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Rogers Park To Open Short Course

Tampa, Florida–Not long after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, longtime NBC golf analyst and professional golfer Gary Koch saw a need at the city-owned Rogers Park golf course.

In addition to his broadcasting duties, Koch serves as board chairman of the First Tee of Tampa Bay. The goal of the organization which is run through the Tampa YMCA to empower youth through golf by providing access to the sport via camps and local programs offering scholarship opportunities for older students with higher-education aspirations.

Gary, a long-time Tampa resident, saw the need for more course access given golf’s boom in interest during and following the pandemic. He noticed it was harder for children and newcomers to golf to find the space to develop their game. Also, older adults were not comfortable playing the lengthy courses available and needed a place to enjoy the game rather than getting frustrated.

Koch is hoping to fix this problem through the construction of a new short course at Rogers Park, which is part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail. Groundbreaking for the nine-hole, par-3 layout nestled within the current 18-hole track took place in June and the opening is set for fall. “This course has the potential to benefit a lot of people at different levels,” says Koch. The short course will sit on a 6.5-acre plot between holes 12, 13 & 16 of the main course. Builders, using a First Tee Budget of about $600,000 will keep most of the existing vegetation and use it to create sight lines for golfers with some character.

“Golfers love being integrated into the landscape,” said Lakeland-based ASGCA Architect Steve Smyers, who has designed  Southern Dunes in Haines City, Tampa’s Old Memorial Golf Club and Interlachen Country Club in Winter Park. Steve plans to use the palm and pine trees on the first hole to frame the putting surface. On the second hole, the treeline mimics the putting green. For #5, the green will overlook the small on-course pond and feature a ‘punch bowl’-like green surface, which will have higher sides that dip into the middle toward the flagpole.

Gary and Steve played golf together at the University of Florida, winning a national title in 1973.  Having stayed in touch, Smyers was happy to donate his time and services to help Koch’s vision come to life. Smyers is involved with the First Tee in Lakeland. They walked the property together and a few days later Steve had an idea of what the 9-holes would look like.

“We wanted something with character,” Koch said. “And we could see Steve’s wheels turning…architects are artists using the land.”

Once the course opens, First Tee–which opened in the Tampa Bay area as Urban Junior Golf in 1991 and has since grown into the largest chapter in the First Tee organization–will have the first rights to the course for camps and other programs, as needed. If the course isn’t being used, it will be open to the public.

Ian Baxter, executive director of the Tampa Bay First Tee, is excited to see how the new course will impact the area, since the program has an outreach of 90,000 children between the local public elementary and middle schools. Koch envisions people walking the course, with riding options for those physically unable to do so. The longest hole will measure about 120 yards and the shortest 70. For those who need to work on their wedge play/short irons, the new course will be ideal. The campus will include a chipping green and netted area where players can warm up and work with their coaches.

“Golf can be an intimidating game for even seasoned veterans,” said Baxter. “So even if you’re a beginner, just learning the game or a senior where the lengths are too long, the short course is a great alternative for those players.”