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Sarasota Florida

240-731-6278

Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Club Inc was established as a Florida Not For Profit organization on March 17, 2013...Bobby Jones' Birthday!

Our Mission is to enhance the experience at BOBBY JONES GOLF CLUB for City of Sarasota and area residents and visitors and to help effect, through sponsorship of projects, programs and events, the Four Initiatives.

The Bobby Jones Initiative, The Donald Ross Initiative, The Paul Azinger Initiative and The John Hamilton Gillespie Initiative.

John Hamilton Gillespie

John Hamilton Gillespie 1852 - 1923

The Father of Sarasota

Colonel John Hamilton Gillespie about to tee off in Sarasota. Courtesy of Sarasota Historic Resources.

 


John Hamilton Gillespie & Sarasota History

"The Father of Sarasota," John Hamilton Gillespie, was born in 1852 in Edinburgh, Scotland, twenty years before fellow Scot Donald Ross.

John Hamilton Gillespie arrived here in 1886 to assist the failing Florida Mortgage and Investment Company, a development company partially owned by his father in Edinburgh. The company had enticed a group of Scottish colonists to Sarasota in 1885 to help settle its 50,000-acre holdings, including most of the land constituting the present City of Sarasota.

The settlers arrived to find most of the company's promises unfulfilled. John Hamilton Gillespie was dispatched to improve the situation. Many disillusioned colonists left, however, and the company entered liquidation proceedings. John Hamilton Gillespie remained in Sarasota after the court appointed him to manage the assets of the company there.

John Hamilton Gillespie organized the clearing of three miles of Main Street, the building of a substantial wharf on the waterfront, and the beginning of a 40-acre experimental farm.

In 1902, John Hamilton Gillespie was elected the first mayor of Sarasota when the town was incorporated and held this office for six terms. He also served his community as Justice of Peace four years and Notary Public ten years. He was affectionately known as "Colonel" in this community.

University educated, John Hamilton Gillespie was admitted to the highest legal body in Scotland. Having become a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1896, he joined the American and Florida Bar Associations. He served as president of the local Bar Association. He was influential in building an Episcopal church in Sarasota. He served as chaplain to Sarasota Bay Post #30 of the American Legion. As a Mason, he reached the Order of Knight Templar, was affiliated with the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows and became a charter member of the Kiwanis Club.

John Hamilton Gillespie volunteered in World War I for duty in Scotland. Because of this service to Scotland, he lost his United States citizenship. An act of Congress restored it after the war.

John Hamilton Gillespie died on the golf course near his home September 7, 1923. He is buried in Rosemary Cemetery. His course was sold in 1924 for development and no trace remains today.  

The John Hamilton Gillespie Historic Marker was dedicated in 1995 by the Sarasota County Historical Commission on the site of the golf course he built.

It is John Hamilton Gillespie's stewardship of the City of Sarasota and of Golf in Sarasota, his place in golf history in Florida and in America, and his continued relevance today that we celebrate in the JOHN HAMILTON GILLESPIE INITIATIVE.

 

 

John Hamilton Gillespie & Golf History

The game of golf was born in Florida when John Hamilton Gillespie arrived in Sarasota from Edinburgh in 1886.

Golf came with John Hamilton Gillespie from his home's earliest ancestral memory. Authenticating the record is evidence found in the Account Book of Sir John Foulis of Ravelston that golf was played on Musselburgh Links in Edinburgh as early as 1672, although Mary Queen of Scots reputedly played at Musselburgh in 1567.  

Among Foulis' entries, this passage, compiled and documented by John Kerr in "The Golf Book of East Lothian", is written: "2 March 1672 - For 3 golfe balls 0 152 0. Lost at golfe at Musselburgh wt Gosfoord, Lyon etc, 3 05 0. For a horse htyre thither, 0 18 0"

John Hamilton Gillespie came from Edinburgh, the capital city situated on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth in East Lothian. His home was also home to golf's Royal Burgess Golfing Society, its motto "Far and Sure", founded 1735 and the oldest golfing society in the world; Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society of 1761, the fourth oldest in the world; to Musselburgh Links, The Old Course and host of The Open Championship six times from 1874 to 1889. His home would also become home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, when Old Tom Morris laid out Muirfield in 1891.

