ROGERS PARK GOLF COURSE:
A TREND SETTER FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Story by: Mike May

While civil rights issues and racial matters were major topics of discussion in the 1960s in the U.S., one Florida golf course had already made tremendous strides of its own in the areas of racial segregation and social justice – before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.  The roots of progress in civil rights in Florida can be specifically traced to, of all places, the Rogers Park Golf Course in Tampa.

Over the years, the course has been refurbished and revamped with public funds.  Back in 1976, golf course designer Ron Garl was hired to oversee a $400,000 renovation project.

The land in Tampa where the Rogers Park Golf Course (7911 North Willie Black Drive, Tampa, Florida; 813-356-1670) was built was once the private property of African-American businessman/philanthropist Garfield Devoe Rogers.  Prior to the golf course being built, this property had been used for years by the local African-American community in Tampa for picnics, baseball games, and general recreation activities -- often after church on Sundays.  Rogers eventually donated the land to the City of Tampa for a park and golf course. The land was officially named Rogers Park in 1951.

Later in 1951, Tampa Mayor Curtis Hixon agreed to allow a local group of local African-American caddies, who were based at the Palma Ceia Country Club, to build a nine-hole golf course at Rogers Park.  This golf course construction project was led by Willie Black of Albany, Georgia, who had experience building golf courses in Georgia.  The crew working on this project didn’t have access to modern machinery so it was a labor-intensive effort – removing trees and shaping the land by hand.  In 1952, the project was completed and the nine-hole course was opened for play.  Black was appointed as the club’s first head golf professional.  By 1961, the golf course was expanded to 18 holes.

In 1963, the golf course was desegregated and its doors were open to everybody “interested in challenging Old Man Par.”

“We have the finest race relations here of any municipal course in the United States” stated Black, back in 1966.

Over the years, the course has been refurbished and revamped with public funds.  Back in 1976, golf course designer Ron Garl was hired to oversee a $400,000 renovation project.  In 2000, the Tampa Sports Authority oversaw a $4 million renovation.  In 2001, a new maintenance compound was completed, followed by a new clubhouse in 2002.  And, in November 2014, the original Rogers Park Golf Course site became the fourth golf course in Florida to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Not surprisingly, the Rogers Park Golf Course is one of the 53 golf courses in Florida that is part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail.

Prior to the golf course being built, this property had been used for years by the local African-American community in Tampa for picnics, baseball games, and general recreation activities -- often after church on Sundays.

Today, the 18-hole Rogers Park Golf Course -- a par of 71 layout -- is under the leadership of Director of Golf T.J. Heidel, whose personal philosophy on golf is in sync with the mission of this golf course.  According to Heidel, he believes in teaching the game of golf to people of all ages as you are never too young or too old to play golf.  And, his teaching philosophy is to “keep it simple.”

With five sets of tees, Rogers Park plays from 5,000 to 6,800 yards.  Located only 20 minutes from downtown Tampa, the 160-acre golf course is surrounded on three sides by the Hillsborough River.  Not surprisingly, water hazards are present on eight of the 18 holes.

As you would expect, Rogers Park GC is home to the First Tee of Tampa Bay, which began in 1991 as Urban Junior Golf at Rogers Park Golf Course.

In addition to the driving range, the Rogers Park GC features a three-hole short game practice area -- an ideal place to introduce new players to golf.

If you book a tee time through this course’s website (www.rogersparkgolf.net/welcome), you can also secure tee times at two other public golf courses in Tampa -- Rocky Point GC and Babe Zaharias GC -- both of which are also members of the Florida Historic Golf Trail.

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