“South Florida Has Never Supported Tour Golf Very Well”

“South Florida Has Never Supported Tour Golf Very Well”

So wrote Fort Lauderdale News sports columnist Craig Barnes in 1972 ahead of the inaugural Jackie Gleason-Inverrary Classic (now the Honda Classic).

Here in 2022, I find that hard to imagine, with the PGA TOUR about to kick off the Florida Swing: The Honda Classic, The Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Players and The Valspar over the next month.

The Jackie Gleason / Honda Classic now is in its 50th year as a tournament.

Ft. Lauderdale News, Feb. 20, 1972

With all the players now living in Florida, I find astonishing the notion that tour golf wasn’t supported in Florida

In 1972, there were four tournaments in Florida: Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic, followed by the Doral-Eastern Open, The Florida Citrus Open and the Greater Jacksonville Open. That year, the Gleason was won by Tom Weiskopf, Doral by Jack Nicklaus, the Citrus by Jerry Heard and the Jacksonville by Tony Jacklin.

In spite of a history that led to the conclusion that “South Florida has never supported tour golf,” the organizers of Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic were quite hopeful. The tournament had the biggest purse of 1971, apparent community backing and the draw of one of the biggest celebrities of the time: Jackie Gleason.

The purse was $260,000, equivalent to $1.7 million in 2022.

Tournament Organizer John Montgomery said “We feel that our possibilities for being successful are excellent. The weather is the biggest thing now, but it’s the biggest thing in any tournament that’s ever been played. We need good weather.”

Sponsoring the tournament was Haft-Gaines, the company which developed Inverrary with three golf courses, town homes and apartments.

“We’ve done all that can be done,” emphasized Jack Gaines, president of the sponsoring Haft-Gaines, Inc. “The community has been tremendous and now we hope that people will come and enjoy what so many have worked so hard to get ready for.”

Ultimately, organizers’ faith in their mission was justified.

In a Fort Lauderdale News just after the tournament, Jack Gains was quoted:

“Joe Day, Tournament Players Division Commissioner, told us that it was the first tournament in history to beak even in its first year. We’ve already been assured the first tournament in Florida for next year, which would mean essentially the same dates and we can’t wait to get started.”

Ft. Lauderdale News, Feb. 28, 1972

Attendance for the week was 88,622, with a final day tally of 18, 700.

More than $100,000 was donated to charity, with the Boys Clubs of South Florida as the primary recipient.

That, even with expenses of $510,000.

The Ft. Lauderdale News article noted that the Coral Springs Open of 1971 managed to lose $51,000.

Ad from April 1972 referring to the success of the tournament.

Joe Dey on the tournament:

“A tournament successful in South Florida is something we have needed for a long time. It will certainly be good for golf.”

Ft. Lauderdale News, Feb. 28, 1972

And Jack Nicklaus chimed in:

“I just like to say that this tournament has done something no other has ever done in South Florida. It has shown that when a community gets behind a project, it can be successful, and after all golf is a big business down here. There’s never been a good reason why this area couldn’t have a great tournament.” Now it has one. Everyone associated with this tournament should be commended. It was a great one.”

“A Great One,” chimed in Gleason, “and we hope it’s on the first of many”

Ft. Lauderdale News, Feb. 28, 1972

The Great One was correct. The inaugural Jackie Gleason-Inverrary Classic was indeed the first of many, continuing to this day.

For what it’s worth Inverrary Country Club closed permanently in 2020.

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