Story by: Mike May

The Babe Zaharias Golf Course in Tampa, Florida may not be known as the course that Babe built, but at least she used to own it.  Today, in the northern part of Tampa, one of the oldest golf courses in Florida is named in honor on one of the 20th Century’s greatest athletes (and golfers), Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrickson Zaharias.  But, this course had a different name when it opened in the mid-1920s.  Back in 1926, the first of two planned golf courses on a 2,000-acre piece of property – the North Side Country Club area -- in north Tampa was opened.  The new course – designed and built by J. Franklin Meehan from Philadelphia – was named the Forest Hills Golf and Country Club.  The second golf course actually was never built.

Then club professional Jimmy Thompson stated: "it was a very special 18-hole venue.  Forest Hills is a good course, it is an exceptional one,” He was right then and that same complement applies to the course today.

How good of a course was Forest Hills?  Well, if you asked then club professional Jimmy Thompson, it was a very special 18-hole venue.

“I would not say that Forest Hills is a good course, it is an exceptional one,” commented Thompson.  He was right then and that same complement applies to the course today.

In 1950, changes took place at Forest Hills.  Firstly, Babe Zaharias became the club’s winter golf professional.  And, in that same year, she and her husband, George Zaharias, bought the course and changed the name to the Tampa Golf and Country Club.  While in charge, Babe’s presence at the course was strong and visible.  While there, she hosted clinics, conducted exhibitions, and played with the Men’s Club.  Sadly, Babe, already a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, died of cancer in 1956 at age 45.  After Babe’s death, things changed at the club, for unknown reasons. The course was closed, the property became a haven for motorcyclists, and a hangout for teenagers.  And, then the clubhouse burned to the ground in 1962.  Fast forward to 1974.  The city of Tampa got involved – bought and restored the course.  Then, the course was re-named the Babe Zaharias Golf Course.

L to R: Babe & George purchase new home called Rainbow Manor. The Babe swing. Babe & Gene Sarazen at a golf exhibiton in the 1930's.

Not surprisingly, the Babe Zaharias Golf Course (www.babezahariasgolf.net) is now listed as one of the 53 courses on the Florida Historic Golf Trail.

Today, at the Babe Zaharias Golf Course (11412 Forest Hills Drive, Tampa, Florida; 813-631-4374), the front nine has been named “Babe” and the back nine is called “George,” in honor of Babe’s former husband, who was also an ex-professional wrestler.  And, the 10th hole has its own identity – “Big George.”  It’s worth noting that “Big George” is not a long par five.  Instead, it’s a classic short par four.

TOP: The #1 greenof The Babe Golf Course in 1926.
BOTTOM: The 18th hole of the course in 1926.

"It is truly an honor to have Babe Zaharias Golf Course selected as a Florida Historic Golf Trail’s featured course,” said Kennie Sims, vice president of golf operations, Babe Zaharias Golf Course.  “We are extremely proud to manage a golf course with such historical significance to be named after an iconic athlete like Babe Zaharias. We take great pride in providing a first-class golfer’s experience and making Babe Zaharias (Golf Course) a desirable destination for golfers of all levels.”

“This course, locally known as ‘The Babe,’ has an impressive history related to one of the world’s greatest female athletes of the 20th Century,” says Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner.  “Only 20 minutes from downtown Tampa, this course continues to provide challenges for golfers of all skill levels.”

So, when you are ready to experience ‘The Babe,’ make the trek to Tampa to play one of Florida’s truly historic golf treasures and a sweetheart of the Sunshine State.

#   #   #


The author of this story is Mike May, a south Florida-based golf writer, who can be reached at mmaymarketing@gmail.com