By Sunny McCown

In 1968, a developer by the name of Lloyd Sheehan set about to purchase the approximately 1000 contiguous acres that houses the Imperial Community and the Imperial Golf Club. Prices for the undeveloped property ranged from a low of $300 to a high of $1500 an acre. Several sellers, including the Colliers, were involved in the transactions. The original story lists those sellers and describes the remoteness of the newly purchased property.

In September 1972, a group of men got together at a local “19th watering hole.” Most of them belonged to The Royal Poinciana (RP) Country Club. Their conversation centered on the fact that there were not enough golf facilities to serve the expanding population of Naples. They also felt that there was no single club that truly challenged the best golfers in the area. The group concluded that there was a need for a new club that was solely dedicated to golf and at the same time would test even the most skilled players. This decision was particularly appealing because the men were all accomplished golfers. One of the men, Jim Murphy, decided to spear-head the endeavor.

Murphy approached Sheehan with his idea of building a golf course. It was agreed that for a nominal fee, Sheehan would give Murphy 160 acres of his eastern property to develop into a golf club, complete with course and facilities. In return, Sheehan had the development rights to the property surrounding the course. A young Arthur Hills was hired as the architect for what now is referred to as the East Course. The East Course was the first course Hills built in Naples. There are now dozens of his courses throughout the area.

On November 15th, 1973 Imperial hosted its Grand Opening. Heavy summer rains had delayed the opening of the club by two months. Just prior to the celebration, Imperial Golf Course Boulevard had literally just been completed from Highway 41. When the club house was finished in March 1974, the 10,000 square foot facility contained an upstairs dining room that could seat 120 people. A barbeque pit was built to cook meat for member dining. It is pictured below on the right. The putting green is in the forefront of the picture.

All members paid dues, however there were two classifications of memberships. The eleven Founders (owners) were “Class A stockholders” and the rest were “Class B stockholders.” Only Class A stockholders had a vote. A February, 1974 article from the Naples Daily News described the founding group as reading “… like a Who’s Who snatched from the New York Stock Exchange.”

The entire membership owned the golf course and facilities, but the Founders owned the land upon which the assets rested. The membership paid a yearly lease for the property to the Founders. Every 4 years, the lease amount was renegotiated. The price negotiated had to have unanimous agreement among the Founders. This became an important issue later in the history of Imperial.

By 1976-77, the club had reached full membership. That year’s directory lists three hundred non-voting members, and the eleven voting Founder members. Also highlighted was a wait-list of 42. Jim Murphy decided it was an opportune time to build another course.

This idea was in line with land owner Lloyd Sheehan’s plans. Sheehan had successfully built and sold most of the properties around the East Course and he wanted to build around a second course. Murphy and Sheehan negotiated another 130 acres for the West Course. They basically made the same business arrangement as they did for the East Course. Ward Northrup of Boynton Beach was then hired as the golf architect for the West Course.