Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, FL., has much in common with the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort on St. Simons Island, FL. Think about it. Each property is a bit off the beaten track; each was or has been family-owned for decades; each is surrounded by history; and each offers an outstanding golf course that sets it apart from others in their respective areas.
Now the resorts have something else in common – ownership. MMI Hotel Group, based in Flowood, MS., acquired Mission Inn this past December from the Beucher family, which has owned and operated it since 1954. Mission Inn’s history, however, goes back even farther – to 1916 – when William J.Howey acquired 60,000 acres of central Florida hill country with the intent of parceling it off for citrus farms.
To attract potential investors, Howey, in 1917, built a small Inn and contracted Chicago golf course architect George O’Neil to build a course that is now El Campeon at Mission Inn.
Leap to 1964. Nick Beucher, a salesman for the Morton Salt Company and part-time rodeo cowboy from Wilmette, IL, acquired 1,100 acres of Howey’s original property, including what was Howey’s Floridian Country Club, and began creating the Spanish-style Mission Inn.
Throughout the years, the Beuchers became the First Family of Lake County, FL., synonymous with their beloved resort and its golf tournaments, weddings, and philanthropic endeavors.
Beucher’s descendants, led by grandson Bud Beucher, have passed their passion along to another family – the Sturdivants – who in 1980 acquired King and Prince, which opened in 1935 as a seaside dance club. It began operations as a hotel in 1941.
Micajah Sturdivant, whose grandfather founded MMI Hotel Group, serves as president of the company, now with responsibilities for two of the Southeast’s last-standing family-owned resorts.
King and Prince sits in the middle of St. Simons Island, approximately 20 minutes from Fort Frederica National Monument. The resort’s Joe Lee-designed golf course, which opened in 1989 on the north end of St. Simons Island, includes four “marsh’’ holes unlike any other on the island.
Walt Disney himself is said to have stayed at Mission Inn, located 45 minutes north of Orlando, while quietly acquiring land that would become Disney World. A tile mosaic of Disney rests on a wall on the resort’s upper level.
“We believe we can make Mission Inn truly special,’’ said MMI Vice President of Operations Dominic Buompastore.
That mission (pardon the pun) has already started with upgrades to the resort’s front desk and reservation technologies.
“It’s exciting to see new systems, but there also is a learning curve because people were used to the old systems that were in place,’’ said the resort’s new general manager, Cindy Staley, a veteran executive of several Disney World area hotels and resorts. “The new technologies will extend our reach, so hopefully, we’ll have more guests from around the country.
“Mission Inn is so pretty. You don’t want to hide it. The buildings are very nostalgic. I don’t think they’ll ever go out of style. The membership has opened its arms regarding having the company come in – and the Buecher family has been very gracious. They want this to be successful and have their legacy carry on.’’
In addition to the updated technologies, Buompastore said MMI would soon unveil a 10-year plan for Mission Inn’s future, which includes a new, larger pool, more family-friendly amenities, and new drainage for the resort’s two golf courses – beginning with El Campeon and then Las Colinas.
El Campeon – one of the oldest courses in Florida – is perhaps best known for its elevation changes of up to 85 feet. It has been host to a plethora of amateur and professional tournaments, and May 26-28 once again will be home to the Inova Mission Inn Resort & Club Championship, a popular stop on the women’s professional Epson Tour.
Along with its work at Mission Inn, MMI is also in the midst of a multi-million-dollar renovation of King and Prince as it prepares for the resort’s 90th anniversary in 2025.
“All of the guest rooms are getting redone over the next 18 months,’’ Buompastore said. “The goal is to get everything done by the end of 2024.’’