Florida and Golf – a long love affair

Florida and golf – a long love affair



When Colonel J Hamilton Gillespie built a small practice golf course in Sarasota in 1886, he began Florida’s love affair with golf. Henry Flagler, the railway tycoon, immediately commissioned Alexander Findlay to build a golf layout around his Palm Beach hotel, The Breakers; it was the first regulation 18-hole golf course in Florida. By February 1913, the San Juan Hotel in Orlando was hosting a meeting to form the first state golf association and by 1915 the first Amateur Championship was held at the Tampa Automobile and Golf Club. This club known today as Rocky Point Golf Club open in 1911. During WW II, the Federal Government closed the course and built barracks on the property to house prisoners of war. Recent guests who visit each year quoted Chris Perry when returning from “Streamsong” a unique course built on a former phosphate mine, “the worst club in my bag was my brain.”


Golf vacation – Florida a golden destination

Many of Florida’s golf clubs date back to the golden age of Florida travel and for vacationers seeking to combine a great round of golf with some glorious architecture on well-established greens need look no further than:


Babe Zaharias Golf Club was established in Forest Hills, North Tampa, in the 1920s, when it was known simply as Forest Hills. In 1950 Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias became the female golf professional at the course and within a year had bought the place – changing the name to Tampa Golf club. As a professional golfer Babe Zaharias won 10 LPGA major championships before her untimely death at the age of 45, after which the club was abandoned, but in 1974 the City of Tampa purchased, restored and renamed the club which is a challenging and rewarding course for the average vacation golfer.

Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club was also created in the 1920s. It was built on the system of ‘returning nines’ – two loops of nine holes, both starting and finishing at the club house. It was innovative at the time but has become the classic design for most recreational golf clubs since. Sebring Golf Club was begun in 1925 and finished in 1929. As with many older Florida courses, Sebring combines a laid-back approach with some demanding holes, not least the second hole which turns through nearly 90 degrees and tempts the inexperienced golfer to ‘cut the corner’, often with frustrating consequences!

Women and golf in Florida

The Sunshine State has a long history of encouraging women golfers. In 1895 when a fire broke
out in St Augustine, the women taking part in a golf tournament chose to forgo their winnings and donate them to the families of the fire victims. In the 1920s the Tallahassee Country Club allowed women to play at any time without a male ‘sponsor’ present, an unusual attitude at this period, and in 1925 The Palm Beach Golf Club (now known as The Breakers) chose a female golf professional Miss Bessie Fenn, who went on to run the club for 34 years. This forward-thinking approach continued throughout the State’s history, making it one of the most welcoming venues for female golf vacationers.




Florida – vacation destination for every golfer

So, whether you’re looking for a golf course that will push you to your limits, a country club where the architecture is redolent of heritage and style, or a family friendly venue that combines excellent golf with great service and superb scenery, then look no further than Florida!

Train Travel to Florida – reliving the golden age

 Train Travel to Florida – reliving the golden age




Snowbirds aboard! From 1925, vacationers heading for Florida had a new way to travel – the Orange Blossom Special – a deluxe passenger train that connected New York City and Miami during the winter. The train sped over 1327 miles through Washington DC, Richmond, Raleigh and Savannah, with a limited section continuing to Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The area was booming and vacation rentals in Florida were let as soon as they were available. By using fast, elegant trains, the railway company hoped to persuade influential and busy people to move to the Sunshine State for the winter. It succeeded beyond anybody’s expectations – the journey took around 35 hours and during the trip, passengers were regaled with superb food, vintage wines and liquors and exceptional service. So famous was the route that it was immortalized in song by Ervin T Rouse and Robert Russell “Chubby” Wise – perhaps the best-known recording of the song was by Johnny Cash. The paint scheme for the train, in lime, orange and lemon, was meant to suggest the hues of Florida’s citrus orchards and it was so distinctive it was granted a patent.



Florida Vacation? Take the train

So, are the golden days of travel to Florida behind us?  Not so. There are two ways to travel to Tampa, via The Silver Service or the Auto Train.


