Florida and golf – a long love affair
It’s 1886 and Colonel J Hamilton Gillespie builds a small practice golf course in Sarasota. It was the beginning of Florida’s love affair with golf. Henry Flagler, the railway tycoon, immediately asks Alexander Findlay for a golf layout around his Palm Beach hotel, The Breakers, thereby creating the first regulation 18-hole golf course in Florida.
A quarter century later, the San Juan Hotel in Orlando hosts a meeting to form the first state golf association. By 1915 the first Amateur Championship is held at the Tampa Automobile and Golf Club. This club, now called Rocky Point, opens in 1911. During WWII, the Federal Government closes the course and built prisoner-of-war barracks on the property.
Golf vacation – Florida, the golden destination
Many of Florida’s golf clubs date back to the golden age of Florida travel. Vacationers wanting a great round of golf, glorious architecture and well-established greens can select from:
Babe Zaharias Golf Club – established in the 1920s in Forest Hills, North Tampa. In 1950 Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias became the course’s female golf professional . Within a year she’d bought the place, immediately renaming it the Tampa Golf club. She won 10 LPGA major championships before her death aged 45, when the club was abandoned. But in 1974 the City of Tampa purchased, restored and renamed the club’s challenging and rewarding course for the average vacation golfer.
Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club was also built in the 1920s. It’s the first of the ‘returning nines’ – two loops of nine holes, both starting and finishing at the club house. Innovative then, this is now the standard design for most recreational golf clubs.
Sebring Golf Club was begun in 1925 and finished in 1929. Sebring combines a laidback approach with some demanding holes. Infamously, the second hole turns nearly 90 degrees thus tempting the inexperienced golfer to ‘cut the corner’ disastrously!
Women and golf in Florida
The Sunshine State always welcomed women golfers, and they returned the compliment. In 1895 a fire broke out in St Augustine and women tournament golfers donated their winnings to the fire’s victims. During the 1920s, the Tallahassee Country Club unusually allowed women to play without a male ‘sponsor’ present. In 1925 The Palm Beach Golf Club (now The Breakers) even hired a female golf professional Miss Bessie Fenn, who ran the club for 34 years.
Florida – vacation destination for every golfer
Whether you’re looking for a 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!