The Blackwater River Region in the Florida Panhandle is all abuzz with 'Bubba fever.'
Plans are in the works to change the name of the main drag in Bagdad, Fla., to Bubba Watson Road and host a victory parade.
Bagdad is Bubba’s hometown, a small village of 2,239 on the outskirts of Milton, the small city where Watson went to high school.
Old Bagdad Highway, the street Watson grew up on, may soon be renamed to honor Watson for his Masters victory, according to village officials. Bubba’s mother, Molly, still lives in the house where Bubba was raised.
Watson’s father, Gerry, who died about 18 months ago, would have relished hearing what is in the works in the Blackwater River Region to celebrate his son’s triumph, says Mike Johnson, president of the Bagdad Village Preservation Association.
Two days before Gerry Watson died, he wrote a letter to Santa Rosa County officials asking if signs could be erected on the three main roads leading into Bagdad, Johnson said. In the short months after Gerry’s death, his wish was granted, with those signs proudly proclaiming: “Welcome to Bagdad, hometown of Bubba Watson.” One sign is posted on the Forsyth Road entrance to Bagdad, one on Garcon Point Road and another on Old Bagdad Highway.
“It was very emotional, the signs going up after Gerry’s death,” Johnson said.
Per Gerry’s wishes, each of those signs was set up on the left side of the roads, honoring Bubba’s left-handed game.
Johnson said the signs will probably have to be changed now to acknowledge Bubba as a Masters champ.
“There’s a lot of talk about that,” Johnson said. “There was one proposal that we just make a green jacket attachment to the sign. There’s a lot of talk about having a celebration event.”
Before Watson’s Masters victory, Bagdad was most famous for being the original home of Mary B’s Biscuits and Dumplings. An old Florida community, Bagdad was founded in 1842 and once flourished as a mill town on the Blackwater River. The mills exported native virgin heart pine wood to all parts of the world.
“It was valued because it was as hard as oak but cut like pine,” Johnson said. “Back at the turn of the 20th century, Bagdad was the richest economic concern in the state of Florida.”
That all changed when the final virgin heart pine was cut down in 1939. Today, many of the village’s homes, including the house where Watson was raised, are protected as part of the National Historic Registry. Watson’s home was built in 1910.
What’s Bagdad like now?
“It’s a little piece of heaven,” Watson once said. “It’s a great little town. It’s just real quiet. There’s a post office and that’s about it in the town. No red lights, all stop signs, elementary school and good ole people, good ole southern people.”
Watson’s the pride of more than Bagdad, though. Over in Milton, there are more celebratory plans in the works, including a possible parade and banquet.
“We would need to coordinate it with Bubba, but there are all kinds of talks going about what we should do to honor him,” said Milton Mayor Guy Thompson. “The feeling in town, the atmosphere here, it’s just filled with so much pride over what Bubba accomplished. Really, it’s phenomenal that a small community the size of Milton could produce so many professional athletes and champions.”
Milton High is also where PGA Tour winners Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum graduated. Lawrence Tynes, the placekicker who helped the New York Giants win two Super Bowls, is one of three NFL players from Milton High. The school also claims Mark Everett, an Olympic middle distance runner who won the bronze medal in the 800-meter race at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.
Over at Tanglewood Country Club in Milton, where Watson learned to play tagging along with his father, there’s immense pride in being the course where Watson learned to shape the shots that made him a champion. There is a wall in the clubhouse filled with photos and memorabilia of Watson, Slocum and Weekley.
Hiram Cook, the head pro at Tanglewood and nearby Stonebrook, said Watson’s great escape from the trees in the Masters’ playoff didn’t surprise anyone at the club. Watson learned to hit a lot of creative shots playing Tanglewood’s narrow design. Tight and tree lined, Tanglewood is an escape artist’s training ground.
“You miss the fairways at Tanglewood, and you’re in the trees, on pine straw or sand,” Cook said. “It was so short and tight, you had to learn to work balls around trees and run shots up onto greens.”
Cook said Bubba was 10 when he first saw him tag along in a round with his papa, Gerry. Bubba and Cook’s daughter, Robin, grew up playing junior events.
“Robin was in tears watching the Masters,” Cook said. “So was my wife. We were all so proud.”
That pretty much sums up what a lot of folks were feeling late Sunday night in the Blackwater River Region.