Gaither on course to make golf landmark history

Jake Gaither Golf Course, currently being upgraded, was the only place for Blacks to play the game during segregation.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Sit down long enough with any of the longtime members of Jake Gaither Golf Course and they’ll tell you one lore after another.

Among them is the story about how excited Black golfers were when Gaither opened more than six decades ago as the one place they could play. There’s also the tale of how a flood washed out portions of the course and William Crumbie, a groundskeeper, came up with redesign plans that made the course functional.

But nothing seems to stand out like the day in 1956 when the first ball was teed up. Leroy Kilpatrick, the oldest member of the original players at age 80, was there.

“We were excited knowing the golf course was opening,” said Kilpatrick, who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for playing 1,363 holes at Gaither in seven days. “The mayor came in and played one hole and left. When they left, we hit the golf course.”

Gaither’s 66-year history makes it eligible for consideration to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. The process that should end with Gaither Golf Course being in the National Park Service registry of historic places moved a step closer last Wednesday when City Commissioners gave their approval.

The next step will be determined when the Florida National Registry Board meets in May to consider the recommendation. The process is being shepherded by Scott Edwards, coordinator with the Historic Preservationist and Florida Historic Golf Trail with the Bureau of Historic Preservation. 

The Florida board could approve, deny or make recommendations for fixes. However, Edwards, who has history as a golfer who grew up playing at Gaither, is optimistic it will move on.

“We are on the right track,” Edwards said. “Our survey and registration section has a really good track record and they know how to do things.”

Edwards said he was approached by former FAMU history professor Titus Brown about 15 years ago to inquire about  getting the course in the registry. There are only four Florida courses with longevity similar to Gaither’s that are in the registry.

Adding Gaither “would show in federal and state government that this property is significant to our overall history,” Edwards said.

Gaither recreation center was built out of an initiative by community activist Robert Perkins, who pushed the city to build such facilities for Blacks. The golf course was added later and Crumbie became its first manger after starting as a groundskeeper.

According to his daughter, Brenda Crumbie Brown, her father developed knowledge of the game while working as a caddie at Tallahassee Municipal Golf Course, which is now Capital City Country Club.

In fact, lore has it that Crumbie designed the Gaither course to resemble the layout at Capital City Country Club. Crumbie Brown said the work was done by her father with help from a jail crew.

“My father wasn’t a college graduate, but he was gifted with his hands and the knowledge of professionalism,” Crumbie Brown wrote in an email to city staff.

During a video presentation at the city commission meeting, Jan Auger, manager of Hilaman and Gaither courses, said Gaither is currently undergoing another round of upgrades. It includes work in the club house and the course, she said.

 “We really improved the fairways,” Auger said. “There is a lot more definition to the fairways and we’ve added a lot of landscaping. It looks tremendous.”

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