And his new home, Sarasota, would become Florida's "cradle of golf."

Nobody in the small village of Sarasota knew what John Hamilton Gillespie was doing when, in May of 1886, he built a practice course consisting of two greens and one long fairway. 

In 1904, John Hamilton Gillespie laid out a nine-hole golf course on 110 acres east of his original course. This new course was located on present-day Main Street, east of present Links Avenue, where Gillespie practiced daily for many years. In 1905 he added a clubhouse that he maintained with the course at his own expense until he sold the course to Owen Burns in 1910. 

John Hamilton Gillespie continued to help support and take care of the course because upkeep could be quite an undertaking. Then Gillespie came up with the idea of organizing a golf club to help with expenses.

On December 13, 1913, a meeting was held at the Sarasota Yacht and Automobile Club to organize the Sarasota Golf Club. Gillespie stated that maintaining a golf course without support from residents, as well as visitors, is difficult. The group agreed to pay $10 per person ($236 today) to become Charter Members; the money would go toward upkeep of the course. The course's owner, Owen Burns, would allow members to play for free, with the use of the clubhouse, as long as they made necessary repairs to the windmill and lavatories in the clubhouse.

The first members of Sarasota Golf Club read like a who's who of prominent early Sarasotans: early politicians Hugh BrowningHarry Higel and, of course, John Hamilton Gillespie; physicians Jack and Joseph Halton; landowners Owen BurnsRalph CaplesHonore Palmer and J.H. Lord. The club drew up by-laws for the organization and rules for playing golf on the course. To play golf for the winter season cost $10. For those who did not want to commit to an entire season, the fee structure was $5 for one month, $2 for one week and 50 cents for a day. Although Gillespie encouraged everyone to play, the course was rarely crowded.

Over the years, John Hamilton Gillespie was commissioned to design and build six other Florida courses and one in Havana, Cuba. He was one of Florida's championship golfers and an authority on the sport. 

John Hamilton Gillespie never stopped in his campaign to promote the game of golf. In a 1921 newspaper article, he wrote about how golf barely existed in the state at the turn of the 20th century. He said "there was no East Coast golf in Florida then, the Jacksonville Country Club being in its infancy, and, to the credit for making golf well and favorably known in Florida and in the southern state. Tampa for a long time did not take to the game, although Mr. Plant spent considerable money on an endeavor to foster the game. It was not until Bellaire [Country Club] became famous as a golf course [Designed by Donald Ross] that Tampa woke up and took notice." 

Although John Hamilton Gillespie knew that the game would grow in popularity, it was not until the Florida Land Boom of the mid-1920s that it became a popular sport, with two new courses built in Sarasota during the boom. 

John Hamilton Gillespie died on the golf course near his home September 7, 1923. He is buried in Rosemary Cemetery on Central Avenue in the City of Sarasota. His course was sold in 1924 for development and no trace remains today.   

The John Hamilton Gillespie Historic Marker was dedicated in 1995 by the Sarasota County Historical Commission on the site of the golf course he built.

It is John Hamilton Gillespie's stewardship of the City of Sarasota and of Golf in Sarasota, his place in golf history in Florida and in America, and his continued relevance today that we celebrate in the JOHN HAMILTON GILLESPIE INITIATIVE.  

The Gillespie Initiative

The Gillespie Initiative

 141 Garden Lane   Sarasota Florida   34242   Shawn@FriendsofBobbyJonesGolfClub.org

FRIENDS OF BOBBY JONES GOLF CLUB INC. IS A MEMBER OF THE CITY PARKS ALLIANCE