Selva Marina Country Club was steeped in First Coast golf history. It was the original home to what would become The Players Championship, which was then known as The Greater Jacksonville Open, before the tournament was moved to Ponte Vedra Beach. Selva Marina hosted The Greater Jacksonville Open in 1965-66.
In May of 1955 Mr. Harcourt Bull, Jr. called a meeting among his 30 closest friends in the City Hall of Atlantic Beach to discuss entertainment in Atlantic Beach. Mr. Bull was hoping to inspire his group to create a club – golf, tennis, swimming, an airstrip, and maybe even boating– which would, of course, be the center of the social lives of Beach Area residents. Hoping the existence of such an establishment might inspire a housing boom in the area, Mr. Bull entered the meeting with a resoluteness he was well known for possessing. The idea took hold rapidly and plans to make it a reality followed swiftly.
Locations for this vision were discussed. As Atlantic Beach had one golf course in its past, the location of that original course was a logical starting point. RCBS Corporation, a company owned by the Bull family held deed to much of the land in Atlantic Beach. Mr. Bull graciously offered nearly 170 acres of this land mixed with swampland for this proposed Club. The S.M. Company was formed with the sole task of arranging for funding and to develop plans for Selva Marina Country Club, a name that means “Rain Forest by the Sea”.
The first ‘membership drive’ consisted of those dozen or so people who had accepted the initial invitation, each of whom offered money in exchange for part-ownership in S. M. Company. Mr. Bull and his natural sales style was frequently found outside of the Thomas & Patrick IGA grocery store in Atlantic Beach’s Town Center (now Ragtime) with architectural plans for the Club unrolled across the hood of his car. The plans were impressive and the Bull name provided assurance that it WOULD get done.
E.E. Smith, a well-known golf course designer of the time, was hired for the project. With 50 or so members signed on it was time to begin. At that time joining the Club meant owning the Club. $250 would get you a membership and you would then owe the Club $1,007.70 when the facilities were complete. “The First 400” as it was called was the campaign to create enough founder members to get the entire facility built.
The beginning of golf course construction was celebrated in August 1957. The work took nearly a year and it wasn’t until August of 1958 that a completion date was in sight. The Board of Directors announced to members the “soft” planned course opening on August 30, 1958. The golf course was announced as fully operational on October 1, 1958. Though the office was located in a construction trailer, an air conditioned pro shop with a small bar inside was constructed just across the Sherman Creek Bridge.
With E.E. Smith’s job completed, a groundskeeper was needed to maintain the course as it had been designed. J.W. Lowe was recommended for the job. With experience at Ponce de Leon course in St. Augustine, Mr. Lowe joined the staff of Selva Marina Country Club for a salary of $150 per week. Fred Wampler, an accomplished golfer on the PGA tour was approached for the position of Resident Golf Pro and accepted the position for a salary of $250 per week. His appointment was a huge boost for Selva Marina and the Club’s name grew in popularity. So much so that prospects were coming from all over town, many from the other side of downtown just to play at the ‘friendly beach course’ in Atlantic Beach.
In the first months of 1959, the Jacksonville Women’s Golf Association sent a formal request to allow a regular play day for women at Selva Marina. The board countered the request suggesting play days on certain days through the year, but not on a regular basis.
A military program was put into place in March of 1959. Though a refund of the membership fee was not permitted, a civilian going into active duty was permitted to suspend their membership with no dues charged during the duration of service.
Joe Whelan (a former Ponte Vedra Tennis pro) was secured to build tennis courts. He was approved for membership and was permitted to trade cost of membership towards cost of building courts.
On May 5, 1959, children were permitted to play on Sundays and holiday afternoons.
On September 4-7, 1959, Selva Marina Country Club held its first Invitational Golf Tournament headed up by Ed Teague.
In 1962, Selva Marina Country Club hosted Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer for their own exhibition match play event with Jacksonville’s own – Dan Sikes and Ray Terry. As this event attracted a record number of fans, the PGA decided it was time to hold another professional event in Jacksonville. In 1964, then President T.P. “Pop” Pearson was approached by the Florida Publishing Company to hold a $50,000 P.G.A. tournament at Selva Marina Country Club the following year. The Board of Directors approved and began plans for the Greater Jacksonville Open (GJO). Plans went so smoothly that the Club was awarded right of first refusal for the following year’s tournament before the first one had even begun (this tournament later became “THE PLAYERS Championship”). The course enjoyed the play of some of the greats in golfing history during these events. Doug Sanders, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, and more. The 1965 tournament was won by Bert Weaver. The 1966 tournament brought the most unforgettable occurrence to have happened to our course during its history: Jack Nicklaus made his first (and only) recorded double-eagle of his PGA career on the 18th hole. Oddly enough Nicklaus did not win the tournament. Doug Sanders, named “Most colorful dresser on tour”, collected that honor by making a 14 foot birdie putt on #18 to beat Gay Brewer by one stroke.
The Greats have walked here . . . . .