The Silver Service – New York City to Miami

Two trains, the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star make vacation travel to Florida a breeze. With dozens of exciting destination stops en route, reserved coach seating and comfortable sleeping berths, both trains give vacationers a taste of the elegant transport of previous generations. Silver Meteor offers inclusive traditional dining car meals in the ticket price, while on Silver Star the food service is simply sandwiches, snacks and drinks – a cheaper option, particularly suited to student travel. The Palmetto offers business class travel, ideal for those heading to a convention or business meeting in Florida and needing a stress-free travel option. Trains run every day and the journey time is around 28 hours, depending on your start and finish points.


Auto Train – Washington to Orlando

This 855 mile train service caries both passengers and their four tire/ 2 axle vehicle or motorcycle. Whether you rock a van or travel with a jet-ski, this non-stop train journey gives you a chance to travel in comfort and still have your own vehicle at the other end of your trip. Comfy coach seats give you a chance to nap on the way, or you can reserve a roomette with nearby restrooms … or go the whole hog and hire a bedroom with daytime seating, private restroom and shower and attendant service to convert your seats to beds overnight. Not only that, but all meals are included.

This travel option really brings the best of both worlds – relaxing transport to your Florida vacation rental and the comfort of being able to drive your own automobile when you arrive. The 17.5-hour journey makes a pleasure of getting to the Sunshine State.


Caught the train bug? A rail pass brings Florida to you

It seems every year we have guests who fly into Seattle, or San Francisco or Los Angeles and spend a few weeks riding such famous trains as the Empire Builder, California Zepher, SW Chief to Chicago and then on to New York or Washington DC before traveling to Florida.  Available in 15, 30 and 45-day options, Amtrak’s rail pass allows you to get on and off the train wherever you choose – why not consult our guide to the local area’s attractions and events and plan an itinerary that includes all that’s best in Florida?

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa

Tampa is rich in history, geography, weather and cuisine, so here are a few of our insider tips to help rental vacationers make the best of their Tampa trip.

1. Tampa’s got history

Best kept secrets in Tampa include the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders mustered here before heading to Cuba – Remember the Maine. Tampa’s exotic history may not be obvious to a vacation rental visitor but 150 years ago it was the railhead for cattle shipments to Cuba. This influenced almost every aspect of Tampa life, and today visitors can take a trip on an electric streetcar from Tampa to Ybor City whose architecture reflects the area’s Spanish-Cuban roots, with a style reminiscent of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Beautifully renovated cigar factories make clear the strong links between the two nations.

2. Sandwiches and Coffee

Ybor City was once known as the “Cigar Capital of the World” – it boasted 200 factories with 12,000 cigar-makers who rolled 700 million cigars a year, outproducing Havana. Difficult to believe? Not if you try Tampa’s strong coffee and satisfying pressed sandwiches – both part of our Cuban heritage.  Where do you find the best of both? That depends on who you ask, but the family-run Aquila is a great start; fabled for their delectable roast pork. In nearby Seminole Heights Jet City Espresso (5803 N Florida), just half a mile from Erehwon Retreat, is hosted by Jessica Conlan and her cozy bungalow dispenses coffee, espresso, chai latte and her signature Cafe Borgia, a honey-and-orange-infused latte. For pure Cuban coffee, kick it old school at El Molino, a simple café attached to Ybor City’s Naviera Coffee Mills, which has been in business for nearly a century (2012 E. 7th Ave.).

3. Beer city

Recently rated one of “America’s Top Ten Emerging Beer Towns”, Tampa has a bounty of brews to tempt vacationers. Cigar City Brewing (3924 W. Spruce St. an industrial estate near the airport) salutes its hometown by brewing up some very Tampa beers: a bright, fruity Guava season (the city’s nickname is the Big Guava) and the rich Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout -it’s what makes Cigar City famous.  For more of the local good stuff, head to Seminole Heights where The Independent was one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement in the Tampa Bay area and continues to offer rare and unique beers and wines from around the world. In the same neighborhood, Angry Chair has a unique tasting room with diverse offerings. Folks love C 1949, a quaint, dog-friendly little hole-in-the-wall beer garden with plenty of seating, live music and rotating food trucks outside. Finally, take in America’s oldest beer-brewer, which has a home right here in Tampa Bay. The Yuengling Brewery, complete with a “biergarten” where you can sample Yuengling’s rich heritage, offers free tours of the facility Monday-Friday.

