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Temple Terrace Golf Course makes history

TEMPLE TERRACE — Bagpipers played, the mayor spoke and celebrants in 1920s era knickers raised champagne toasts this week to Temple Terrace Golf Course, which recently was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Designed in 1921 as one of the nation's first courses planned as an integral part of the community, it's the first 18-hole course in Florida to make the national registry, said City Council member Grant Rimbey, who spearheaded the registry effort as a member of the Temple Terrace Preservation Society. A nine-hole public course in Winter Park also is on the list, he said.

The 6,414-yard, par-72 Temple Terrace course was built in a figure 8 design, with the clubhouse in the middle at that time. That way, golfers could stop by for refreshments after the front nine and the back nines, and their land sales agent could pitch them on buying property.

"It was a sales tactic,'' Rimbey said.

The course was also laid out so that spectators could drive their Model A's along the streets and keep up with the game's progress.

It was created by Scotsman Tom Bendelow, the celebrated golf course architect of the time, designer of Medinah golf course near Chicago, site of last year's Ryder Cup, and East Lake in Atlanta.

Bendelow's grandson, Stuart Bendelow, author of Thomas "Tom'' Bendelow — the Johnny Appleseed of American Golf, is scheduled to be on hand this weekend for a celebration, which includes a banquet and amateur and professional tournaments using hickory clubs, like the clubs used in the early 1920s.

"He did well over 600 golf courses,'' said Stuart Bendelow, a South Carolina resident. He was recognized for being one of the early promoters of the game in the U.S. "When he started out, he was just trying to get people introduced to this foreign sport.''

Temple Terrace was the site of the 1925 Florida Open, which drew Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and other big names in the sport.

The place also claims a footnote in American religious history. It was during a night walk on the golf course in the 1930s that Billy Graham, a young student at what was then Florida Bible Institute, felt the call to the ministry. He dropped to his knees near the 18th hole and asked God what he wanted him to do.

"The moonlight, the moss, the breeze, the green golf course — all the surroundings stayed the same,'' he wrote in his autobiography. "No sign in the heavens. No voice from above. But in my spirit I knew I had been called to the ministry. And I knew my answer was yes."

Popular with Temple Terrace residents, the golf course also draws players from South Tampa, Brandon and Carrollwood, said Robert M. Boss, a City Council member and president of the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club, who added that the club would like to attract more players.

In honor of the 1925 Florida Open, a retro tournament featuring pros with the Hickory Golf Association, vying for a $5,000 purse — same as in 1925 — starts at 11 a.m. Monday. The public is invited to watch for free.

It's the third year of the U.S. Professional Hickory Golf Championship. Money raised through the tournaments helped pay the $12,000 cost of getting the golf course listed on the national registry, said Tim Lancaster, president of the preservation society. The city contributed $6,000. The society now hopes to raise $5,000 to pay for two historical markers.

During the ceremony Tuesday at the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club, Mayor Frank Chillura proclaimed Saturday as "Historic Hickory Golf Day.'' Amateurs can register at 11 a.m. for the Hickory Hacker Golf Tournament, a four-person scramble, and see what it's like to play with hickory clubs, which aren't very forgiving.

"Modern clubs, in all honesty, are far superior in their ability to allow a player to get away with mistakes,'' said Mike Stevens, golf teacher at MacDill Air Force Base and organizer of the tournament at Temple Terrace.

"You can't do that with a hickory club. If you don't hit it precisely, if you don't hit it in the right spot, then you're in trouble.''

As for the course itself, Stevens would rate it mid-level in difficulty.

"It's got its unique challenges: small greens, not as easy to hit, and they're difficult to putt on — they're very difficult to read.''

Boss said the lines of trees make it tough. Golfers have to employ what he calls "the Temple Terrace punch — hit low and keep it out of the leaves, or you'll be there forever.''

Philip Morgan can be reached at or (813) 226-3435.

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Old-fashioned fun

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Temple Terrace Golf Course makes history 01/17/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 4:12pm]
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