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Looking Back At Wulfert Point: The Sanctuary celebrates 25 years on island

March 14, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

As The Sanctuary Golf Club marks its 25th anniversary, the story of the club - the inception of the project and how it eventually came it be - is as interesting as the historical ties to the lands it sits on.

On March 7, the club was treated to the program "A Look Back In Time: Wulfert Point and The Sanctuary Golf Club." Presented by fellow member and Sanibel Historical Preservation Committee Vice Chair Susan Cassell, it covered the beginnings of Wulfert to recent updates at the property.

The first known inhabitants were the Calusa Indians, followed by the Spanish and Cubans.

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Susan Cassell, vice chair of Sanibel’s Historical Preservation Committee and a member of The Sanctuary Golf Club, hosted a presentation on March 7 on the history of Wulfert Point and the property in recognition of the club's 25th anniversary this year.

"There actually was Calusa on Wulfert Point," Cassell said. "Somewhere around the fourth green."


In 1888, Sanibel Island was opened to homesteading. Oliver Fellows Bowen and his wife, Mary Dos Santos, were the first homesteaders to settle near Wulfert Point, residing off of Bowen Bayou. After his death, Bowen's grave was set up near Wulfert Road, where it remains today listed as a historic place.

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"It's located just beyond the Sanctuary limits," she said.

Some of the next settlers to Wulfert were Mason and Anna Dwight, who built their home along the fairway of the fourth hole. They homesteaded over 100 acres from it down to the clubhouse. Partners Thomas Holloway and Josiah Dinkins were also among the earliest homesteaders to Wulfert Point.

Cassell noted that Dinkins established the one-acre Wulfert Cemetery, which still exists.

Homesteaders Louis and Jennie Doane set up the first post office and supply dock for Wulfert.

"It's hard to overemphasize the importance of this dock," she said, noting that a steamboat visited the area daily. "The only communication the homesteaders had with the outside world was from this dock."

At the time, literature seeking to entice land buyers boasted of a store, dock, homes and a school with six students, along with 13 registered voters. Many in Wulfert Point relied on farming for survival.

"Their big crop was tomatoes," Cassell said "There were tomatoes everywhere."

The challenging part was getting the crops to the northern communities.

She explained that the crops first were taken to the Gibson Family Packing House for packing, then transported to the Wulfert dock, where they were then loaded onto a boat and carried to a structure out on the water. On stilts, the structure was in deeper water where the steamship could gain access to it.

The items next traveled to Punta Gorda, where they were loaded onto the railroad for transport.

"It's a heck of a way to make a living," Cassell said.

In 1914, the county finally dredged a channel to the Wulfert dock.

"So the boat could come right to the dock," she said.

In 1920, the area had a population of about 50. The farming homesteaders were hit hard by storms in 1921 and 1926, later known as the "Great Miami" hurricane, which essentially decimated the soil.

"It was a disaster," Cassell said. "It flooded the island with saltwater. It made it unusable."

Many settlers left, abandoning their homes, while others sold off their properties.


In the 1920s, Clarence Chadwick moved to Captiva and begin purchasing up homesteaded properties from families like the Dwights and Bowens. He acquired almost 400 acres of land on Wulfert Point. At the same time, John Oster - who manufactured the Osterizer blender - bought the Holloway home.

In the 1940s, Oster moved it to Sanibel Capiva Road, where the White Heron House still sits.

"It's one of the oldest structures on Sanibel," she said.

Also in the 1920s, Bill and Stella Mitchell moved to Wulfert.

"Their house is still next to the Mad Hatter Restaurant," Cassell said.

The Mitchells owned quite a few pieces of property, such as the Castaways and SandCastles resorts. When their son, Dean Mitchell, was older he began to get rid of some of them, including one located in Wulfert. In 1969, Mitchell and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation came to an agreement.

"They had only been formed the year before," she said of the SCCF.

