THE VINOY GOLF CLUB:
A RICHES TO RAGS TO RICHES STORY

Story by: Mike May

While the ‘roots’ of the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg can be linked to a golf bet, this world-class resort has blossomed like a banyan tree and is now one of Florida’s most complete rest & relaxation getaway destinations. 

In 1923, golfing great Walter Hagen agreed to a wager with Aymer Vinoy Laughner, a wealthy Pennsylvania businessman.  Hagen bet Laughner that he (Hagen) could hit three golf balls over an adjacent strip of water and have the balls finish on a nearby piece of residential property.  If Hagen was successful, Laughner agreed to build a resort on that nearby piece of property with his (Laughner’s) name attached to it.  The only stipulation was that Hagen would have to hit the three golf balls off the crystal face of Laughner’s gold watch, without damaging the face or the watch.  Well, much to the surprise of Laughner, Hagen won the bet as he successfully hit the balls to the intended destination without damaging the watch.  Soon thereafter, a contract was written on a brown paper bag which confirmed Laughner’s plans to buy that nearby coastal property.  That was the site of the original Vinoy Park Hotel and is now the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club.  On February 5, 1925, construction began on the 375-room hotel.  By New Year’s Eve of that year, it opened for business at $20/night, which was quite expensive at the time.

The evolution of the golf course at the Vinoy is another story unto itself.  In fact, the golf course was opened before ground was broken on the actual resort.  Over time, the golf course was designed, built, opened, and has been modified a time or two.  In 1920, a nine-hole course was opened by St. Petersburg developer C. Perry Snell.  It was called the Coffee Pot Golf Club.  In 1921, nine more holes were added.  A few years later, another 18 holes were added – making 36 holes of golf.  In 1932, candy bar magnate D.L. Clark purchased the Coffee Pot GC and renamed it Clarks’ Sunset Golf and Country Club.  The ownership of the Vinoy bought the golf complex in 1948.  In 1992, the golf course was redesigned into what is today’s par 71, 18-hole layout and worthy of being one of the 53 courses on the Florida Historic Golf Trail.

Besides being a fun golf course to play which is always well-manicured and in great shape, this golf course is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary because it’s the home of many types of vegetation – dozens of palm trees, live oak trees, and pine trees.  Besides the ‘jungle’-like environment, there are 63 sand traps on the course.  Another interesting element of this golf course is that it provides an alternative to walking or riding a golf cart.  Here, you can use a Golf Bike.  Since March of 2014, Golf Bikes have been used at the Vinoy Golf Club.  Try it.  You might like it.

One of the unique aspects of the Vinoy experience is that the resort is accessible by land and by sea.   Yes, you can arrive by current and not just by car!  At the Vinoy, there are 74 fixed concrete slips at its marina which can accommodate ships as long as 120 feet.  If you stay on your boat, you can still enjoy all the amenities of the resort, including room service.

While the hotel is now a one-of-a-kind destination featuring 12 tennis courts, five restaurants, two outdoor pools, a whirlpool, a spa, a fitness center, twice-daily maid service, and much, much more, the resort fell on hard times beginning in the 1960s, eventually closed, was a homeless shelter, and was almost knocked down, but local efforts to revive the Vinoy were successful.  Now, it’s a AAA Four Diamond Resort and its back in business.  Are you ready to sample the Vinoy experience?  I am.  It’s just a phone call away -- 727-894-1000.

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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

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