Pros Gather to Honor Past Champions and Origins of American Golf
Temple Terrace, Florida, is credited with being the fi rst planned golf community in the United States. Exploration of the area occurred in 1757 by Francisco Maria Celi of Spain. He was looking for pine trees to use as masts for his ships, which Temple Terrace had in abundance.
The town was part of a 19,000-acre estate owned by Chicagoan Bertha Palmer and was originally called “Riverhills Ranch.” Her vision was to create a golf course community surrounded by an extensive citrus grove. Unfortunately, her death in 1918 threw things into a tizzy. Her brother, the trustee of the estate, sold her land holdings. Out of the purchasers, two corporations formed with one developing the golf course and one creating an orange grove to the west and north of the original Bertha estate. The city itself was named for the then-new hybrid orange named after William Chase Temple, imported from Jamaica in 1924. It was the first place in the United States that the temple orange was grown.
The golf course construction was begun by Tom Bendelow in 1922, and the fi rst nine holes were ready for play in February 1923. The fee to play was $1 a day, and for $15 a month you could play as much as you wanted. Bendelow believed in using the natural features of the land when laying out his courses, and he named each hole based on the features that best described the terrain. Roadway surrounded the entire course, and spectators were encouraged to come by car and follow players in tournaments around the layout. Because of Bendelow’s Scottish heritage, many of the streets were given Scottish names.
Jim Barnes of Cornwall, England, was hired as the resident pro. Barnes would be one of the most prolific tournament winners during the first few seasons of the PGA Tour. In 1925, the course hosted what was billed as the “Greatest Field of Golfers Ever to Play in Florida.” It would be known as the Florida Open, and every major professional golfer of the day competed for a $5,000 purse. Leo Diegel went on to win the tournament by two strokes over Barnes. It was one of the last great hickory-shaft competitions to be played, as a mere two years later steel would dominate the golfing landscape.
Many unique features and events were part of Temple Terrace in the early years. The sand traps contained structures known as chocolate drops, or large cones of sand. These were later discarded because of the difficulty in maintaining them. The 17th hole featured a sunken green, and the 9th hole is an exact replica of the 14th hole at the famous North Berwick course in Scotland, both named “Perfection.” The original clubhouse, which is now part of Florida Bible College, contained a nightclub and speakeasy known as Club Morocco, and it was one of the favorite hangouts in the 1920s of famous athletes and notorious mobsters. It was also here on the 18th green that Dr. Billy Graham made his commitment to become an evangelical preacher.
With more golfers returning to the roots of the game, and increasing numbers playing with hickory clubs from ages past, the United States Professional Hickory Golf Championship became a logical step for additional growth. Sponsored by the USGTF, the tournament entered its second year at the Bendelow design. Like all new ventures, there are growing pains. The first playing in 2011 included 26 professionals. Entries for this year’s event tipped the scales at 30. However, due to last-minute business matters, life events, and a case of the gout, the fi eld was trimmed to 22 hopefuls. That did not dampen the enthusiasm, though, and let us not forget that the Open Championship started with only eight members of the profession. Look what that has become.
At the sound of pipes in the distance, the first group was called to the tee at 11:00 a.m. Host pro Jim Garrison and minister/pro Kody Kirchoff put their balls in play. Garrison would strike it superbly, posting a 76 over the 6,400-yard brute to set the early mark, but also sustaining a severe back spasm upon completion of the round. Aided by a holed mashie from 170 yards on number 12, young Eddie Peckels of Winter Springs, Florida, also came h o m e with 76. On the course, I, your humble tournament director, was cruising along tied for the lead teeing off on number 14. A decent approach, but short and left of the putting surface, left me with a tricky pitch to a front fl ag and sloping green. I tried to hit a low shot into the front bank, but carried it too far and rolled some 40 feet past. A crucial error here, as I watched my putt gently slide past the cup and almost off the green.
The double bogey would relegate me to third place. Peckels would claim victory as Garrison could not continue to the playoff, in agony and with no relief to be found. Quite an early legacy – injury, a holeout 2 propelling one to victory like Gene Sarazen at the Masters; and, a case of gout like Kirkaldy, who, when told to quit drinking, refused to pay the doctor, rejecting his advice.
The contestants gathered together one final time as I awarded the John Shippen Trophy, in honor of America’s first golf pro, to Champion Hickory Golfer Peckels, reminding everyone that he is one of two to hold the title. As I complimented the players and wished them well on their travels, I was touched by the words of encouragement and thanks for having hosted them and exposing them to the hickory game. These were truly fi ne ladies and gentlemen and a credit to our game. To me, the day represented all that is good in our sport and the reason we love it so.