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!