Central Floridians reflect on the past, present and future changes for generations to come.
In 1911, a time when the City of Orlando was eager to attract more northern tourists, The Country Club of Orlando was chartered in an area of what is now known as College Park. Its nine-hole golf course was viewed as an asset to the city in its goal of becoming a tourist destination. When the first clubhouse was built the following year, it became the hub not only for golfers but also for social activities of all kinds.
Throughout its 106-year history, the private, invitation-only club has drawn residents from across Central Florida. Those residents have built a lifetime of memories around their time spent there and now their children, and even their children’s children, are doing the same. These are their stories.
The Family Community
Dolores Karst and her husband Chester joined The Country Club of Orlando in the late ‘50s. When asked for a word to describe the club at that time, where her family and neighbors gathered, she responded quickly with, “Community.”
Living in the neighborhood bordering the golf course, the Karsts and their friends as well as the Karst children and their friends were always at the club. It was part of their daily affairs. It was also the center of celebrations like weddings, birthday parties, dances and graduations, not to mention Youth Center activities, 4th of July fireworks, member guest golf competitions and swim meets.
As time passed on, Dolores and her female club friends created a group called “The Ladies of the Early Evening.” As women who had lived in the same neighborhood, with the club as the nexus of their social life, and who had raised children together for the near 25 years, they continued their community by convening at The Country Club of Orlando for dinner every Friday night.
Growing up at the Club
Many locals look back at their childhood at The Country Club of Orlando and can’t help but smile. While writing this story, Central Florida Lifestyle had the pleasure of hearing the tales of so many that all share in the same memories as a child. Just as Dolores Karst and her female club friends formed bonds that have lasted a lifetime, their children did too. Stories about 8th grade Cotillions at the club, followed by the annual Debutante Balls, led to grownup affairs like bridal showers and baby showers, for the next generation of community.
“I will always remember the thick, green carpet in one of the original ‘fancy’ banquet rooms,” another Karst family member explains. “That carpet seemed to signify a special moment in life that would be remembered forever, and if you had an event in the green carpet room, next to the gorgeous fireplace, you were pretty lucky.”
Among the history, tradition and love that continues to surround the club, there is a constant feel of family. One member put it best when he said, “A vital piece of Orlando history lies among the fairways and greens within the hidden gates of this club. The fellowship, the golf stories and the tennis team history all play such an integral part of so many families in Central Florida.”
Karst’s niece shares that sentiment. She says, “When looking around at the changes, my childhood memories still vivid in my mind, I am reminded that The Country Club of Orlando is not only about golf or social events. It is about the past, present and future of our City Beautiful for many more generations to come.”
Celebrating the Special Times
Just like many families did all those years ago, modern families consider The Country Club of Orlando a gathering place to celebrate the many milestones in their lives: birthdays, graduations, engagements and baby showers.
Members Sheryl and Tom Moore share, “Some of our favorite memories at the Country Club of Orlando are celebrating our special family events. The clubhouse, which overlooks the golf course, provides a beautiful and serene backdrop.”
One of the many benefits of a membership with The Country Club of Orlando is having access to the Donald Ross inspired golf course. Spending time on the greens with golf buddies is often noted as a fond memory from old and new members alike.
“The Country Club of Orlando has always been a great member’s course – well maintained with impeccable pro shop service,” long-time member Jim Garner says. “I believe the club is the best in Orlando and look forward to the course changes making it better than ever for members and families to enjoy even more.”
The Country Club of Orlando
1601 Country Club Drive
Orlando, FL 32804
The Country Club of Orlando: A Timeline
The club was chartered in an effort to attract northern tourists.
The first clubhouse, a typical, old Florida building with wide verandahs, was opened. It quickly became a social center for golf, dances, card parties and community entertainment of all kinds.
The club’s corporate structure was reorganized and the name was changed to The Country Club of Orlando, which has remained to this day.
A new, contemporary-style facility, which cost approximately $400,000 was opened. The building was called “a dream come true for club members.”
Major golf course renovations took place.
Major golf course renovations took place.
The last major golf course renovation was planned to preserve and enhance the features of the original Donald Ross design.
The new clubhouse, which was reminiscent of Addison Mizner’s Mediterranean-style architecture, debuted with a Gala Opening Ball.
A complete renovation to the golf course begins.
So What’s to Come?
The Country Club of Orlando is a private, full-service family club with a history that spans more than a century. Members have access to a wealth of luxurious amenities on its 166 acres including 12 tennis courts, a championship golf course, a junior-Olympic sized swimming pool, a fully equipped wellness and fitness center, and more. Although the club has been renovated several times through the years, the staff is always looking to improve its offerings for members.
Over the course of the next six months, the club will be closed for a full renovation to the golf course. Expect updates to the USGA greens, bunkers and fairways that will result in a complete restoration of the club back to its Donald Ross intent. Courses from the famed architect are known for complex designs that combine challenge and playability. The updated course is expected to open in November 2017.
This summer, from June to August, there are plans to renovate the club’s front entrance, living room, ballroom and bridge room. The facility’s swimming pool and tennis courts will be remodeled in 2018. General Manager Richard LaRocca stresses the importance of a family atmosphere at The Country Club of Orlando.
“We want to be known for more than just being a golf community,” he says. “The country club experience is that all facets of a family can enjoy The Country Club of Orlando and that each of its amenities are held to high quality and service.”
With the renovation plans in place, the goal is for The Country Club of Orlando to be the premier private club in Central Florida. “We envision a full, thriving membership who loves their club,” Brenda Clayton, membership director for the club, says.