Miami Springs Golf and Country Club

History course set up to restore the glorious past

 

Special to the Miami Herald

History has a special place, usually in the past and, unfortunately, sometimes forgotten.

At Miami Springs Golf and Country Club, history is not only in the past, it’s evident in the present.

You can see history all over the clubhouse walls.

On those walls, there is a plaque showing the winners of the Miami Open, the first PGA event ever held in Miami. It started in 1925, and the winners include Slammin’ Sam Snead — six times. On the original and modest plaque displayed in the clubhouse, the name is Sammy Snead for his first three victories and Sam Snead for his final three.

Other winners include Gene Sarazen and Tommy Armour. The first winner in 1925 was Abe Mitchell. The tournament attracted all of the top players and had a total purse of $3,000. Mitchell gleefully walked off with the first-place prize of $600.

Not quite the $1.3 million or so players get for winning a tournament these days.

The Miami Open came to its end after the 1955 event, when there was not enough prize money to fund it.

Hopes for a new history for the course come in the form of Paul O’Dell, who six months ago took over as director of golf at Springs, Miami’s first course.

“I knew there was a lot of history connected with this course,” O’Dell said with some awe in this voice. “I just didn’t know how much depth there was to that history.”

O’Dell was referring to some of baseball’s foremost names playing there during its shining moments. From 1956 to 1967, during the height of spring training in South Florida, there was a one-day golf tournament for the ballplayers.

They flocked to the course. That’s why on the wall at Springs, you can see a picture of Mickey Mantle at the course. Unfortunately, Mantle is hoisting an alcoholic beverage in the picture, and it was alcohol abuse that eventually claimed Mantle’s life.

Other ballplayers who participated in the spring tournament: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale, Billy Martin, Jackie Robinson and Hoyt Wilhelm. Even boxer Joe Louis played there one year.

The motto of the course, which opened in 1923, is “Walk in the footsteps of legends” — and rightfully so.

Over the years, the course owned by the City of Miami Springs has had its ups and downs. The layout is still as good as any in Miami-Dade, but the quality and upkeep of the 18 holes has been lacking since its glory years.

That’s where O’Dell comes in to play.

His mission, and some might call it a mission impossible, is to return the course to the quality that its history demands.

The course already has improved under his direction, but his six months of tenure so far is too little time to drastically change a golf course. Well, maybe Donald Trump can do it at Doral with an armada of bulldozers here, there and everywhere re-sculpting the landscape. It won’t happen that quickly at Miami Springs, which is one of Miami’s most reasonably priced courses to play at a cost in the $37 range.

After arriving in Miami and being at the course for a while, O’Dell went to the Miami Springs City Council. He was honest.

“I told them that right now all I can do is put some lipstick on the pig,” O’Dell said. “I told them before we can make money, we have to offer a product.”

They gave him their backing.

Charlie DeLucca, the grandfather of golf in South Florida, recommended O’Dell for the director’s job and course do-over.

“He called me and told me it was a goat pasture,” O’Dell said. “The grass had been killed, the course had been over-watered and the grass had also been chemically destroyed. The greens had been mutilated. The driving range was basically dirt and weeds.”

Goats might be OK with that, but not serious golfers.

The lit driving range has been scraped and O’Dell said business there is up 50 percent. Tees are being redone. Grass patches are being put in where needed.

That’s just some of the many steps to come.

“When I first looked at the course, I knew I had problems,” O’Dell said. “It was and is going to be a turnaround project.”

But then O’Dell added one last comment without hesitation: “I look forward to it.”

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