A PALM HARBOR JOURNEY
By Jock MacKenzie
When Bill Amick was pulled out of Daytona Beach to design and build a golf course for ITT, the second links layout in Palm Coast, no one realized the character that this young genius was about to install. As the years flew by only the smallest number held the fairways and greens to such status.
But when the course was sold and eventually demolished, reality began to set in, the Palm Harbor Golf Course suddenly took on a warm glow for what it really was and that pride is on the lips of all who ever played it. Now, it is KemperSports assigned the challenge of bringing this once proud name back to its glory days and, by golly, they are well on the road to getting it done, the character and all that Amick originally gave us.
Yes, Nancy Lopez was there for an extended period of time as the “Resident Pro.” She lived in a condo a few long hops from the 17th green while she kept her tour golf skills at the highest level. As a nice a lady as you’ll ever meet in golf or anywhere, Lopez took it upon herself to play 18-holes with Palm Harbor members, storied names like the late Joe East and Hal Kendrick. Tales of fondness and joy about Lopez and her days at Palm Harbor are told even today by such as Norma Kendrick, Patricia Eldridge, Hank Whitham and other Palm Harbor members of that time.
Palm Coast of those days was at the very beginning of a population growth that saw retirees pour in from New York, New Jersey, New England and other places north. As Lopez related while competing in a tournament at LPGA two years before she retired from the tour, “We didn’t have much back then, a gas station or two and a McDonalds. But I loved it at Palm Harbor.”
The Men’s and Women’s Association were huge factors at Palm Harbor, both for volume of play and introductions for the popular course to follow. Golfers swarmed in from Pine Lakes, Matanzas and Cypress Knoll to play in these weekly game challenges. The Palm Harbor Niners was hugely popular, golfers choosing to forego their preferred 18-holes of play just to be with the people involved. And it is seemingly as popular today, even without play activity. Joyce Jackson, a Palm Coast resident who ran the Niners for two of its last years, is ready to go once more. She has so many players signed up to re-join that the roster is filled even though the course is not yet ready for play. Jackson will be the President of the Niners again, all to the acclaim of everyone involved, and she can’t wait to take on the duty.
The roster for the Men’s Association was huge and among the last to serve as Committee Chairman before closing were people like George Rhatigan, David Kelsey, Hal Kendrick, Ed Mylis, Bill Brown, Bob Ross and Bob Jones. The most famous of all Palm Harbor Presidents was Joe East who saw to it that his Last Will and Testament donate an ongoing amount of money to Palm Harbor.
Names of Presidents that will return fond memories to this day include Joe Handrahan, Harry Shaw, Earl Kaufman, George Driscoll, Larry Sheridan, Bill Stoetzer, Don Oppert, Russ Leary and Joe East. The complete roster dates all the way back to 1973, a time when Palm Coast was just beginning to grow and, as Nancy Lopez pointed out, surviving with a gas station or two and a single restaurant.
Judd Canty was another special factor in the success of this golf course. He ran, directed and oversaw every phase of a number of golfers under the umbrella of “The Canty Group.” To site this band of golfers as popular is understating the regard and value.
Canty is a retired Massachusetts State Trooper, resides just off one of the Palm Harbor fairways and plays with the same enthusiasm for the so-called Jackson Group. The leader of these golfers, Mike Jackson, was a reasonable golf beginner when joining Palm Harbor. Canty became his close friend, took him into his organization and taught him everything he had to know in leading a group of men who want to play with friends by their side. Jackson leads the way even today at a variety of courses, from The Pine, to Grand Reserve, Halifax Plantation and several more. As a West Point graduate and retired Army colonel he hardly needed pointers from anyone but Canty’s lessons are something no one learns in school
There is not a lengthy portfolio of golf pros that served Palm Harbor because when they came they stayed. Among the most loved and respected even today are Gary Freeman and Kevin Doetch. Freeman, a gentle man of color, was treated far less than equally by owners of the time and eventually left to lead and teach at Bethune Cookman College in Daytona where he is now. Doetch left for Pine Lakes and today is the head of management at a beautiful golf course just outside of St. Mary’s in Georgia. It is better known as Kings Bay and the golf course is the property of the Atomic Submarine Base located there.
Among the names that bring a smile to golfers in Palm Coast today are Roy Barfield, a Past President of the Men’s Association, Don Bach who wrote member heroics for two different newspapers and Dale Bell who preferred Matanzas Woods where he lives but who is also chomping at the bit to play this special golf course many times more.
Although Sue Gronwoldt denies today the value she gave Palm Harbor members of the Women’s Association are quick to tell us different. She was and is a leader of the first order, a person who gives tirelessly of her time and knowledge and goes in the book as a Palm Harbor Icon.
Tony Maltese, a CPA from Brooklyn, NY, lives on the golf course and back then gave every bit of himself to keep the Men’s Association healthy and wealthy. Because of people like Maltese the organization never had money problems, could toss holiday banquets without fear of going broke, and ran the financial ship like only a brilliant mind could do. I’m not sure that we will ever see the likes of a Maltese at Palm Harbor again but if we do the organization will thank its lucky stars.
Another living just off the golf course and monitoring every half inch the grass grows is Dan Kelly. This member of the New York Softball Hall of Fame is playing here and there but make no mistake, Palm Harbor is in his soul and that’s where his humor will be heard two and three times a week. Toss another Palm Harbor coin and you’ll come up with names like Ed Ricker, Pat Van Dine and her late husband Jim, Don Wike, Ed Benedit, Art Branfeld, Ross Marteney and Bob Lawrence, a member everyone loved and does to this day even though he now plays the game at Halifax Plantation.
I know and cherished these many people, and so many more, because Palm Harbor gave me the privilege of serving their Men’s Association for three years. It was a wonderful honor – as well as a lot of hard work – and I’m grateful to the hundreds who allowed me to be one of them.
Palm Harbor was so loved back then that this beautiful golf course fit perfectly the words written by the famed Harvey Penick: “And if you play golf you’re my friend.” Boy, did that place have friends, men and women who to this day have Palm Harbor in their memory banks like no other golf course in Florida.
As for original designer Bill Amick, he is still in the business of building golf courses and probably doesn’t know the fame he has to this day because of what he did with Palm Harbor. What he did was create an icon that is cherished long after the first tuft of grass began to grow.
Now it’s KemperSports' opportunity, the challenge of bringing these wonderful memories back into reality and of shaping the Palm Harbor we all knew and loved. From what former members have seen of the building stage prior to opening, the task is well on its way to a huge success.