Davis Islands Golf Course
by Rodney Kite-Powell
Curator, Tampa Bay History Center
Of all the amenities originally designed and constructed for Davis Islands in the
1920s, the Davis Islands Golf Course was the largest in scale and the latest to be
completed. Designed by “internationally known” golf course architect A. W. Tillinghast,
the golf course occupied a large portion of the southern half of the Islands, was entwined
within the streets and canals of the southern half of the Islands.
Construction began on the course in late January 1927, four months after the
engineering firm of Stone & Webster purchased Davis Islands from D. P. Davis, and
three months after Davis’ mysterious death at sea. The start of construction was heralded
by the development’s newspaper, Life on Davis Islands, with the banner headline “Golf
Course is Begun.”
The straight forward course layout consisted of nine holes, covering 3,060 yards.
The only water hazard of any significance was the 100 foot wide Grand Canal that cut
across the middle of the second hole. The same canal sat behind the green on Number
One and ran along the left side of the fairway on Number Three. Sand bunkers seemed
the bigger obstacle, with as many as five appearing on a given hole.
The clubhouse, located between the fairways of Number One and Number Nine,
was constructed and open three years before the course opened. The Mediterranean
Revival structure stood two stories tall and featured dining rooms, meeting space and a
dance floor. More unique, however, was the retractable roof which could be opened to
allow dancing under the stars. The building operated as a supper club before being
converted back to its original purpose, that of a proper Country Club.
Opening festivities took place on December 31, 1928, with revelers
simultaneously ushering in the New Year and the new golf course. A members-only
tournament was held the following day to officially open the course. Membership to the
country club was restricted and set by a meeting of “prominent Tampans” in December
1928. Memberships for winter visitors, still a big target demographic even after the Bust,
were also available.
Despite its grand beginnings, the golf course eventually fell into disrepair. In the
early 1950s, a young Tampa Tribune reporter named Leland Hawes played on the Davis
Islands golf course. In speaking of the course years later, Hawes, a Tampa historian now
retired from the Tribune, recalled that it was not in very good condition, to say the least.
By this time, the Davis Islands golf course was public and owned and operated by the
city. Though not necessarily neglected, the course did not receive the same attention it
did as a private, members-only course.
Florida in general, and Tampa in particular, was experiencing another land boom
during this time. Fueled by the confluence of a booming economy, new home
construction under the GI Bill and the advent of affordable home air conditioning, the
boom in part completed what the 1920s land boom started. All of this meant that land on
Davis Islands was again marketable, and a nine-hole golf course was expendable in the
face of potential profits.
Another, more sinister, theory exists to explain the course’s demise – the idea
that, with continued successes of the Civil Rights movement, African Americans would
have to be allowed to play on the city-owned course. The Davis Islands course was the
only municipal course during this time that ran through a white residential neighborhood,
which potentially could explain this idea. Again, this is just a theory with no supporting
Whatever the reason, the Davis Islands golf course was transformed into the
Byars Thompson addition to Davis Islands in the mid-1950s, with hundreds of homes
appearing on the former fairways, greens and tee boxes. The Davis Islands Country Club
transition into the “Davis Municipal Building” and by 1966 was demolished, too. All
that survives of the golf course today is the incongruently named “19th Hole” cantina,
which is now a private residence.