By Barry Ward
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF
Copyright © Barry Ward. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
LIKE THE CHARMING STORY of the founding of Pinehurst as the world’s first golf resort, the history of how Florida became Golf State USA has remarkable beginnings. It all started because of an invalid.
The setting: the Boca Raton resort in Palm Beach, a winter hideaway for film stars and other wealthy celebrities in the years between the wars. In those days it was known as the Cloister Inn and it had one of the few golf courses in the region, one built simply as a hotel facility. It seems that a couple of vacationing New Yorkers decided to try the strange game they saw being played but, being on the wrong side of 50 and unaccustomed to walking farther than a waiting limo, they couldn’t finish the course.
“Pity,” they agreed. “It’s a crazy game but fun.”
That’s when the sight of a friend tootling around the resort in a motor-driven three-wheeled invalid carriage gave them a bright idea. If they could get one of those things converted to carry some golf sticks, they said, their problem would be solved.
Another chum came up with a suitable conversion, and the age of the golf cart was born. Before you could shout “fore,” their rudimentary cart had spawned an industry. Soon there were hundreds of carts zooming around and, to meet the demand, golf courses began springing up like mushrooms in a farmyard, many built on land reclaimed from swamps that covered almost half of the state.
Then along came another bright idea when it was realised that golf courses had lots of unused land just perfect for building second homes for the seriously wealthy seeking some winter sunshine. And so the Florida real estate industry was born.
Soon there were 100 golf courses, then 500, then 1,000. Today there are more than 1,500 courses across the state, each with hundreds of second homes on the fairways. “Gated communities,” they call them, part of the country club set that is synonymous with Florida.
It was the start of the multibillion dollar real estate boom that continues to this day. It all began with an invalid carriage that is now a treasured exhibit in the Pinehurst museum: the world’s first golf cart at home in the world’s first golf resort. Not a lot of people know that, even in Florida.
Barry Ward is a veteran golf writer and the publisher/editor of www.posh-golf-travel.com, a guide to luxurious, family friendly golf resorts and destinations. He lives in golf-gorgeous Rutland, England.