His­toric Fort My­ers Coun­try Club

100-year cel­e­bra­tion, our link to golf's pi­o­neers, a slice of heaven

Gulf & Main - - Golf -

Fort My­ers Coun­try Club is such a fix­ture in the city that it seems as if it’s al­ways been there. And in a sense it has. This slice of links heaven shin­ing in the heart of Lee County turns 100 this year. So, as far as any­body alive in 2017 can re­mem­ber, it has al­ways been there, nes­tled snugly be­tween U.S. Route 41 and McGre­gor Boule­vard. The an­niver­sary is Dec. 29. It was on that date in 1917 that four men played the first round on what was ini­tially a nine-hole course. Their names were recorded for pos­ter­ity―John A. Croke, Dr. H.T. Bobo, J.M. Mohl and A.C. Gille­spie.

Since then mil­lions of rounds have been played by everyone from hack­ers to the area’s best am­a­teurs, men and women reg­u­larly shoot­ing in the 70s, and golf le­gends, men and women of mythic stature.

Although a mu­nic­i­pal course run by the city of Fort My­ers, this gem close to down­town has been graced by golf­ing lu­mi­nar­ies such as Arnold Palmer, Wal­ter Ha­gen, Gene Sarazan, Patty Berg and oth­ers.

Your golf course, I think is one of the finest in Florida.” —Wal­ter Ha­gen, golf leg­end

Fort My­ers Can Have One of The Finest Cour­ses.” —1916 Fort My­ers Press head­line

The his­tory will be cel­e­brated. Fort My­ers Coun­try Club pro Rich Lamb says a cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tion and tour­na­ment is sched­uled for Oct. 21. “We’re go­ing to de­vote the en­tire day to the tour­na­ment,” he says.

Lamb, 63, has worked at the course since 1976, mean­ing that he’s been around for more than 40 per­cent of its 100-year his­tory.

Leg­endary golf course ar­chi­tect Don­ald Ross de­signed the 18-hole fa­cil­ity. How big a deal is Ross in the his­tory of golf course de­sign? “I still don’t think it’s un­rea­son­able to say he is to ar­chi­tec­ture what Arnold Palmer is to the game,” Lamb says.

On Dec. 8, 1916, the Fort My­ers Press car­ried head­lines alert­ing the city’s 3,500 or so res­i­dents of big golf­ing plans.

This was the main head­line: “Fort My­ers Can Have One of The Finest Cour­ses.”

The smaller head­line: “Don­ald Ross, Noted Golf Ar­chi­tect, To Tell of Pos­si­bil­i­ties Tonight.”

The next day read­ers found this in the pa­per: “Fort My­ers is to have a golf course that will rank with the finest clubs in the coun­try.”

The big­gest name in Fort My­ers his­tory joined the quest to build the course. In­ven­tor Thomas Edi­son was one of 15 di­rec­tors listed in Jan­uary 1917. He was re­ferred to in the news­pa­per as “Thos. A. Edi­son of East Or­ange, N.J.”

It took a bit more than a year un­til the course be­came re­al­ity. Six years later Wal­ter Ha­gen passed through Fort My­ers on a friend’s pri­vate rail car. Ha­gen took time to play the still-new course. He was so im­pressed he wrote a let­ter dated Dec. 31, 1923, to the Fort My­ers Cham­ber of Com­merce and in it he praised the course. “Your golf course, I think is one of the finest in Florida.”

And 12 years af­ter the course opened, what was cer­tainly the great­est field of golfers in its his­tory gath­ered for the 1929 Fort My­ers Open. It may have been the most sto­ried field of any tour­na­ment, not only at the Fort

My­ers Coun­try Club, but also in South­west Florida his­tory. The lineup was stud­ded with ma­jor cham­pi­ons whose names still res­onate with golf fans nearly 90 years later: • Gene Sarazan: World Golf Hall of Famer and a man who in his ca­reer won all four ma­jors. • Hor­ton Smith: World Golf Hall of Famer. He won the in­au­gu­ral Masters Tour­na­ment in 1934. • Willie MacFar­lane: Won 1925 U.S. Open. • Denny Shute: Won 1933 Bri­tish Open and the PGA in 1936 and 1937. • Ed Dud­ley: Won 15 PGA events. • Cyril Walker: 1924 U.S. Open champ. • Billy Burke: 1931 U.S. Open champ.

Smith won the tour­na­ment and earned first-place prize money of $600.

But the club’s his­tory is more than le­gends. It’s about a com­mu­nity course that has served res­i­dents and vis­i­tors for a cen­tury. It’s about decades of a ju­nior pro­gram that has in­tro­duced count­less young­sters to golf.

Yes, it’s more than the great cham­pi­ons of his­tory.

Lamb es­ti­mates about 65,000 rounds are played there ev­ery year. And over his 41 years at the club that comes to about 2.73 mil­lion rounds of golf, right there on that gem nes­tled be­tween McGre­gor and U.S. 41.

Some­where, Don­ald Ross is smil­ing. Free­lance writer Glenn Miller is pres­i­dent of the South­west Florida His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. Harry Cowie in 1929 brought Hor­ton Smith, Gene Sarazen and other celebrity golfers to town.

A so­cial/golf combo is sched­uled for Oc­to­ber at the his­toric course off McGre­gor Boule­vard.

Florida golf cham­pion and Fort My­ers Coun­try Club head pro Harry Cowie or­ga­nized the 1929 Fort My­ers Open. Horse­back rid­ing (left) in the city was in vogue in the era.

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