The prestigious Gasparilla Invitational Tournament's roots go all the way back to The Gasparilla Open which was originally a match play event for professional golfers. One of the early winners in 1932 was Golf Hall of Fame member Paul Runyan. At that time, the golf tournament was closely tied to the Ye Mystic Krewe’s February Pirate Invasion. As the winner, Runyan was awarded a bag of gold coins worth $962.00 by the Captain of the Krewe. In 1933 and 1934, the Tournament was won by Denny Shute in medal competition with Shute besting the likes of Hall of Famers Gene Sarazen and Horton Smith. Other contestants in that field were accomplished local players and Palma Ceia members, Harry Root Jr. and Henry Bolesta. Many other famous, playing professionals competed in those early years including Walter Hagen, Lloyd and Ray Mangrum, Henry Picard, Ralph Guldahl and Johnny Revolta, who captured his first professional win at Palma Ceia.

Up until 1935, The Gasparilla Open was the top money PGA tournament in the United States with an average purse of four thousand dollars. In 1935, the Tournament Committee changed the format and limited the payout of prize money to PGA professionals only. The committee also banned the popular parimutual betting which was quite common at the time. That year, the organizers held open a spot for the always colorful and rarely punctual, Walter Hagen. They were not sure whether or not the legendary carouser was going to show up as he had not even visited the course to practice during the week prior to the tournament. It was not until the first day of the event and just two minutes before his tee time, that Mr. Hagen was spotted as he sauntered up to the first tee to play without a single practice swing or putt. He then proceeded to shoot a sterling 64 which put him atop the first day's leader board. Back then, the final two rounds were played consecutively on the third and final day of the Tournament. After making a seven on the short par five 18th hole in the 3rd round, he retired for a brief respite only two up on the field. He then posted a 38 on the front side of the final round which put him in a tie with Gene Kunes with just nine holes left to play. It took a clutch birdie, birdie finish at holes 17 and 18 for “The Haig” to win by one shot. This victory at the Gasparilla Open at Palma Ceia was the last professional tournament that Walter Hagen would ever win.

In 1956, the Gasparilla Invitational resumed as a strictly amateur event. The Tournament was won that year by Palma Ceia member Maynard Ramsey with an even par, two day score of 140. Over the following years and to this very day, many U.S. Amateur, Mid Amateur and Walker Cup players have chosen to add this tournament to their playing schedules. Top amateurs from around the country have often come to Palma Ceia to test their skills against our local players and other regional champions. The 1960 winner was Downing Gray, a three time Walker Cup player. Mr. Gray also won seven consecutive tournaments while in college at Florida State and played in the Masters for six consecutive years winning the “silver cup” for low amateur two of those years. The 1976 Champion was former U.S. Amateur Champion Buddy Alexander, the present day golf coach at the University of Florida. The 1981 winner was young Hal Sutton of Shreveport, Louisiana who hoisted the trophy after scoring a three over par 213 in the three day event. It was the last event in which Hal Sutton would play as an amateur before moving on to a successful PGA career that would culminate with his selection as a U.S. Ryder Cup Team Captain. When the Tournament became more connected to a Mid Amateur event format, the rules stipulated that a participant had to be at least 25 years of age and no longer in college to compete. An exemption would be granted if one was a current U.S. Amateur Champion. Nathaniel Crosby, son of the legendary crooner and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby, used that exemption to play in the 1982 event which was won by Dick Siderowf with a three day total of one over par. Siderowf was a seasoned competitor and a perennial, nationally ranked amateur with two British Amateur victories on his playing resume.

A series of U.S. Mid Amateur Champions have participated and won the Gasparilla Invitational including top amateurs Tim Jackson, Spider Miller and Danny Green. It was not uncommon for USGA Champions to compete in the Gasparilla Invitational as a way to prepare them for the fast putting surfaces and pressure filled environment that they would encounter a few weeks later in April at The Masters in Augusta, Georgia. The slickly quick putting surfaces and narrow fairways have fiercely protected par year after year. In fact, par has been broken only six times by the winners of the 54 hole tournament. In 1967, local Mulberry legend and former U.S. amateur Champion, Bob Murphy, carved an amazing 5 under par 205 through the Palma Ceia pines to win going away. That tournament record was not tied until 1988 when David Smith matched Murphy’s total of five under par. In 2005, Peter Dachisen set a new record by shooting a breathtaking six under 204 in his lap of that field. In that event, Mr. Dachisen also set the single round scoring record by shooting an eight under 62. To date, Peter Dachisen has won five Gasparilla titles. The only other five time winner is Jack Veghte of Clearwater, Florida. As the host course since the tournament's inception, it should be mentioned that Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club has also had some of its own members win the tournament. Paul Tarnow Jr. won three times in the 1950’s, Charlie Brown won in 1963 and Doug Lacrosse, a three time player of the year in the Florida State Golf Association and former professional golfer, won the 1991 event. Palma Ceia is also very proud to have club member Fred Ridley, a former U.S Amateur, Walker Cup player and captain and USGA President to have participated in and served as Chairman of the tournament.

While it is considered to be a serious and elite amateur golf event, the Tournament has always offered an array of fun parties and social events. Today, the tournament kicks off with a ten man team, nine hole scramble on Thursday afternoon. On Friday after the competitive round, there is a cocktail party and cigar smoker, “a pirate’s right of passage”. After the competitive round on Saturday, there is the “Pirate’s Pig Roast” Dinner Party for the contestants and their wives or dates, complete with music and dancing. The final round is completed on Sunday, a day in which many Club Members and guests come out to watch the field of elite amateur golfers compete for the trophy and enjoy the hospitality stations on the course. The winner of this tournament carries not only the prestige of that singular victory but has his name linked to the history of this outstanding event for the rest of his career.

The 2013 Tournament will take place February 22nd through the 24th. Please come out and enjoy the good food and spirits while top amateurs compete for the Pirate Trophy.