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Northeast News

Old Hickory event takes golfers back in time

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 09:50 AM
TEMPLE TERRACE -

In today's world of multimillion-dollar professional golf tournaments and high-tech equipment, three-time National Hickory Champion Mike Stevens is not a household name in most circles.

But the teaching professional at MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa is a celebrity to golfers in Temple Terrace, where the game earned notoriety years before the city was established in 1925.

Stevens aims to help the city reclaim the prominence it enjoyed when the Florida Open, a premier professional golf tournament, was played in Temple Terrace nearly 100 years ago.

"Nearly every well-known pro of that day played in that tournament," Stevens said.

This weekend, Stevens and local preservationists are welcoming golfers from around the world to this city of 23,000 to participate in the third annual Temple Terrace Hickory Heritage Historic Golf Weekend.

The event features two vintage-style golf tournaments for golfers who enjoy playing with vintage equipment. There also will be a gala like there used to be back in the day when players showed up to eat and dance in their sporting attire.

It all takes place today through Monday at the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club, 200 Inverness Ave.

The Hickory Hacker, a tournament for amateur players, begins at 11 a.m. today, with a four-person scramble. The day culminates with the Knickers Ball, with cocktails at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7:30 p.m. The United States Professional Hickory Golf Championship tees off at 11 a.m. Monday.

The festivities aren't the only cause for celebration.

The tournament marks the first time the golf course, built in the early 1920s, will showcase its recent addition to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Temple Terrace landmark becomes the first 18-hole course in the state, and only the second one statewide, to receive the designation. A nine-hole course in Winter Park is also on the register.

"It has truly received the honor it deserves," said Temple Terrace Preservation Society President Tim Lancaster.

The city-owned course, designed by renowned golf course architect Tom Bendelow, opened in 1922 north of what now is Bullard Parkway and west of the Hillsborough River.

The preservation society spearheaded an eight-year effort to help the golf course win a spot on the National Register.

"Temple Terrace was one of the few cities in the United States designed around a golf course," Mayor Frank Chillura said at a proclamation event at the country club Tuesday.

It only recently joined golf courses in the United States and Canada played by golfers interested in preserving the traditions of the sport introduced in the 1880s.

The tournament began as a way to raise the $12,000 application fee for the National Register, Temple Terrace spokesman Michael Dunn said in a statement. The city contributed $6,000 in matching funds.

In late 2010, local preservationists teamed up with Stevens to launch a new golf event on the course to rival the once-famed Florida Open, first played there in 1925.

"I just wanted to make sure people didn't forget how the game was originally played," said Stevens, a South Tampa resident and the tournament's director.

"I looked at several historic courses in the area, and I keyed in on this one (the Temple Terrace Golf Course). But much of the effort was due to my connection with the preservation society."

At the time, the preservation society was working on a similar idea, Lancaster said. Its members believe their mission includes helping to restore the city's association with historic hickory golf events.

City leaders and golf enthusiasts say the hickory golf tournaments allow the course to be played as it was meant to be played.

"The hickory tournament plays to the strengths of Temple Terrace's golf course as it was designed for hickory-shafted clubs," Grant Rimbey, a first-term city councilman and former preservation society president, told the Tribune in 2010.

By 1925, famous professional golfers such as Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen were coming to town to test their skills. Jim Barnes was the resident pro.

In those days, golfers swung hickory-shafted clubs that struck gutta-percha balls, which are softer than golf balls used today.

The weekend event in Temple Terrace aims to pay homage to golfers who enjoy playing the game with hickory wood clubs, Lancaster said.

More than a couple of dozen players are committed to play the Hickory Hacker event. Stevens has confirmed about 20 players for the professional tournament to be played on Monday, he said.

Professional golfer Eddie Peckels of Winter Park plans to return to defend his title, Stevens said. He will compete against European and American players, including Jim Garrison, the resident pro at the Temple Terrace Golf Course, who was last year's runner-up.

The tournaments are open to men and women golfers.

The winner of the professional tournament will receive $5,000, the same prize amount awarded to the winner of the Florida Open in the 1920s. The winner's name will be affixed to a trophy honoring John Shippen, the nation's first black professional golfer.

For information, visit http://tthickoryheritagegolf.com/


kknight@tampatrib.com (813) 258-7413

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