4. Manatees, the cutest animals on the planet

So, you might not think a giant power plant is the best vacation spot, but the adorable manatees who winter in the warm waters adjacent to the gargantuan Tampa Electric facility (6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach) think it’s just perfect. The utility company has constructed a popular Manatee Viewing Center, with exhibits that teach visitors more about these friendly beasts, surrounded by other delights including butterfly gardens. Winter vacation rentals are the lucky ones because the manatees tend shove off around mid-April, once the weather gets warmer and return by early December.

5. The great food offerings of Seminole Heights

Make tracks for the neighborhood’s Taco Bus, a hipster-junkyard set-up with a very good food truck and outdoor seating; it’s open weekends all year round (913 E. Hillsborough Ave.) For something more elegant dine at the James Beard nominated ‘The Refinery’ (5137 N. Florida Ave.) Finally, drop into Ichicoro, a unique fusion of Asian and Cuban ramen (5229 N. Florida Ave.) or a check out Ella’s Folk Art Cafe on Sundays (they’re known as “Soul Food Sunday”) for chicken, waffles, live music and fun cocktails like the Po-mosa, combining Narragansett beer and Tang (5119 N. Nebraska Ave.). 

6. Key Lime Pie

So, it might be a staple of the whole South but it began in the Keys. The key lime tree arrived in Florida in the 1500s and recipes for the pie began appearing as early as the late 1800s, though it became really popular in the 1930s. Some restaurants make it with graham cracker crust, others with pastry. Either way, it’s a must-have several times over and in Seminole Heights we love Trips Diner for this very special confection.

7. The world’s longest continuous sidewalk

Tampa is a record breaker. Bayshore Boulevard, which runs along Tampa Bay through the city’s pleasant Hyde Park neighborhood and on to points south, isn’t just the city’s most scenic street, it’s also a four-and-a-half-mile linear bay-front park favored by local joggers and walkers. It’s a fantastic way to work up an appetite for lunch. On Sunday follow the in-the-know local foodies and make a beeline for lunch at the Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida (a.k.a. the local Thai Buddhist temple). Here, food vendors set up mid-morning every Sunday, dishing out authentic Thai eats (cash only) to a hungry audience. Stick around to enjoy the riverfront grounds (5306 Palm River Rd.)

Python at Busch Gardens by ClaudiaTampa398. The kids will totally dig it

With exhibits that combine the educational with the awesome, the Glazer Children’s Museum – a 53,000 square-foot spa which opened its doors in 2010 – has been a hit with the younger set from day one, featuring climbing structures that teach about water, a firehouse with a working pole (and a “fire truck” you can drive), plus many more items that make learning fun. The nearby Florida Aquarium offers exhibits that range to the dramatic (anyone want to swim with sharks?) to the educational. Still got energy? There’s always Busch Gardens, Tampa’s most famous family attraction.

9. Life’s a beach

It certainly is in Florida which might be the third most populated state but still has miles of beach not covered in footprints or fishing lines. One of Florida’s greatest beaches and hiking areas is at Ft. Desoto State Park, with its nearby historic beach community of Pass-A-Grille. Travelers from St. Petersburg and Tampa began visiting Pass- A-Grille as long ago as 1857 and have never stopped.  Great beach-combing, quaint shops, sunset dining, it makes for a perfect day. And talking about perfect days – according to the National Weather Service, the sun shines, on average, 361 days a year in Tampa Bay.

10. Perfect vacation rentals

There are 2,000 restored Craftsman and Mediterranean bungalows in Seminole Heights where you can find well reviewed Arts and Craft vacation rentals like Erehwon Retreat (5801 N Suwanee Ave).  Proprietor owned vacation rentals give their guests the lowdown on all that’s best in the local area … so your trip is unforgettable and your memories are wonderful.

We have a comprehensive listing of Area Attractions & Events where you can find details, maps, addresses, and links to the area’s entertainment.

