Club History

Palm Aire's days of nothingness as a big empty tract of land ended in April 1955, when Cecil and Marian Daugherty sold it to a couple of fellows who had development on their minds.

Michael Freeman and Jacob Nalven thought they could take the 1,400 acres and turn it into housing and recreation, maybe including a golf course.

There were only a few roads around there, and very few houses. There weren't any buildings at all on the 1,400 acres.

Freeman and Nalven had big ideas, but they were in over their heads. In short order they ran out of money. By November 1955 they sold what they had to a bigger developer - the Cooper Creek Company headed by David Baird.

Baird had a pretty clear idea of what he wanted to do. He planned what was becoming popular in Florida a large residential development built around a golf complex. He hired Dick Wilson to design a quality course and gave the development a name: "The DeSoto Lakes Country Club Colony."

Within a year the dirt was flying on the fairways and land was cleared for Tournament Boulevard as the entry point off Lockwood Ridge. In 1957 the course was completed and opened to public play. Construction of a clubhouse was begun in the area behind the 1st and 10th tees. The developer was inviting visitors to come look at the property and buy lots, so he also built some motel-type units to accommodate them.

The course was a stiff test of golf. At first it was 6,984 yards, par 71. Soon it was being called "The Green Monster."

For the first year or two business on the course was dreadful; the daily average of rounds played was ten. In 1958 the first golf professional was hired. The choice was Ted Kroll, who had been on the U.S. Ryder Cup team twice and had won the 1956 "World's Championship Tournament." Two other leading pros, Jimmie Demaret and Jackie Burke, were appointed to bring prominent tournament players to play DeSoto Lakes for the publicity value. The local press ate it up, and the national press frequently had coverage of the tournaments.

Big news in 1959 included:

  • The first house at DeSoto Lakes was completed. It was on Tournament Boulevard and was occupied by the greens keeper, Jack Bernard.
  • Television was catching on fast and the first golf tournaments were being televised. "All Star Golf" was filmed here and was won by Sam Snead.

In 1960 there were two blockbuster events. The First Annual DeSoto Open Golf Tournament was arranged, and every name golfer in the country showed up. This tournament had the richest prizes ever offered in Florida to that time. Sam Snead was the winner - Arnold Palmer came in fifth. Another widely promoted tournament for left-handers drew a big crowd and was won by renowned golfer Bob Charles.

The hoopla and publicity were beginning to pay off. A few more houses were going up. The course was drawing more play, from both locals and visitors. In addition to the public play, the course was accepting paid memberships and had about three dozen on the list.

One of the highlights of 1961 was the LPGA Championship. The $5,000 top prize drew a field that included Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, Marlene Hagge and Alice Bauer.

The emphasis on big names and big events flattened out for the rest of the 60’s as Cooper Creek concentrated on developing the property. The course was shortened so it would be less scary. An extension to the three-story clubhouse provided more room for dining, dancing and meetings. The greens became some of the best in the South. More streets were platted into neighborhoods and more houses built (prices averaged around $35,000).

In those days Florida developments were seldom finished by the people who started them; the average from start to finish was four developers (which is what Palm-Aire ended up with). In that pattern, Cooper Creek sold out in 1968 to the Maurice Parker and Irving Levitt Corp. of Pittsburgh. They continued along the same lines, but within a year brought in a partner called Florida Palm-Aire, Inc., headquartered in Pompano Beach. To complete the developer story, FPA in 1971 bought complete control and continued the development itself until it sold the Club to the members in 1990.

In 1970, after Florida Palm-Aire had become a partner with Parker/Levitt, construction began on the four-story residential building on West Country Club Drive. A nine-court tennis complex was added. Qualifying rounds for the U.S. Open were played here.

In 1971 FPA bought out Parker/Levitt and proceeded on its own. Tennis exhibitions began. The pool was nearly completed. The "Green Giant", no longer known as "The Green Monster" was listed among the 50 best courses in the nation. The Sarasota Saddle Club relocated to DeSoto Lakes and began putting on shows.

The new owners changed the name of the club to "Palm-Aire West" in 1972. FPA in 1973 designated Palm-Aire a semi-private club. New tennis courts were added. The Virginia Slims Championship Tennis Tournament was held here, Chris Evert and Yvonne Gooligong were featured.

The semi-private designation lasted only a year. In 1974 the club became private with 110 members who could own their own golf carts for the first time.

In 1981 construction began on the new course. Will Frantz came back from the north as our long-term golf pro. A new driving range opened. So did a new tennis and pool complex.

The new golf course, "The Lakes", opened in May 1982. Course architect Joe Lee shot a hole-in-one during inauguration ceremonies.

In 1984 there were major developments. Construction was started on a new clubhouse, and hole 18 of the Champions was converted to an island green. New cart paths were built on the Champions course.

The year 1985 was a bruiser. As intended all along, negotiations were begun with FPA for the purchase of the club and its facilities by the members. The Council of Presidents of Palm-Aire plumbed the feelings of the club members as the discussions got under way. Members were shocked and angered by the initial FPA terms, to the extent of picketing the club for several weeks and becoming a pretty good news story. In the end, it was arranged to make Palm-Aire an Equity Club.

Under the terms of the turnover agreement, the club received its own articles of incorporation. An advisory committee was elected by club members in 1986 to oversee the turnover. Operationally, in effect, this group ran the club even though it was still formally owned by FPA.

As of May 4, 1990, Palm-Aire became a private membership club, under member ownership and control. The old Advisory Board became the new Board of Governors.

In 1992 the Clubhouse was expanded and renovated. In 2001, a Fitness Center was added to the amenities and in 2007 the Clubhouse received a complete renovation. During the summer of 2008 the Champions Course was renovated. Tifeagle bermudagrass was planted on the putting surfaces and irrigation and bunker improvements were made. In 2009 the greens on the Lakes Course were also re-planted with Tifeagle.

The History of Palm-Aire submitted by: Woody Wardlow

Enjoy a historical article about the 1960 First Ever Televised Golf Tournament held at Palm Aire.

DeSoto Open Tournament