Jerry Rowe just couldn't stay retired.
For years he owned his own businesses: scuba shops and lawn spraying in Michigan. He was a workaholic, constantly on the job. Then he tried to retire to Clearwater in 1997.
It didn't stick.
"I was going crazy with nothing to do," Rowe, 70, said. "I mean, what was I supposed to do tomorrow? I needed to work. I didn't want to be retired."
So Rowe had an idea. He bought some property in Hudson. On it was a rundown driving range off New York Avenue. He fixed the place up, added a restaurant just feet from the tee boxes, came up with a menu and put beer on ice at the bar.
Florida Golf Range and the 20th Hole Bar and Grill were born.
"I wanted to make my hobby pay for itself," said Rowe, who admits he's not an avid, or even, a good golfer, playing just too infrequently. "I like to drink beer. That's my hobby," Rowe added with a laugh. "The 20th Hole comes from that everyone says the 19th hole. The 20th hole, you can still get practice in, but get the food and beer, too."
Originally, Rowe wanted to have a golf school on the property. Though that didn't pan out, Rowe still has a golf pro on hand, Hal Yost, who gives lessons and has a pro shop inside the restaurant. Some of the other amenities include a covered and lighted driving range with synthetic and real grass, a putting green and a practice sand trap. There's also karaoke each week, an outdoor tiki bar and even some oversized food, including the Monster Burger, a meal larger than most customers' heads.
"The food and people here are excellent," Hudson resident and regular Gordon Cole said. "But what not everyone sees is how Jerry works his (butt) off here. If you come out here to hit the ball regularly, you're going to see Jerry and he's going to know you."
Rowe says he has a lot of regulars, enough to compare this place to Cheers. He knows most people's names, even how many times they play golf. So that's why Ric Blaydes jokingly calls himself the Norm — the infamous-always-drinking character from the TV show — of the 20th Hole. He's there most days, drinking or hitting from the range.
"The first time I came here, there were three old guys hitting ball and everyone was having a good time," Blaydes said. "It was pretty easy to see I was coming back. It's a great place to work on your game. I like the atmosphere of how everyone is laid-back. That's what golf is all about."
Rowe also enjoys throwing a good party. For nearly every holiday, the 20th Hole holds a big celebration. Rowe even goes a bit overboard for Christmas, hanging up more than 10,000 lights. Customers love that though. It stands out in their mind, then they just rave about being able to be themselves.
"This place is laid-back," Cole said. "You can be out here in flip-flops and shorts and swing at balls. This isn't your high-class golf. This is for hitting balls and having drinks. You can stop, have some wings and beer and there's no pressure to be the best golfer."
Many customers — mostly golfers — wind up at the 20th Hole after a round. They'll sit there and grab brews. They spout and brag about their golf stories on the porch. It becomes a roundtable discussion, some tall tales, some true.
Either way, they love the atmosphere.
"I like to have kids around here, too, because this should be a family place," Rowe said. "I've been all over the place scuba diving, and this place reminds me of the places I used to love to go to. Call it a Key West feel or whatnot, but they're like grill and bar places by the water.
"It's the laid-back atmosphere I've been around all my life."
Community sports editor Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 544-1771.