America’s love of housing – a property restorer’s perspective

America’s love of housing – a property restorer’s perspective

It would be easy for somebody who lives in a carefully restored 1923 property to become precious about development, but one thing that recreating Erehwon Retreat has taught me is that complacency is unhelpful. My choices: to drive a nineteen-year-old Subaru, to own a 48-year-old sloop and to have restored a 1923 sloop might make me unusual but they are underpinned by a consideration none of us can afford to ignore. I believe that our planet cannot endlessly support our throwaway American lifestyle. In Florida, a vacation capital for people from around the world, our dependence on aquifer water to protect strawberries during cold weather could- one day – lead to a drought we cannot solve and often creates sinkholes today.

Two strands came together to give me a deep interest in conservation and sustainability:

  • Back in 2010 my consulting firm was involved with the Creativity World Forum in Oklahoma City – a prescient event given the hot topics of world trade today
  • My restoration of the vacation rental properties at Erehwon Retreat gave me an abiding interest in local history.

So what?

Well, during that Forum in 2010 I learned that 308 million Americans produce $14 trillion of the world’s $60 trillion GDP.  In other words, 5% of the world’s population controls 20% of the world’s economy.  I’ve also read that if the more than seven billion people in the world lived like Europeans the planet could only sustainably support two billion of them – and that the average American consume twice as much as the average European. The conclusion must be that if everybody lived like an American the planet could only support one billion.

When I began to research Tampa, FL, I discovered the city’s impressive growth after the Civil War. From the 1880s with the construction of the first railroad and Plant Railroad which linked the town to the cigar and phosphate industries that fueled Tampa’s success, though to 1930, Tampa increased in size by 1405%, much of which growth was Cubans, Spaniards, Italians, and a handful of other immigrants, all of them required for the two major employers to succeed. From what had been a typical small southern town, Tampa became a bustling international center – which most people believe only happened when air travel and Florida vacations became essential to happiness.

It just goes to show how long we’ve been stretching our resources.

America, as a nation, has not been given to the introspection that other cultures indulge in, and many see that as being to America’s credit, our state system also allows for development and change to happen at the pace of the local community, rather than having a centralized approach to planning. The downside though, is that there is little or no focus on the effect that expanding energy, resources and land use had on the environment. The McMansion phenomenon, a large ostentatious modern house – often seen as lacking in architectural integrity – has been a piecemeal development, but its effect on each city, state and the nation as a whole has probably disproportionately affected the planet.

And again, so what?

Each of us has to form our own opinions on this subject. I can’t deny that mine will have been shaped by living colonial Boston, Philadelphia and Annapolis, postwar Minneapolis and Cincinnati. Growing up in Manhattan’s apartment culture, I was handed powerful historic narratives about resisting the “tear down” housing, and clear ideas of what affordable, friendly neighborhoods should look like.

We might have unrealistic expectations of the way older housing was constructed – for example, that historic builders were ethical and modest, worked with long-lasting materials like wood and were frugal with their designs. This last might be true – just compare the small closets in 1920s homes built to hold work clothes and one set of Sunday best, with today’s electrified walk-ins, with air conditioning and rotating shoe racks! Such historic values can simply dismiss new developments as gaudy, disruptive, wasteful and ‘walled-off cul de sacs’ both in reality and in the way, they become architectural dead ends.

This is no new concept – when I set out to restore my vacation rental properties, I read articles complaining that the bungalow was breaking down Victorian traditions, was ugly, and destroying the social fabric of city life by replacing rooming houses and apartments with single family homes, urban sprawl and the need for car ownership. Creating Erewhon Retreat was a stunning reminder that everything, even the 90-year galvanized pipes, were once new … and today’s replacement, PVC pipes, are only guaranteed for twenty years!

It’s certainly true that bungalows tended to be much larger (1600 sq. feet) when the average home at the time was closer to 1,000 sq. feet.  Also, by 1920, one in every two American families had a car. A walk through Seminole Heights reveals this proportion is much higher in bungalow communities as show by the number of porte-cochères, built large enough for a Model T.

