How We Got Here
by Mike Smith
In the early 1970’s, the Florida State legislature began contemplating new rules and regulations that would severely impair the planned development of the Ocean Reef land. All four future phases would be impacted. As previously noted, these phases included: Phase I, Harbor Course and Dispatch Creek; Phase 2, an area northwest of the airstrip; Phase 3, Angelfish Cay (later changed to Sunrise); and Phase 4, Snapper Point. If and when this legislation passed, the future of Ocean Reef as we now know it would be in great peril.
However, Harper Sibley had a few big guns in his arsenal and decided to try an end run. At the time, Richard Millhouse Nixon was president and he would frequently visit his close friend and Ocean Reef Member, Bebe Rebozo. Several trips to Washington were made to meet with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S Corps of Engineers. With the help of Mr. Nixon, his Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and Congressman Dante Fascell, all four permits were granted signifying approval of the ORC master plan vested by the State Land Planning Agency, Monroe County and the U.S Corps of Engineers (among others).
In 1975, the Florida State legislature passed new rules which were called Area of Critical Concern Regulations and were designed to severely slow the unchecked development of the Keys. The above previous vesting relieved Ocean Reef Club from most of those new regulations. There was good reason for Ocean Reef to be excluded. The Ocean Reef Master Plan was both low density and provided for sewer, hurricane evacuation, staff housing, and other components important to the permitting agencies. The Club also made their own potable water with new reverse osmosis desalinization plants.
Back in 1970 however, some of the Club’s Members were very worried about the future of Ocean Reef. Many rightly perceived the Club might not be able to continue because of debt and worried that a large hotel such as Marriott might come in and destroy the Ocean Reef way of life by adding hundreds of hotel rooms. A group led by long time Member Wayne Hood met with Sibley to discuss the possibility of purchasing the Barracuda Course, a new course under construction near the airport. That idea was turned down. Ocean Reef needed two golf courses and hoped to survive their financial woes. However, they further discussed the possibility of the Club building a third course using some of the land in Phase 1. At that time the Club did not own the land south of South Bridge Road. So the group proposed to the Club that they assemble enough land south of the gate to complete the third 18-hole course.
Nearly 1200 acres of land outside our gates had been purchased by Walter (John) Driscoll for the sum of $1.5 million back in 1964. Mr. Driscoll was an heir to the Weyerhaeuser fortune, but Weyerhaeuser Company was never directly involved. Most of this land was underwater except for the area near the front gate. Negotiations went forward between the Club, Driscoll and the Hood party of five (later dubbed the “Fearless Five’). A complicated agreement was reached wherein the Hood group would put up their financial statements to back the project, and pay the Club 15% for managing the development of the Hammock Course. After completion, they would swap mortgages with the Club and take over the Barracuda Course, which then would be called Card Sound Golf Club. Driscoll would own the lots around the Hammock course, put in the infrastructure and sell them through the Club to buyers approved by the Club and ORCA. All done with a handshake.
But wait! Nothing was simple back then as you will soon learn.
View previous Articles form the How We got Here Series:
Featured above Development plan from 1971.