Raymond Floyd reimagines Florida’s undefended Raptor Bay golf course as Saltleaf’s new golf preserve

Raymond Floyd’s vision for the original Raptor Bay golf course in Estero, Florida, went against the tide for many of the Sunshine State’s projects.

The retired four-time main champ wanted to embrace his Florida homeland and keep the track as traditional as possible.

“I’ve always been fond of trying to create a golf course as part of the natural environment and letting nature be its most beautiful,” Floyd said.

Now, 22 years later, the course will be reborn as Saltleaf Reserve after the Bay of London’s purchase of the golf club in 2020. The Bay of London held a groundbreaking event for the course on Tuesday with plans to open for play in 2023.

The course will be the first major construction project for Saltleaf Village on London Bay, a 500-acre coastal community on Estero Bay with plans for over 800 accommodations.

Bringing Floyd and golf course architect Harry Powers back to reimagine their original course was a no-brainer, according to Mark Wilson, London Bay founder and developer of the project.

“A lot of people liked this course and it got a lot of benefit,” he said.

Saltleaf Golf Preserve will feature an 18-hole championship course as well as a short 9-hole family-friendly course.

“This is the first step in developing SaltLife,” Wilson said.

Floyd explained that he began designing golf courses as a teenager with his father.

“My philosophy has always been traditional,” he said. “I like not to change the ground where it doesn’t seem to belong, and so many golf courses, over the years, there’s been a lot of ground moving, when you go to play it, it doesn’t belong in the environment.”

That is why the open bay of the Raptor does not contain any official bunkers, an element that will remain in the new project. The design features plenty of sand as exposed waste areas, but no traditional sandpits.

“You[Raptor Bay]have had a really good welcome, playing at the resort you love it, it speeds up the play, it’s great for your upkeep, so that was very successful,” Floyd said. “Now that we’re rebuilding another 18 holes, we’ll take the same theme and continue with it.”

Floyd’s design philosophy was attractive to developers.

“The way he used all the natural beauty and so on was really important,” Wilson said.

Wilson, Floyd, Raptor Golf Manager by Mark Wilhelmy and others spoke at the groundbreaking event before the ceremonial photo was taken, complete with shovels and hard hats.

“We’re all familiar with a Christmas Eve kid who just can’t wait the next morning,” Wilhelmy said. “Well, I’m a bald kid, I’m 52 and six and a half months away from unlocking the coolest thing on earth, and I can’t wait.”

Follow sports news reporter Dustin Levy on Twitter: @DustinBLevy. For additional coverage of sports across southwest Florida, follow @newspresssports and @ndnprepzone on Instagram.

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