated land for local churches and the hospital. He also donated the land in 1948 for Cambier Park as his role in the Naples Plan. The Fiftieth Anniversary of the family’s ownership of the hotel was celebrated in 1996 with “The Beach Ball”, a recreation of a 1946 beach party. The event included a hickory stick golf tournament and a wooden racket tennis tournament. The event raised funds which helped to build a new playground in Cambier Park. During the summer, the resort hosts a free SummerJazz series that brings people from all corners of the state.

The hotel has a strong history of employees that have become family at the resort, in fact many of the resort’s staff has been there for years. Hotel guests are aware of this sense of family at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Many of the guests that first began coming to the hotel when they were younger, have made it a tradition to bring their own children to the resort. This family tradition directly reflects on the Watkins family’s love of the Naples area and the tropical paradise that they have tried to preserve for their guests.