Historic Fort Myers Country Club
100-year celebration, our link to golf's pioneers, a slice of heaven
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.