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. Left, from top: Glenn with Michael; Glenn climbing trees at the on-site HB’s on the Gulf restaurant. (Craig Hildebrand)

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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.”

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.

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)

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.

>> Full story in our May issue

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