WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Going on a decade strong, the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic is back for a second consecutive year at the Country Club of Winter Haven, the property it originally started at in 2009.
Founded in 1923, Lake Region Yacht and Country Club hosted the tournament from 2009-2013. However, when the Symetra Tour made its way to Winter Haven for the event in 2013, the course was very close to being in disrepair.
In April of that year, stockholder club members voted to sell to a new equity group, who would perform a multimillion-dollar renovation of the facilities and bring in Billy Casper Golf, a course management company, to oversee the development. Then in November of 2013, Josh Anderson, who has worked for Billy Casper Golf since 2010, was hired as the General Manager and Head Golf Professional.
“I came in when it was still dirt being moved around,” Anderson said laughingly.
The rebuild and rebrand process took shape quickly. By December of 2013, the Country Club of Winter Haven held a members-only opening. Meanwhile, the official grand opening took place on January 11, 2014.
As the Country Club of Winter Haven worked to get back to prominence, the Symetra Tour moved the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic to Lake Wales Country Club. That location served as the tournament’s home for three years (2014-2016).
Once Anderson and his staff felt more established, they made a run at bringing, not only the tournament, but the international brand that is Florida’s Natural and its tremendous credibility, back home.
“They’re great to work with,” said Anderson. “It’s a recognized name and they’re easy going, put on a good show. The tournament definitely wouldn’t be what it is without them.”
How bad it was to how good it became impressed Symetra Tour officials enough and with the rich golf history at the facility—U.S. Open Local Qualifiers, State Amateur Championships, junior tours and numerous other events—it was a simple decision to move the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic back, this time to the revamped Country Club of Winter Haven.
“It was a great deal because it was going down and the members stepped in,” said Brandy Booth, the Food and Beverage Manager at the Country Club of Winter Haven, who has spent 17 years with the property. “It means a lot to us. We are so happy to have the Tour.”
To finalize the return, approval from the private club’s membership was required. Needless to say, it passed.
“The membership really supports it,” said Anderson. “They buy-in, not only from an exposure standpoint, but the quality of golf course.”
With the tournament having secured a consistent home, numerous goals sit in front of the Country Club of Winter Haven, from increasing membership to building a new clubhouse. However, still at the top of the list is continuing to improve the course for the future LPGA Tour stars.
That’s where Kyle Johnson is an expert, the new Golf Course Superintendent. No stranger to major professional golf tournaments having previously worked at Augusta National Golf Club, East Lake Golf Club and The Ford Plantation, Johnson has prepped for five Masters and four FedEx Cup TOUR Championships. This will be his first Symetra Tour event.
“These are the up-and-coming girls,” said Johnson. “You try to get them as good a golf course, or as close to what they’re going to see on the LPGA Tour, as you can.”
Over the course of the nine years of Florida’s Natural Charity Classic, it has seen nine different winners, the most recent being Olivia Jordan-Higgins (St. Helier, Jersey). Come Sunday, either a new name will be etched into the record books, or the event will see a repeat champion for the first time.