Once There Were Two Golf Courses in Boca Grande
October 2022 Newsletter
In 1849 the War Department did an evaluation of islands south of Tampa and recommended that Gasparilla Island and part of Cayo Costa become a military reserve. Interestingly the Secretary of the commission making this evaluation was Colonel Robert E Lee. This recommendation was effected by an Act of Congress the same year.
It took 33 years before the military reserve became a reality and then it included only the two miles south of what is now First Street and the northernmost two miles of Cayo Costa. Neither island was ever fortified, nor were they ever occupied by any troops.
In 1909 the Boca Grande Land Company leased part of the military reservation for a rental of $10 per year. The property was to be used for “’park purpose’ so to protect the island from lease-out to ‘undesirable elements.’ No buildings were to be erected on this leasehold, nor were intoxicating beverages to be sold thereon.”
In 1913 the Land Company wished to build a golf course on the leased property to complement the newly built Gasparilla Inn. In negotiations with the War Department, the Inn suggested that they continue to lease the property for $10 a year as they would be spending $18,000 on the golf course, its watering system and a small clubhouse.
The War Department engineers recommended an annual rent of $600. Major J. R. Slattery, District Army Engineer at Jacksonville wrote, “The proposed Golf Links is, of course, for the use of winter tourists, but it is believed that the Boca Grande Land Company would permit its use by the general public, should the public so desire. It is most improbable, however, that there will be any demand on the part of the general public of Boca Grande to use the golf links. Most of the general public in this locality is too busy earning a living to devote much time to playing golf.”
The Land Company accepted the $600 a year lease for five years and built a nine- hole course calling it Gulf Shore Golf Links. Originally the first two holes of the course were on the shore west of what is now Gulf Boulevard and just south of the range light. The remaining seven holes were between the road and the then existing railroad tracks. There was also a clubhouse and a superintendent’s house. The lease still prohibited alcohol and required that the buildings be removed if requested by the War Department.
The lease was renewed in 1918 and 1924 with the same terms. Documents from 1918 include the information that the golf course had cost more than $33,000 and that maintenance during the prior five years had totaled almost $34,500. In 1924, the annual rental was increased to $1345.
In 1926 the War Department offered much of the military reserve land, including the golf course tract, for sale via sealed bid. The appraisal for the property by the Department was $367,710. Joseph Spadaro bought approximately 40 percent of the property for $89,250. In 1928 he bought the rest of the tracts for $52,800 and thereby owned all of the reservation except the railroad right-of-way and terminal service tracts and the Lighthouse Services land. The lease with the Inn for the golf course was terminated. Spadaro moved the golf course a little more south and built the Boca Grande Hotel.
Baron Collier bought the Gasparilla Inn in 1930 and began the development of an eighteen hole golf course on the mangrove covered area east of the Inn. The first official mapping of the Gasparilla Golf Course shows the date January 5, 1932. Beginning as a 9-hole course, it was later expanded to eighteen holes. The course is more than 103-plus acres and has been redesigned in 1938, 1960 and most recently in 2004 by Pete Dye. So for a time, there were two golf courses on the island – one at the Gasparilla Inn and one at the Boca Grande Hotel.
This article is based on information provided by islander Phil Woods and the book, Boca Grande – A Series of Historical Essays, by Charles Dana Gibson. The article previously appeared in the Boca Beacon.
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