They played one of the grand old
amateur events of the year last week,
the Gasparilla Invitational, at the recently
redesigned Palma Ceia Golf & Country
Club in Tampa, Fla. This is a tournament
rich in history, with a “who’s who” of winners and played at a spectacular venue.
And because that venue was wonderfully
restored, the tournament got a shot in the
arm and a new sense of vitality.
The Gasparilla Open was how the event
began, and it is part of a month-long
celebration in Tampa called the Gasparilla
Pirate Festival. This festival is a city-wide
celebration of the legend of Jose Gaspar, a
mythical Spanish pirate, who called southwest Florida his home. Until 1935, the
Gasparilla Open was a big-time PGA Tour
event with the then huge purse of $4,000.
Walter Hagen won in 1935, his last professional victory in a long and colorful career.
By 1956, the Gasparilla had become an
amateur event, an almost mandatory stop
for the top amateurs of the day, who used
the event as a tune-up for The Masters.
Over time, it morphed into a mid-amateur
event, which it is now.
Palma Ceia is a demanding track, as
evidenced by the fact that the winner of
the 54-hole event has broken par just
six times. In 1967, former U.S. Amateur
champion and local favorite Bob Murphy
shot 5-under 205 in a walkover. That
record was broken by Peter Dachisen in
2005 when he shot 204, fueled by an 8-un-
der 62, low round in tournament history.
Palma Ceia is thought by many to be
a Donald Ross design, but it is in fact a
Tom Bendelow course built in 1916. Re-
cords are scarce, but Ross did visit years
later and rerouted the course. The club
engaged course designer Bobby Weed
to implement a restoration project last
spring, and it was unveiled in October.
for Northern players. There are no schoolboys in sight, the weather almost always
cooperates, and you don’t have to begin
the year at 7,000-plus yards. Here’s hoping more of them rediscover this gem of a