By James A. Frank
It was a swimming pool that made the difference.
That might sound strange when talking about Isleworth, near Orlando, one of the best-known golf communities in the country and home to some 30 Tour players as well as numerous other celebrities and captains of industry just as passionate about the game.
But when a big, beautiful infinity pool was built behind the 89,000-square-foot, Mediterranean-style clubhouse a few years ago, it was, in the words of General Manager Wayne Sheffield, “the ultimate sign to members of change.” Included was a big splash park for kids. “It showed the members that the club is thinking of them and is working to keep their entire families happy.”
Isleworth’s golfers were already happy. The Arnold Palmer-designed course underwent a renovation a few years ago led by architect Steve Smyers. Always a course for the better player, the emphasis remains on strategy, precision—off the tee, into the greens (many of them raised well above the fairway), putting—and visual stimulation. Smyers refers to the “wonderful dance between the real estate and the course” created by Palmer and Ed Seay more than 30 years ago.
For members such as Bubba Watson, Paula Creamer, Charles Howell III, and J.B. Holmes, plus notables including Shaquille O’Neal, Ken Griffey Jr., and Justin Verlander, the golf experience is second to none, with spirited matches and the chance to watch and learn from one another.
The learning opportunities recently improved with the opening of the Golf Performance Shed. Its two indoor bays—one named for Palmer, the other for Payne Stewart, whose family still lives on property—are wired with the latest in golf-teaching technology, everything from club fitting to floor-mounted balance plates. Expert instructors work with members at every skill level.
Good as the golf is, it can overshadow the other amenities. Isleworth is just as committed to those who don’t play golf, as well as families, health and fitness buffs, boaters, and racquet enthusiasts.
From the beginning, the Lewis family, who acquired Isleworth in 1993, have demanded “informal perfection,” the combination of a relaxed atmosphere with the highest quality services. Contributing to that atmosphere, the Lewises have lined the streets and fairways with monumental works of art, providing a rare permanent gallery for noted pieces by Henry Moore, Philip Jackson, and others.
As more young families move in—and more people make the club their year-round home—Isleworth buzzes with energy and excitement. In the clubhouse, a banquet room has been turned into a kids’ “bullpen,” with games, activities, and movie nights that keep children occupied (and supervised) while parents enjoy a peaceful meal. There’s also camp during the summer and holidays—and that pool!
There are numerous dining choices for meals throughout the day, with one of the most popular the complimentary Saturday breakfast that is making the clubhouse an even more popular socializing hub. Nearly all the dining rooms have been or are being redecorated and upgraded with brighter colors, bigger windows, and more natural light. The menus are receiving similar refreshment.
One of the most significant changes has been the rebirth of the men’s-only Champions Grill as a casual, multi-function room that hosts family dining, reading, working (it’s tech-ready), and gathering. The bar is still there, but now also provides gourmet coffee, smoothies, and other treats that reinforce the easy-going, come-and-stay atmosphere.
Upstairs, the fitness facilities have expanded dramatically with more studios, more classes, and the latest and greatest equipment for individual and guided workouts. From the MedX weight system to yoga, stretching, massage, even acupuncture and a system of jogging trails mapped out throughout the property, there are countless ways to get healthy. For added motivation—powered by friendly competition—there’s the Fitness Challenge Board, where members push one another to see who can do the most pull-ups, miles, and reps.
At 600 acres, Isleworth has more than enough room to spread out the action. One of the busiest areas is the racquet club, where the seven tennis courts (six clay, one hard) have just been equipped with the same LED lighting that illuminates U.S. Open courts in New York. There’s also paddle tennis, Pickleball, PopTennis, a multi-use sport court with basketball, and dozens of leagues, tournaments, and clinics.
And that’s just the land sports. Isleworth is surrounded by seven connected lakes. It’s possible to cruise to the clubhouse for lunch, and when the PGA Tour plays at neighboring Bay Hill each February, Isleworth members take a water shuttle from the clubhouse dock. That’s also where they’ll find a fleet-full of watersports including paddleboards, wake boards, kayaks, and more.
Another important feature remains deliberately low-key: security. While not every homeowner is a celebrity, they all enjoy peace of mind thanks to the advanced security systems, including 24-hour guard service, that protect their families and homes.
About 300 houses fill the neighborhoods of Isleworth, with about 10 percent on the resale market at any time, ranging from $1 million to $15 million. Some new homes are being built in one of the last areas open for development. And while the Mediterranean style that marked the community since it opened is still prevalent, more contemporary designs are bringing new looks and vitality.
There aren’t many communities in the world like Isleworth. The plan is to keep it that way.