The Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club, site of the 2014 U.S. Professional Hickory Championship.
In Florida, the annual U.S. Professional Hickory Championship is the only hickory golf event of which we are aware that is staged for golf professionals only. Organized by Mike Stevens, executive director of the Professional Hickory Golfers Association, the 2014 event will feature a defense of his 2013 title by Paolo Quirici of Switzerland.
“The tournament is basically a continuation of the 1925 Florida Open in which the best professional golfers in the United States competed for $5,000 in the city of Temple Terrace just north of Tampa. It was one of the last great wooden shaft era golf events,” says Stevens, who is also golf professional at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., and a board member of the Society of Hickory Golfers.
The tournament, scheduled for Feb. 24, is annually held at the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club, which hosted the original Florida Open and remains true to its 1922 Tom Bendelow design.
In the 1920s, professional golfers found the Sunshine State a welcoming place for lucrative exhibition events. These were usually casually arranged, often impromptu affairs. As more and more golf and country clubs appeared on the scene, the pros took a page from baseball’s spring training where club played against club. The golfers saw there could be money representing your club in exhibitions and competitions against pros from other clubs.
The 1925 Florida Open was one of a series of such competitions in what was called the “Professional Golfers League of Florida,” by Bob Harlow, Walter Hagen’s savvy PR agent. The league lasted only one year, 1925, but it was great fun while it lasted, featuring such players as Hagen and Joe Kirkwood of the Pasadena Golf Club; Barnes and Fred McLeod of Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club; and Sarazen and Leo Diegel from a club in Hollywood, Fla. Other pros included Tommy Armour, Cyril Walker, and Johnny Farrell. Barnes was the professional at Temple Terrace.
The four-round Florida Open in 1925 included two rounds at Palma Ceia. Diegel won the overall event with a 2-under, 284. The 43-year-old McLeod turned in the low score of the first day, shooting a solid 69.
The modern event organized by Stevens is open to all golf professionals, male and female. Players will compete for a slice of the same $5,000 prize fund (about $65,000 today) that the pros competed for in 1925. They’ll also compete for the John Shippen Cup, dedicated to America’s first golf professional (Shinnecock Hills). All entrants will compete with authentic or replica pre-1930 golf equipment and balls.
“The championship is dedicated to preserving and honoring the history of early golf in America,” Stevens says.
At the 2013 event, Quirici, a former European Tour player, claimed the $1,500 first prize when he birdied the final hole to record a one over par 74 that edged out John McCann of Sarasota and Richard Bullock of Clearwater.
Leroux Ferreira, a 25-year-old South African pro, won the first U.S. Pro Hickory Open in 2011 with a 79.
Entries are now being accepted for this year’s event and can be obtained from Stevens at www.usprohickory.com.