More than 90 years ago, two prominent men made statements
that applied to La Gorce Country Club—then as well as now.
The first came from John Oliver La Gorce, a pioneer in the development of Miami Beach, who described the area as a place “…for pleasure-bent and health-seeking folk.” James M. Cox, former governor of Ohio and presidential candidate in 1920, had La Gorce in mind when he said, “Miami Beach deserves a first-class country club.”
The Early Years: Back in 1924, when Miami was booming, the original La Gorce Country Club was built by dredging more than two million cubic yards from Biscayne Bay. Carl Fisher was the pre-eminent realtor of the day and the course was used mainly for guests at nearby hotels, which he owned. There was the Flamingo, Lincoln, King Cole (now the Miami Heart Institute), Bolivar and the Nautilus (now the site Mt. Sinai Hospital). At that time, Alton Road had two tar-surfaced lanes and a trolley line.
La Gorce was completed in 1927, and within a year, received nationwide prominence when the Miami Beach–La Gorce Open was played here with Johnny Farrell winning the tournament.
From the start, a great club spirit was evident. For example, barren spots in the course soon blossomed with royal palms, Australian pines, and other trees that members personally bought and planted. Much of this foliage still graces our fairways today. In the beginning, four tennis courts were built. There are now six, four of which have lighting facilities for playing at night. The swimming pool was also constructed.
During World War II, La Gorce, like so many clubs, was hard put to survive. The Army had taken over the nearby Bayshore Golf Club as a training area and parade ground. Soldiers were billeted at the Boulevard Hotel. La Gorce was open from December to April and many Army personnel were among the players. It had no liquor license, so players either brought their own or purchased drinks from the locker boys. The City of Miami Beach took over the club, which was on the brink of going out of existence, then turned it into a public course.
1945: The “New” La Gorce was born
Within 24 hours, the “old” La Gorce Country Club was to be sold to real estate developers and its chapter in Miami Beach’ history was about to end. But that didn’t happen—fortunately, several civic-minded leaders quickly raised $1 million and purchased the club from the City. It was April 1945, and the “new” La Gorce was born; a colorful new era was underway.
Among this group of leaders were former Governor James Cox, William Pawley, Frank Smathers, Hugh Purvis, Paul Scott, George Sally, Carl Fisher, Arthur Pancoast, Van Kussrow, Dan Mahoney, James Buchanan, Oscar Dooly, and of course, Dr. John Oliver La Gorce.
During the war’s troubling years, the Biltmore Country Club in Coral Gables had been taken over by the government and was used as a military hospital. As such, a group of affluent men, led by this assembly of visionaries, looked elsewhere for a first-class club; La Gorce beckoned from across the waters of Biscayne Bay.
A non-profit corporation was authorized to issue 500 ownership certificates at $1,000 each and the $500,000 thus obtained, was the down payment. The balance of $500,000 was the first mortgage at 2 percent. The purchasers of certificates elected a 15-member board of governors, which set initiation fees at $500 and annual dues at $300 for golfers and $200 for social members.
When the war was over, residents and winter visitors were anxious and ready to relax and enjoy the advantages and natural beauty of Florida. The illustrious La Gorce was a significant reason well-to-do vacationers desired to visit the playground in the heart of Miami Beach.
The Arrival of the 50s at La Gorce
In the early 1950s, under the presidency of James Buchanan, the clubhouse was expanded. Later when Harry Daumit was president (1969-73), many improvements were made on the course. Robert Trent Jones, an outstanding course architect, was called in to redesign some of the holes. For example, there were no water holes. Now there are three. The number of traps was also reduced from 80 to 72.
Fun and Games for The Pleasure-Bent
It did not take long for golfers and other visitors from around the country to make La Gorce their winter headquarters. The course then – as now – was rated as one of the best with tournament professionals and top amateurs constantly on hand. A stroll through the men’s grill and reading the plaques is like recalling the “who’s who” of golf in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Manufacturers of golf equipment (Dunlop, Titleist, Spalding, etc.) retained visiting pros to test their products at La Gorce tournaments.
As the ladies became more interested and proficient in golf, their influence became evident. Scotch foursomes were regular events. Shorts were acceptable as proper attire, but they could be no more than three inches above the knees. Dude ranch parties, tea dances, and other events were popular and received extensive coverage in newspapers. An excellent club spirit and good fellowship prevailed.
In 2005, a new Clubhouse was born. The Members decided to build a new Clubhouse to better serve their needs. The new Clubhouse was part of a master plan to restore the golf course and Clubhouse to their original glory when legendary greats such as Johnny Farrell, Ben Hogan, and Sam Snead played at the Club. After the building renovations were completed in 2005, La Gorce Country Club re-opened its doors with the promise to offer something for everyone at the Club — competitive golf for the avid golfer with a single digit handicap; a Pool Café complex for relaxation and recreation for families with children; a state-of-the-art Fitness Center, sauna and steam room for healthy living and pampering; a year-round calendar of activities and social events for every occasion; private rooms for social or business functions; and a banquet room for creating memorable occasions.