Of all the amenities originally designed and constructed for Davis Islands in the 1920s, the Davis Islands Golf Course was the largest in scale and the last to be completed. Designed by internationally known golf course architect A. W. Tillinghast, the golf course occupied a large portion of the southern half of Davis Islands, where it was entwined within the streets and canals of the development.
Construction on the course began in late January 1927, four months after the engineering firm of Stone & Webster purchased Davis Islands from David P. Davis, and three months after Davis’ mysterious death at sea. The start of construction was heralded by the development’s newspaper, Life on Davis Islands, with the banner headline “Golf Course is Begun.”
The golf course on Davis Islands joined a crowded field of municipal courses and country clubs. The “big four” private country clubs — Rocky Point, Palma Ceia, Temple Terrace and Forest Hills — all had 18-hole courses. In addition, there were two other nine-hole courses that were already open or nearing completion. The short par three links course at Macfarlane Park in West Tampa, which opened in 1917, was free to residents, while the new course under construction near Drew Field would carry a green fee for those who would like to challenge themselves in John Drew’s former pasture land.
The straightforward Davis Islands course layout consisted of nine holes covering 3,060 yards. The only water hazard of any significance was the 100-foot-wide Grand Canal that cut across the middle of the second hole. The same canal sat behind the green on the first hole and ran behind the tee box on the seventh hole. Sand bunkers seemed the bigger obstacle, with as many as five appearing on a given hole.
The clubhouse, located between the fairways of first and ninth holes, was constructed and open three years before the course opened. The Mediterranean Revival structure stood two stories tall and featured dining rooms, meeting space and a dance floor. More unusual, however, was the retractable roof, which could be opened to allow dancing under the stars. The building operated as a supper club before being converted back to its original purpose, that of a proper Country Club.
Opening festivities took place on Dec. 31, 1928, with revelers simultaneously ushering in the New Year and the new golf course. A members-only tournament was held the following day to officially open the course. Membership to the country club was restricted and set by a meeting of “prominent Tampans” in December 1928. Memberships for winter visitors, still a big target demographic even after the real estate bust, were also available.
Though the depression curtailed much of the fun of the Jazz Age, golf still remained a popular sport. The Davis Islands course played host to a wide variety of tournaments, particularly for Tampa’s women golfers. The course was a popular venue for the Tampa Women’s Golf Association, along with the larger Palma Ceia and Rocky Point courses. Businessmen, too, enjoyed the ease and quickness of play afforded by the short course just minutes from downtown Tampa.
Despite its grand beginnings, the golf course fell into disrepair. In the early 1950s, a young Tampa Tribune reporter named Leland Hawes played on the Davis Islands golf course. In speaking of the course years later, Hawes recalled that it was not in very good condition, to say the least. By this time, the Davis Islands golf course was public and owned and operated by the city. Though not necessarily neglected, the course did not receive the same attention it did as a members-only course.
By the mid-1950s, the Davis Islands course faced an uncertain future. Florida in general, and Tampa in particular, was experiencing another land boom during this time. Fueled by the confluence of a thriving economy, new home construction under the GI Bill, and the advent of affordable home air conditioning, the boom in part completed what the 1920s land boom started. All of this meant that land on Davis Islands was again marketable, and a nine-hole golf course was expendable in the face of potential profits.
Another, more ominous, theory exists to explain the course’s demise: the idea that, with the continued successes of the Civil Rights movement, African-Americans would have to be allowed to play on the city-owned course. The Davis Islands course was the only municipal course during this time that ran through a white residential neighborhood, which potentially could explain this idea. Though this rumor has persisted through the years, it is just a theory with no documented evidence.
Whatever the reason, the Davis Islands golf course was transformed into the Byars-Thompson addition to Davis Islands in the mid-1950s, with hundreds of homes appearing on the former fairways, greens, and sand traps. The Davis Islands Country Club transitioned into the Davis Municipal Building (455 Bosphorous) and by 1966 was demolished, too. The sole surviving building, the incongruently named “19th Hole” cantina, was converted into a private residence. However it, too, succumbed to the wrecking ball in 2013.
Rodney Kite-Powell is the Saunders Foundation Curator of History at the Tampa Bay History Center. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 228-0097.