Our Place in the Sun

Ahead of the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club shuttering its doors this month, the Watkins children reflect on growing up at the iconic “Beach Club.”

BY May 1, 2021
After 75 years in business, The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club closes this month. The occasion brings a flood of memories to Glenn, Rhys and Oona Watkins, whose father, Michael Watkins, co-owns the hotel and serves as president with his brother, Henry Watkins III, as executive vice president. (Photo by Craig Hildebrand)

My earliest memories all revolve around the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, or what we all simply and lovingly call the Beach Club. My brother, sister and I would trail behind my father like three redheaded ducklings—following his lead as we greeted guests, walked through the kitchens and picked up even the smallest bits of trash we saw. I remember every tree we’ve ever climbed on the property and every birthday party my friends had on the lawn. On Easter, we’d sprint across the golf course with other kids at the annual egg hunt—memories surpassed only by ones of flying down the water slide with the families of staff at family fun day.

Glenn climbing trees at the on-site HB’s on the Gulf restaurant. (Courtesy The Watkins Family)
Glenn with Michael (Courtesy The Watkins Family)

As we got older, the Beach Club became more than our favorite place to play and devour the best curly fries in the world. Like many people in Naples, my siblings and I have held different jobs at the Beach Club over the years. My mom enlisted us all to help plaster Jim Rice tiles into the empty pools during construction. I served as hostess at our beachfront restaurant, HB’s on the Gulf. My brother’s first job at the hotel was making sno-cones for kids at the Beach Kids’ Club. My sister recalls one of her first days working at the poolside bar and hearing across the radio, “the King is headed to the pool.” Immediately, everyone leaped into action, straightening name tags, scouring the pool deck for anything out of place and wiping down an already spotless bar. When our dad came around the corner on one of his regular walkabouts, she realized the radio alert was for him.

The Beach Club has always been a place for the community to come together. In high school, we celebrated Senior Skip Day and prom at the hotel (which admittedly made it a bit difficult for me to escape the watchful eyes of my parents and sister, who even dipped their heads in to check out the dancing). Although I left Naples to attend college in upstate New York, I relished coming back home to the sunshine and warmth. I’d run into so many familiar Naples High School faces enjoying summer jazz concerts on the lawn or watching sunset at the beach. It seemed like the entire town would show up on Sundays for live music and wild dancing under the chickee hut. Family and close friends have gotten married on the front lawn and returned to watch their kids get married on that very same patch of grass. We’ll be lucky enough to watch my own brother get married on that lawn in just a few weeks.

The Beach Club, as the resort is known locally, holds a special place in the hearts of many, but none more than the Watkins family. Above: Oona, Rhys and Glenn with their mother Ellin Goetz and family friends. Right: The children at Easter festivities on the property. Top right: Michael Watkins with chef Marwan Kassem, who has worked with the hotel for 21 years. (Courtesy The Watkins Family)
Michael Watkins with chef Marwan Kassem, who has worked with the hotel for 21 years. (Courtesy The Watkins Family)

I know this story is not unique. The Beach Club holds a special place in the hearts of many in Naples. The welcoming family atmosphere has kept guests coming back for generations. My dad’s absolute favorite thing is walking around the hotel, connecting with staff and guests. Whenever we’re there with him, it’s impossible to make it across the property without someone stopping him to catch up or thanking him for making such an incredible home away from home for their families. Over the past few years, I’ve had so many friends tell me how much the Beach Club means to them. While wearing my Beach Club hat around Washington, D.C., I’ve even had complete strangers stop and tell me how much their families love returning year after year.

To run a hotel, it takes a village. In our case, it’s that village that makes the resort so special. The hotel wouldn’t function without people like Jason Parsons, our general manager, who can solve any problem that comes up in our crazy business. Our staff’s dedication to creating such a unique place for  guests and the Naples community is unparalleled. When people start working at the Beach Club, they often stay. So many hotel staff who watched us grow up are still there today. They’re welcoming guests through our lobby doors, answering calls at the front desk, whipping up fish tacos and chocolate chip cookies, doing paperwork, serving a killer rum punch, cleaning rooms and watering the plants. They make up an incredible team that breathes life into our hotel. There are too many wonderful employees—past and present—to name here. But one thing is for sure, my dad knows them all.

The children at Easter festivities on the property. (Courtesy The Watkins Family)

Over the past year and a half, Rhys, Oona and I have been lucky enough to spend the majority of our time in Naples, reliving memories at the Beach Club from all walks of our lives—and making new ones. My brother and sister are back working at the hotel in operations and marketing, helping out wherever needed during the transition (and still picking up any speck of trash they see, just as our father has always done).

Though I’m back in D.C. now, I seize every chance I get to come home and spend time with my family at the Beach Club. It’s a bittersweet feeling knowing our final season is here. But we know the stories created here will forever bind us all to a place that has been such a special part of our community. It’s a timeless piece of local history, where elements of Old Naples effortlessly mingle with the new. There’s nothing better than listening to my grandmother, Mary Watkins, tell stories of the old days at the Beach Club or hearing about the shenanigans that went on when the Beach Club was the center of the Naples social scene in the ’50s and ’60s when there wasn’t much else in town.

Over the past 75 years, our hotel has created countless memories for my family and friends. It did the same for people who traveled across the globe in hopes of catching a green flash—that fabled fleeting burst of green light that may be seen at sunset when conditions are just right—at the Beach Bar and to see their favorite hotel staff every year. Because of this, I know the memory and impact of the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club will live on long after our doors close this May, and that’s something to be celebrated.

The Watkins family gathers in 2019 in front of the iconic coquina shell entrance sign. From left: Rhys, Glenn, Michael and Oona; Ellin Goetz stands at top right. (Courtesy The Watkins Family)

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