Winter Park’s favorite nine-hole golf course has just gone national.
Residents, local politicians and pro golfers gathered at the Winter Park Country Club Tuesday morning to celebrate its 100-year anniversary – and its induction into a historic collection of Florida golf courses.
The course that pro golfer — and Winter Park resident — Nick Faldo reportedly has called “Winter Park National” just got a dose of national exposure, with The Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” show setting up right next to the first tee for a special show about the course’s centennial.
Residents cheered as a commemorative centennial clock – a donation from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation — was unveiled beside the course’s practice putting green.
It’s the same course where Mayor Ken Bradley learned to golf alongside his father as a child – a course where Winter Parkers of all ages can come together to play a sport that’s meant for everyone, he said.
“I listened to the sounds today,” Bradley said. “You hear a [clock] bell chiming in the background, you hear a train whistle, you hear the click of a golf ball off the golf club and I think that just speaks to the best of Winter Park.”
“The thing that I love about growing up on this course and playing on this course is you play with people two generations above you and two generations below you in age. It teaches the best in life: how to get along, how to work together – this course represents those things.”
The Golf Channel’s feature captured not only the WPCC’s 100-year anniversary, but its inclusion on the Florida Historic Golf Trail, a collection of the 51 oldest golf courses in the state.
“Our job is to preserve, protect and promote Florida’s historic heritage – golf courses are a very big part of that,” said Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who helped spearhead the project.
“This particular country club was one of the very first golf courses in the state of Florida to be named to the national historic registry … What a better place to be [to announce the trail]?”
The Winter Park Country Club opened in the fall of 1914 under the direction of Charles H. Morse and Harley A. Ward. It wasn’t long before the course was given an additional 18 holes in early 1915, reaching a total of 27 holes of golf for residents to enjoy.
But financial struggles, the approaching World War and a nearby competing course called Links of Aloma forced the golf course to shut down entirely in 1926, said Justin Ingram, Winter Park Country Club general manager and PGA pro.
The club house remained active, but the course sat unused until Thanksgiving Day in 1937, when the original nine holes were reopened.
They’ve been open to golfers ever since.
Over the past 100 years, the fairways of the Winter Park Country Club have seen the likes of golf greats like Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan, as well as modern day pros like Billy Horschel, Chris DiMarco and Sir Nick Faldo.
Attending Tuesday’s centennial celebration was local LGPA pro Michelle McGann, a seven-time winner on the LPGA tour who admired the course’s old-timey feel.
“Let’s just put it this way, with all the new development going on, these are few and far between, which is special,” McGann said, looking out across the course. “It’s great that they’ve set this up.”
The same course celebrated Tuesday morning had come under threat of potentially disappearing almost 20 years ago. In 1996, pressure from outside development threatened to replace the golf haven with homes and condos, Ingram said.
Then Winter Park Mayor Gary Brewer decided to leave the course’s fate in the hands of the residents. The Winter Park Country Club was only partially owned by the city, so Winter Parkers voted to introduce a 20-year bond agreement to tax themselves and purchase the entire Country Club for the city.
Ingram said that by 2016 the course will be completely paid off.
“Some of us who remember the history know that 25 years or so ago this course potentially might have become something to different,” Bradley said. “To know that it was preserved and to know that it’s still a golf course and most importantly a city park just speaks to the real specialness of the day.”
Ingram said plans are in place to give the Winter Park course a facelift. He said the Country Club hopes to redo the greens on all nine holes over the next five years, with a groundbreaking expected by next summer.