Historic Ponce de Leon Course May Survive

By Golf Channel NewsroomMay 13, 2003, 4:00 pm
Lura Readle, Golf Central reporter
The endangered Donald Ross-designed Ponce de Leon Golf Course - arguably the oldest and most historic golf course in the state of Florida - got a mulligan of sorts at a City of St. Augustine planning and zoning meeting May 5.
As reported Tuesday on Golf Central, the nearly century-old course, which originally had been slated to be closed down immediately after the end of play May 11, will now stay open indefinitely, according to owner/developer Chester Stokes. Stokes is the CEO of Stokes and Company, a highly successful Jacksonville, Fla.-based real estate development/management firm.
New developments in negotiations between the city and Stokes prompted the developer to voluntarily table his plans for Madeira at St. Augustine, a 749-unit, upscale housing development that would encompass the 400 acres which the Ponce currently occupies.
Back in February, interested parties including the city, St. Johns County, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Audubon Society, Florida Forever, and the local Airport Authority, met to address whether they could combine their efforts to save the property. St. Johns County Commissioner Nicolas Meiszer believed the responsibility would fall squarely on the shoulders of these parties.
I believe the course will have to be subsidized, and I mean by the professional golfers and by the environmentalists, and by the people who really want to make a contribution to it., Meiszer said in an interview with Golf Central just before that meeting.
But a viable plan could not be fleshed out and attempts completely stalled, with no foreseeable help on the horizon. The waterfront marshland, home to hundred-year-old oaks, nearly a hundred species of waterfowl (some endangered), and breathtaking vistas of the Intracoastal waterway, seemed destined to be plowed up by now all-to-familiar bulldozers in the name of progress. In the words of George Gardner, mayor of St. Augustine, Its another classic case of developer versus preservationist.
Citizens of St. Augustine and beyond - golfers and non-golfers alike - would not let the issue die. So last month, pressed on by the members of Save the Ponce - a group formed to do just that - Gardner initiated a resolution, soundly passed by city officials, to support any and all efforts to acquire the Ponce de Leon property.
Unfortunately, for a city registering only 20,000 residents in the 2000 census, that price is rather high. Stokes has often stated that if someone were to come up with a valid offer, somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.5 million (plus an additional $3 million for some sorely needed renovations), he would seriously consider parting with that portion of his prospected development. Until just recently, that figure and the fact that public funds would almost certainly have to be tapped was a major sticking point for both the city and the county. According to Meiszer, Too many people will look at it purely as a business deal and I know enough about finance that, if all you look at is the financing, this in not going to work.
But efforts have been redoubled, spurred on in large part by Christopher H. Toby Smith, a concerned lawyer/merchant banker and the Save the Ponce group. After seeing a three-part feature which aired on Golf Central last February, Smith, a long-time resident of St. Johns County, immediately went to work obtaining copies of the feature to present to private investors in hopes of saving the course.
As time progressed, Smith realized that privatization, while extremely possible, was not the optimum solution for the Ponce and the community. The best solution, in his opinion, is for the course to remain in the possession of the public. So Smith, utilizing a great deal of his own funds, gathered together a group of professionals focused on achieving that very goal. The key members of that group: attorney Emerson Lotzia with the law firm Foley Lardner, landscape architect Fred Halback, and KMPG, an international accounting and business advising firm. With their help, and the help of countless volunteers, every possible avenue was investigated and a way was found in which the property could be purchased without using a cent of city funds.
On Monday, May 6th, another meeting, crucial to the continued existence of the Ponce, was held in the office of city manager Bill Harris. In the marathon 12-hour session, Smith, Lotzia, Stokes, Harris, and Gardner started to hammer out the details of two imminently workable plans.
The most attractive one to all interested parties is where the golf course property would ultimately be owned and operated by the City of St. Augustine - incidentally the oldest city in the United States. This plan would utilize a $6.6 million in Florida Community Trust dollars to buy up the acreage the course sits on, essentially creating a Community Redevelopment Area, or CDA. The city would have to come up with a 25 percent match, roughly $1.65 million, which Smith's group and Save the Ponce feel confident could be obtained through intense fundraising efforts. The purchase depends on the raising of these monies. Gardner and other city officials have said that no city funds will be earmarked for this endeavor.
Stokes tabled his development in order to give the city more time to enter into a free option to purchase the course by Oct. 31. One caveat: if the city does pursue this course of action but then decides that it cannot meet the deadline to buy, Smith could then pick up the option. If it comes to that, the course would then have to be privatized - in other words, become a private club, with dues covering the cost of operation. 'But that is only a last resort. All my time and energy is going into a public solution, Smith says.
At the St. Augustine city commissioners meeting May 12, Smith and Halback presented their vision for making all this a reality.
The resulting response was a resolution presented by Mayor Gardner and passed 5-0 by the commission which will start the process of acquiring the grant from the FCT, establish the CRA, negotiate further with Stokes, and then schedule a special meeting to evaluate the deal before the next planning and zoning meeting on June 3.
Of course, there are some concerns from the members of the commission. In a story posted by today by the St. Augustine Record, Don Crichlow, whose father once caddied for President Warren G. Harding, was quoted as stating, 'The plan is a wonderful proposal. But we would be remiss in our responsibilities if we don't consider the financial ramifications to our city,' he said.
'We are buying a golf course so (Stokes) can build $1 million homes on the property, while we will maintain it to his standards.' Susan Burk, also quoted in the Record, added, 'It sounds like we're footing the bill for a very exclusive golf course. I hope that doesn't happen.'
The vision for the project involves rebuilding the original rustic clapboard clubhouse adjacent to the first tee and restoring the course to the original routing designed and constructed by Donald Ross in 1918.
Golf course architect Bobby Weed, who got his golfing sea legs working at the course in his teens, has a frayed, time-yellowed blueprint of the original plans and is already on board with the proposed project. 'We could return this course to it's original routing very easily,' Weed told Golf Central in February. His belief is that if this piece of golf and Florida history is lost, it would be 'irreplaceable.'
That plan presents a problem though. Stokes is loath to part with two key pieces of property, marsh-front acreage along which the sixth and seventh holes would lie, which would be essential in restoring the course 100 percent to the original routing.
If Stokes were to agree to the requests of those trying to restore the course back to the original routing, he would, in return, get up to $7.5 million dollars in federal tax credits and considerably more acreage would be dedicated to Madeira of St. Augustine, which would then contain 550 lots, down only 199 lots from the original design. The tax credits was something that Chester didnt even know about and still couldnt believe once KMPG told him, Smith told The Golf Channel.
This morning, Smith acknowledged that he is 'highly confident that if reason prevails on both sides an accepted acquisition price can be reached and the Ponce de Leon will continue operation.' Smith, whose wife also is a big supporter of all the efforts to save her beloved course, jokingly says his domestic bliss depends upon that successful resolution.
But all kidding aside, while the future of this historic course is looking rosier, many variables continue to jeopardize its existence. The developments of the past month have, for now, allowed the Ponce to play on. Toby Smith and his group have put those wheels in motion. It is now up to all involved parties, city officials, Chester Stokes, and the community, to make that a permanent thing.
For more information, contact Lura Readle lreadle@tgcinc.com
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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.