TAMPA, FL (February 21, 2017) -- By the time the Gasparilla Invitational rolls around you know the height of golf season is just around the corner. Played nearly every year since 1956, the Gasparilla Invitational welcomes talented mid-amateur and senior division fields to the gorgeous Palma Ceia Country Club.
"We have hopefully made it into one of the top amateur events in the country and our membership is behind the event.," Palma Ceia Golf Club Director of Golf Joe Hodge said. "We get 500-600 people out watching and that is special because the players don't necessarily expect that. We are certainly trying to make it into one of the top events in the country."
Set to begin on Thursday and run through Saturday the 54-hole event will feature a pair of shotgun starts in the first two rounds. The first wave will tee off at 8:00 a.m. EST before the second wave goes off at 1:30 p.m.
Host course, Palma Ceia Country Club established in 1916, was the first private golf course to open in the Tampa area. Palma Ceia Country Club is a par-70 layout (35-35) that plays at 6,332 yards from the back tees. However, the course is narrow and the fairways are lined with trees meaning that accuracy off the tees is paramount.
"The layout is very short but it is probably one of the toughest short courses they will play," Hodge explained. "We have small greens with a lot of runoffs. Over the years we have had a lot of good amateurs come to play and get used to the fast greens before the Masters."
A Donald Ross classic golf course, Palma Ceia has been a host to many FSGA and USGA qualifiers.
The Gasparilli Invitational was first played in 1932 and at the time it was called the Gasparilla Open and the field was open to professionals. In the inaugural tournament, Golf Hall of Fame member Paul Runyan captured the title, at the event that was the highest paying PGA tournament until 1935.
Speaking of the 1935 edition of the Gasparilla Open that was the year Walter Hagen won the title. Tournament organizers weren't sure if Hagen was going to show up as he didn't play a practice round and in fact he didn't appear until two minutes before his first round tee time. The lack of preparation wasn't a problem for Hagen as he went onto shoot an opening round 64 and then two days later tied for the lead coming down the stretch of the final round he birdied the last two holes to claim the title. A title that would prove to be the final individual championship of Hagen's career.
Other notable winners, all after the event became solely an amateur tournament, include Hal Sutton in his final event as an amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur champions Tim Jackson (2001), Spider Miller (1994, 1999), Danny Green (200) and Scott Harvey (2015).
Last year Harvey had a chance to repeat but he was defeated in a sudden death playoff by Nicholas Mullhaupt in a Gasparilla Invitational to remember.
Harvey won't be returning this year but defending champion Nicholas Mullhaupt will be back and looking to become the first repeat champion since Peter Dachisen accomplished the feat in 2009 and 2010.
Joining Mullhaupt in the field this weekend will be four-time FSGA Amateur of the Year Joe Alfieri, 2016 Carlton Woods winner Colby Harwell and 2015 Carlton Woods champion Derek Meinhart who is coming off a tied for fifth finish at last years Gasparilla Invitational.
In the Senior Division the field is being led by defending champion Jack Hall, 2012 overall winner Doug Lacrosse, five-time 2016 AmateurGolf.com winner Doug Hanzel, last years Senior Masters winner Steve Hudson and AmateurGolf.com's second-ranked senior Steve Humphrey.