In Modern Housing for America Gail Radford writes that bungalows often represented luxury housing for their day.  To put that in perspective – our recent housing crisis, back at the turn of the century featured a period in which the overall cost of living increased by a factor of two between the 1890’s and 1920’s but the cost of an entry level home in the period to 1927 had increased by a factor of five and a half. Way back then, Florida was seeing a growing foreclosure crisis, suggesting housing costs were too high for the incomes for many families.

Everybody who was part of the turn of the century change is gone – only history buffs and dedicated restorers like me know that in 1926 the streets of Seminole Heights were paved by raising a $3 million Tampa Bond issue, and nobody remembers what existed before the bungalow craze. Who knows what future generations will think of our current developments?

Native planting – a gift to the planet and the vacationer

Native planting – a gift to the planet and the vacationer

My childhood encounters with nature were limited to New York’s Central Park – a manicured sense of the native environment to say the least, and as an adult, first serving in the US Navy and then living aboard my Rhodes Offshore 40 cruising from Duluth to the Bahamas, my understanding of the natural world was that of an ocean dweller gazing at the shore.

So, when I moved to Florida I had only principles, rather than any gardening experience, to bring to bear. My primary focus was to ensure that I created a living environment that let everything live – not just me and my vacation rental guests, but every native creature, great and small, that belonged in the same space and that meant ensuring there was space, air, food and water for all. It sounds laudable – but how to put it into practice?

When I began designing Erehwon Retreat, a history vacation rental in Tampa, my objective was to include the maximum number of plant species that are native to central Florida. In other words, to avoid the kind of landscape design that ‘Big Box’ nurseries sell to their clients. The picture most visitors have of Florida is very simple: ‘gators and swamps, but in fact the central Florida native plants are both varied and complex – for over 5,000 years they have created an ecosystem that supported varied wildlife and renewed resources as they were used and this natural adaptation to climate and water, to cyclical ‘disasters’ and to the local geology is something Florida ignores at its peril.

Working with Wilcox Nursery from Largo meant that in combination with excellent landscape design and a native plant nursery, I was given a ground up education in the value of native plants which would make my investment in a native planting worthwhile. Working over three seasons we implemented a vacation rental garden design that would preserve and promote native species – but this garden plan wasn’t just an idealistic notion; native plants cost less to purchase, need less maintenance, reduce fossil fuel use (no lawn mowing) and make fewer demands for water or fertilizer.

Not only that, but a native garden fits perfectly with the design imperatives of 1923, when Erehwon Retreat was built. America was seeking an alternative to Victorian architecture and had a fascination with utility, beauty and artisan design. The idea that living in harmony with nature was both sensible and rewarding was burgeoning and so our native species landscape is a harmonious outgrowth of the surrounding world.

Of course, we can’t control every aspect of the garden and it does contain one ‘exotic’ variously known as the Cup and Saucer, Chinese Hat, or Mandarin’s hat – the Holmskioldia, and one invasive species that arrived from China in the late 1800’s – the Camphor which was much used in incense and medicines as well as being a popular insect repellent. To balance these ‘non-natives’ who have protected status due to their age and environmental value, we’ve planted new native trees; Long Leaf and Slash Pines to help restore the original habitat.

We’ve also reduced impermeable surfaces such as concrete, by replacing cement with bricks, stone, pine-straw mulch and bark chips. Rainwater is able to penetrate these porous surfaces and not only irrigate the soil but remove pollutants – by combining good planting and imaginative materials we have increased the oxygen production, pollution reduction and water retention 30% more than the previous lawn could achieve.

You might think that all this makes little visible difference and it’s true that the microbes, fungi, 200 wild bee species and countless insects who support, and are supported by, our vacation rental landscape aren’t evident. But in spring and fall our rental guests are wowed by the bird migration visitors we receive at Erehwon Retreat – all that invisible activity makes us a beacon for beautiful indigenous and migrating birds who would otherwise struggle to find food and shelter in Florida’s massive urban sprawl.

For those who love horticulture, a complete list of every plant in the garden can be found below. For those who love sensitive restorations and seek a vacation rental that calms the spirit, rewards the eye and benefits the environment, Erehwon Retreat awaits you!