History of Wilderness

                                 Chronological Events 

1912 – The roots of Wilderness Country Club (WCC) are established in 1912 when E.W. Crayton, a real estate tycoon from Ohio, arrives in Naples and incorporates the Naples Improvement Company, a real estate development enterprise.

1916 – Crayton divides a swath of land which straddles Goodlette Frank Road from Pine Ridge Road to below where the Naples zoo is located today, to create 97 sub-lots of land, roughly 20 acres each, as part of a new company he names the Naples Improvement Company Little Farms.

1944 – Edward H. Frank purchases Little Farms lots #32 to #97 representing 420 acres. Ed begins his career as an auto mechanic, operating the first garage in Naples with his two brothers. He also dabbles in real estate investments and later establishes the first strip mall in Naples. In his twenties, Ed marries Katie Espenlaub and raises a family of four (Bubba, Peter, Paul and Phyllis) on his gentleman’s ranch where roughly 50 head of cattle graze along-side horses, pigs, goats, alligators, pheasants, swans and other animals.

1951 & 1953 – Two movies are filmed on the property. Gary Cooper stars in the Florida western “Distant Drums,” and two years later, Steve Cochran and Carole Mathews headline “Shark River.”

1957 – Because there is only one golf course in Naples where residents can play, friends of Ed Frank convince him to create a new golf club called the Hole In The Wall on the northern 200 acres of the Frank ranch. Incorporators of the club sign a three-year lease with an option to purchase the land for $310,000. Ed’s son Paul becomes the superintendent at the “Hole” and works there for 15 years.

1957 (Cont’d) – The Frank family moves their animals to the remaining 220 acres of their property where two homesteads already exist. One house is occupied by Ed and Katie adjacent to what today is the 5th fairway of WCC; the other house belongs to Ed’s son Paul. That same year, Ed and Katie decide to build a larger home for themselves on six acres of land adjacent to today’s 7th fairway.

1973 – With an expanding family and less interest in maintaining the ranch, the Frank family agrees to build another golf course within a residential community. Local developers Wes Downing, a former Mayor of Naples, and Earl Frye (D&F), a Director of the First National Bank of Naples, are hired to build WCC with 135 of the 220 acres allotted to the golf course.

1973 (Cont’d) – D&F hires Bill Vines as the land planner for the WCC project. Bill has significant prior experience with the County Commissioner’s office and files a Planned Unit Development document to avoid conventional zoning and sub-division standards and preserve as much of the surrounding land, trees and shrubs as possible.

1973 (Cont’d) – D&F hires Arthur Hills as the golf course architect with explicit instructions to preserve and protect the wildlife and natural environment. With heavy-wooded forest lining many of the fairways and 12 ponds encompassing 22 acres of water, the course offers ample challenge for golfers of all abilities. Mr. Hills calls his creation “a rare tropical enclave – really a paradise.” It remains one of the few courses in SW Florida designed for easy walking, allowing golfers to carry their bags or walk with push carts anytime of the day.

1974 – Wilderness Country Club is officially founded and becomes the first gated community in Naples.

1975 -1979 – Three hundred condominiums in 26 two- and three-story buildings are built and set well back from the golf course, each with beautiful views of the course. Small garages are also constructed to house personal golf carts so that the noise and pollution associated with auto traffic is diminished and members can play golf without any trail fees.

1975 (Cont’d) - The Wilderness golf course grand opening takes place on January 1, 1975.

1977 – Two hard surface tennis courts are built and two years later, two more courts are added. In 2004 the tennis center is completely refurbished with four Har-tru clay courts and underground irrigation which local tennis pros call the best conditioned courts in Collier County.

1978 (Cont’d) – The WCC completes its clubhouse which sits on the second highest point of land in Collier County at a modest 12 feet above sea level. The entire property rests above a mega aquifer stretching down Goodlette Frank Road to Golden Gate Road. There are 52 wells that provide water for the city of Naples and seven of those wells can be found on the grounds of WCC.

1998 - Ed’s son Peter purchases and expands the family homestead adjacent to the 7th fairway and still lives on the property today.
1999 – WCC becomes a designated Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

2004 – Arthur Hills returns to WCC to refurbish the entire golf course.

2013 – Paul Frank’s original homestead and five surrounding acres of land is renamed Frank Park in a dedication to the Frank family. Within the park today there are nearly three dozen specimen trees planted by Ed’s son Peter who purchased seeds from around the world during his travels to West Africa, the South Pacific, South America, China and elsewhere.

2014 – There is so much focus on the protection of wildlife everywhere at WCC that the Conservancy of SW Florida uses Wilderness as a safe place to return rehabilitated animals to their natural habitat, such as turtles, hawks and owls. WCC collaborates with the Conservancy on their Upper Gordon River Wildlife Corridor project with several cameras mounted on the property to monitor movement of wildlife species.

2014 (Cont’d) – Four clay Bocce courts are installed.

2015 – A regulation croquet court is installed.

2015 (Cont’d) – All golf course greens are completely refurbished.

2016 – The driving range and short game area are completely refurbished.

Today, the location of WCC – less than ten minutes to old Naples, Mercato and the Waterside shops and only five minutes to the beach – is the envy of many golf clubs in Collier County.

Click here to read a more detailed and colorful history of Wilderness Country Club with photos included.