With little funding available, the SCCF leaned on the U.S. Nature Conservancy, which bought and held the land until the SCCF could purchase the title four years later. It is known as the Mitchell Preserve.

Thomas and Frances Mitchell - no relation to the other family - also lived in the area.

"The house was located near where the second hole is today, so it was in the middle of nowhere," Cassell said, noting that Thomas Mitchell became interested in conservation, like many new islanders.

"He was one of the original founding members of the SCCF," she said.

World War II came along in the 1940s. Not many stayed around during those years.

"They used Wulfert (Point) as a bombing target range, so you didn't want to spend a lot of time there," Cassell said.


With the arrival of the 1970s came John and Lucy Ruth. With five other investors, they bought up the nearly 400 acres that made up the base of Sanctuary and created the Sanibel Bay Shore Associates.

"They thought it would be a great place for an upscale, private golf course community," she said.

Around 1976, they approached the city of Sanibel with their idea, which included setting up a marina within Dinkens Bayou and constructing 1,600 homes. The city told them that they could build 58.

"They sued the city of Sanibel for suggesting that they could only build 58 houses," Cassell said.

"The lawsuit dragged on for years and years and years," she added.

In 1982 - right before the case was going to be addressed by a court judge who was fed up with the drawn-out situation - the city and Sanibel Bay Shore Associates came to an agreement on the project. The city approved it for 465 dwellings, plus a community center, tennis courts, a pool and clubhouse.

BTS Development Corporation was hired to develop Wulfert Point.

"They were chosen because they had successfully developed several on the Gulf of Mexico," Cassell said, adding that the developer aimed to "build a golf club that fit into the natural environment."

Before the permits had even been granted, club memberships were being sold in 1988.

Before submitting the master development plan to the city two years later, BTS approached the city about rerouting Wulfert Road. Despite opposition from the community, it eventually received approval. When the preliminary development permit was signed, along with it came 29 pages of requirements.

About 25 acres of Eagle Buffer had to be donated to the SCCF.

"BTS had to give up about 200 acres to 'Ding' Darling," she said. "They had to just hand it over."

BTS had to set aside park space at Wulfert Point, where an observation spot now sits.

It eventually gave up on the marina and retail space, with the density dropping to 350, then 288.

"Today, we have 225 residential units," Cassell said.


On April 17, 1992, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for The Sanctuary. The project started in June, with holes 9 to 17 finished first, followed by holes 1 to 8 and 18. It was completed in 1993.

"That's what we're celebrating this year," she said of the club's 25th anniversary.

The clubhouse was built soon after. What is now the snackery was once the pro shop.

In 2005, the clubhouse underwent a renovation.

"The clubhouse couldn't be expanded by expanding the footprint," Cassell.

So, some of the outdoor patio area was enclosed instead. Over the years, the club's pro shop, kitchen and other amenities have been recognized with awards. Another renovation took place in 2016.

In 1998, a five-member turnover committee was formed.

"To turn the club over from the developer to the members on time and debt-free," she said.

The committee finished the job the following year, completing the transfer.

Cassell touched on Hurricane Charley, which rolled through in 2004.

"It made a mess out of the island," she said. "Fortunately, there was no storm surge."

"Also, the damage to the clubhouse was minimal," Cassell added.

The course was regrassed in 2005, and a new wellness center and pool opened in January 2017.

Today, the property features an Arthur Hills-designed golf course that weaves for 6,657 yards around preserves and lakes, providing panoramic views of the Pine Island Sound and mangrove forests.

Lead by its award-winning culinary team - Executive Chef Joseph Albertelli, Executive Sous Chef Derek Bryner and Sous Chef Kyle Muller - the clubhouse offers casual dining in the Grill Room, fine dining in the Veranda Room, and diverse club and private events in the Main Dining Room. Cooking demonstrations, wine dinners and in-home assistance are available, as well as in-home catering.

For more information about the community, visit

The Sanctuary Golf Club is at 2801 Wulfert Road, Sanibel.



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