Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club shoots for National Register of Historic Places listing

TEMPLE TERRACE — Wearing black knickers and a white, newsboy-style cap slung over his face, Mike Stevens lined up his nearly 100-year-old hickory shaft iron and let go.

A free and easy swing sent his old-fashioned mesh golf ball sailing down the fairway and bouncing lightly on the Bermuda grass to settle just where the course curves.

Using the old gear really takes advantage of the original intent of the course, Stevens says.

And this isn't just any course.

The Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club is a community status symbol designed by noted course architect Tom Bendelow almost 100 years ago.

Here, at the 18th hole, famed evangelist Billy Graham said he got his call to ministry.

Before that, the golf course and the nearby casino — then the hottest nightclub on Florida's west coast — hosted the likes of Babe Ruth.

The site has seen the booms and busts of this little city on the Hillsborough River. Today, it is a favorite for golfers like Stevens who lean toward the old-style hickory clubs.

Many want to see it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Members of the city's preservation society are seeking the designation, hosting a special "Hickory Hacker" golf tournament and historic homes tour Saturday to increase interest in the course and help raise money for the effort. The process could take six months to a year.

If they get what they want, Temple Terrace's golf course would be only the second in the state and one of a handful nationwide on the prestigious list.

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Using the old gear, like his hickory golf club and mesh low-compression balls, really takes advantage of the original intent of the course, Stevens says, watching his ball land at the apex of a curve on the fairway on the ninth hole.

Bendelow designed the course in 1921 for such equipment. It would be the jewel of the golf course community originally envisioned by the area's founder, Chicago socialite Bertha Potter Palmer.

Bendelow was known for his naturalist approach to course design and in his time created more than 500 courses across the country, giving him the moniker "The Johnny Appleseed of American Golf."

While some of his characteristic design features, including "chocolate drop" bunkers, are gone, the thrill of the course, designed using the lilt of the land, is intact. Chocolate drop bunkers were mounds mixed of rocks and dirt usually leftover from the course construction.

The original 18-hole, par 72 course layout is the same golfers play now. The tree-lined course measures 6,414 yards and features push-up greens, elevated by the native soil and land features. The fairways still are covered in Bermuda grass.

Stevens' mesh balls, used in the early 20th century, are much different than the dimpled ball of today and do not fly as far. Stevens has two kinds: a bramble style with raised bumps and a mesh one that looks like a tiny volleyball.

Hickory-shafted clubs, used from the mid 1800s to about 1931, also make a difference in one's golf game. The wood was chosen for its durability but does not rocket the ball like contemporary equipment.

Stevens and friend Kody Kirchhoff formed the Florida Hickory Golfers about a year ago. Stevens, 60, is a longtime golfer and a teaching pro at MacDill Air Force Base's Bay Palms Golf Complex. He is also the current National Hickory Champion.

He played forged irons and graphite clubs for years. About 12 years ago he switched to the hickory sticks because he liked the challenge provided by the old wood equipment. Using them takes about 30 percent off a golfer's distance with regular clubs.

On this day, Stevens led the other golfers with a score of 80, just eight over par.

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The preservation society raised $3,000 and got a matching grant from the city to pay for a historic survey of the course. The survey helps to get a letter of support from the Florida Division of Historic Resources, which is needed to get on the federal list of historic places.

It could be a trend for more courses, said Barbara Mattick, the acting chief at the state Bureau of Historic Preservation.

She said many golf courses throughout the state could attain historic status as long as they meet qualifications including age of the course, historic character and significance.

"There are probably going to be more and more looked at in the next 10, 20 years," Mattick said. "At this point we don't have too many."

Reach Jared Leone at (813) 226-3435.

.if you go

Join the fun

What: Temple Terrace "Grand Beginnings" historic celebration hickory hacker golf tournament and historic homes tour

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club, 200 Inverness Ave.

Call: (813) 732-6941

Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club shoots for National Register of Historic Places listing 12/02/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 2, 2010 3:30am]

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