How the Babe Brought Us Together
By Susan Edwards
The Babe is more than just a city golf course. It’s our home. Our community. The thing that knits us together and makes us real neighbors, not just strangers who live near each other. It has always been a pretty friendly place, but something special happened that brought us all together even more. Now we don’t just give a polite wave and keep moving. Now we know each other’s names. We know who lives where. We stop and talk. We help each other out.
It all started with the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association, which formed in 2002 to save the Babe from the possibility of being dismantled and parceled off by developers. This isn’t the first time neighbors have come together to save the beautiful green river of grass that flows through the neighborhood. Developer B.L. Hamner built it in 1920s as a part of a grand country club development called Golfland at the tail end of the Florida Land boom. Land boom developments were famous for lavish promotional events and exotic-looking buildings inspired by Spanish, Italian, Moorish and other architectural styles. Hamner chose a Tudor style for Golfland, and there are a few houses and a couple of gateways from that time still standing. He staged a boxing exhibition with famous prizefighter Jack Dempsey, and provided private aerial tours for prospective buyers.
The bust hit before Hamner could finish his grand plans, followed by the Great Depression. Since then, the golf course and surrounding neighborhood have gone through a series of booms and busts that parallel the rising and falling fortunes of Florida itself.
The course’s peak revival started in 1950 when golf legend Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias and her husband George bought the course and revived development.
Many of the people who live here now and who have been working to save the Babe, grew up here during that golden age of suburban living. They later moved away for college or jobs but ended up returning to the very special place they loved as children. Now, they are working to restore the neighborhood feel of those days.