2005: Features - From Sarazen to Palmer, O-Town tradition-rich

It may not have Isleworth’s aristocratic air or Bay Hill’s brute demeanor, but from the first tee at Dubsdread Golf Course unfolds 341 yards of semi-manicured fairway and some 80 years of Central Florida golf history.

The craggy patch of teeing area is about as close as one can come to sacred golf ground in an area that was little more than a backwater crossroads until well into the 20th century.

Long before Walt Disney laid the groundwork for what has become the Magic Kingdom’s 99 holes of golf and Arnold Palmer set up shop at Bay Hill, Dubsdread – along with several other fellow rustic gems – was the center of Central Florida’s golf universe.

Ben Hogan topped the marquee when the 1947 Orlando Open was played at “Dubs.” Palmer headlined the ’56 Mayfair Inn Open at Mayfair Country Club. Gene Sarazen played in numerous exhibitions at Winter Park Country Club.

“This is not a golf course,” Sarazen once said of Winter Park’s narrow fairways, “it’s more like a shooting gallery.”

Before Arnie and before Walt, citrus was king in Central Florida. The industry attracted wealthy investors from the north and spawned most of the area’s growth, including its earliest layouts.

The El Campeon layout at Mission Inn Golf and Tennis Resort, located northwest of Orlando in Howey-in-the-Hills, was designed by Scotland’s Charles E. Clarke as part of a 60,000-acre citrus empire owed by the Howey Co.

Eight decades of wear have chipped away at El Campeon’s nuances, but most of what Clarke created remains much like it was when the layout opened in 1926.

Mayfair Country Club in Sanford, on Orlando’s northern rim, has perhaps the most colorful past among the area’s aged layouts. Club officials credit Donald Ross for the design, although the Ross Society does not list the layout among the legendary architect’s works, and its opening is listed “between 1919 and 1922.”

What is certain is Mayfair’s place among the area’s storied layouts. Walter Hagen and Sarazen reportedly set the original course record in 1925 (5-under-par 65s), and the 6,403-yard layout was a regular tour stop for the country’s top professionals through the 1950s.

Much like Orlando’s boomtown background, Winter Park Country Club has evolved in step with the area’s often erratic growth.

Originally an 18-hole layout designed by Harley A. Ward and Dow George, Winter Park opened in 1914. However, intense development squeezed the course, and it reopened in 1937 as a nine-hole, 2,650-yard layout that now finds itself in the heart of posh Winter Park.

Despite its swanky surroundings, Winter Park Country Club remains a classic golf experience with the same tight fairways and small, domed greens that seemed to baffle Sarazen. The track also still sports an everyman’s price tag of $12.50 per round. But be sure to bring cash. Plastic is as out of place at Winter Park as are golf carts with digital yardage finders.

Sarazen would have liked that.

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