Story by: Mike May

The game of golf in Ocala, Florida has deep roots as golfers have been pitchin’ and puttin’ for par and yelling ‘fore’ in this part of Marion County for more than a 100 years.  Yes, believe it or not, but golf has been played in Ocala since the early 1900s.  In the beginning, there was a nine-hole course known as the Ocala Heights Golf Club.  As a result of the strong local interest in golf, a second golf course was later built on the eastern edge of Ocala.  The ground breaking for this new course took place in 1930.  The golf architect who oversaw the design and construction of the new course was E. Ellsworth Giles, who came from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  According to historical recollections, Ellsworth was a self-proclaimed golf expert who was an authority on building golf courses, designing golf courses, and selecting the land for the actual course.

Ocala Highlands Golf Course and Hotel opened in 1931.

In 1931, Ellsworth’s work was ready for public display, as the Ocala Highlands Golf Course and Hotel officially opened for business.  About 15 years later, the City of Ocala purchased the golf course and built a new clubhouse on the property.  It then became what is now known as the Ocala Golf Club (www.ocalagolfclub.com).  This golf club is one of the 53 golf courses on the Florida Historic Golf Trail.

Fast forward roughly 60 years.  In 2009, the Ocala Golf Club (3130 N.E. Silver Springs Boulevard, Ocala) experienced a major transformation.  Under the supervision of golf course architect Michael Beebe, new greens, tees, bunkers, irrigation pipelines, and cart paths were built.  And, a few select trees were removed, as well.  The goal was to have the course look and play like it did back in the 1930s.

“Our goal was to re-capture the classical look and strategic principles that had been lost over the years while utilizing improved technologies in turf grass, green construction, drainage and irrigation,” notes Beebe.  The greens now feature Tifeagle Bermuda which provides a consistent and smooth putting surface with very little grain.  The putting surfaces are now complemented by short grass collection areas and white sand bunkers, which allow for a variety of shot options around the greens. 

Now, the 18-hole, par-72 layout features five sets of tees and the tee-to-green distances range from 4,256 yards to 6,552 yards.  As you can see, at the Ocala Golf Club, there is a tee for every player with any handicap. The course features five par fives and five par threes.

Because the Ocala Golf Club is not exceptionally long, it’s not a long bombers’ paradise which means a driver is not always the best club to hit from the tee.  Consequently, club-selection strategy from the tee is a key component of the game at the Ocala Golf Club.

“Most of the greens have a turtleback feature,” says Chris Howley, the Ocala Golf Club’s head professional.  “There’s not a green on this course that you want to miss long.  Our course has a unique little charm about it.”

According to Howley, other aspects of this course worth noting are its elevation changes which are not typical of the terrain of central Florida and the many oak trees which are at least 100 feet tall.  The most prominent one is the wedding oak, which sits behind the 9th green and is more than 110 years old.

The expansive clubhouse at the Ocala Golf Club now includes a fully-stocked Golf Shop, the 19th Hole Grill Room, and a banquet area.  The Ocala Golf Club (352-401-6917) is now an ideal setting for corporate outings, business meetings, other social events,….and a few rounds of golf where the people can continue pitchin’ and puttin’ for par and yelling fore.

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