From MIFA to MICA: Sarazen sculpture donors honored

Lance Shearer

The Double Eagle has landed. Actually, the sculpture of two eagles battling was already in place at Sarazen Park, MICA’s park – and parking lot – near the southern tip of the island and Caxambas Pass.

But Friday morning, a plaque naming the MIFA donors who paid to place the sculpture was unveiled at the foot of the piece. Titled “Double Eagle,” the artwork honors the legendary feat of golf great Gene Sarazen, a longtime Marco resident, at the 1935 Masters tournament. He shot a double eagle – three strokes under par for the hole – on the 485-yard par-5 15th hole, in what is known in sports lore as the “shot heard ’round the world.” The saying was coined by sportswriter Grantland Rice, who is also credited with “four horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

Appropriately, this year’s Masters was going on in Augusta, Georgia, as the ceremony took place on Marco Island, with approximately two dozen gathered for the occasion. Gene Sarazen’s daughter Mary Ann Sarazen, and his grandson, Gene Ilnicki, who accompanied his grandfather for years, had just returned from the tournament, which made a big splash on Sunday when Tiger Woods won for the fifth time, capping a comeback after a decade-long drought.

MIFA is the Marco Island Foundation for the Arts. MICA is the Marco Island Civic Association, and along with unveiling the plaque on its granite pedestal, Friday’s ceremony had a second purpose. Along with commemorating the donors who gave $500 or more for the sculpture, MIFA presented a check to MICA president Ruth McCann. As MIFA president Karen Swanker said, the group was there “to turn over full ownership and transfer remaining funds that were put aside for maintenance of the sculpture from MIFA to MICA.

“The purchase of the Double Eagle sculpture was a joint effort between MIFA and MICA started in 2012,” with the agreement that eventually ownership, and responsibility for maintenance, would be turned over to MICA.

As Swanker noted, “a double eagle in golf is extremely rare, much rarer than a hole-in-one. Only three other double eagles have been played at the Masters,” and none in such dramatic circumstances as Sarazen’s.

The bronze sculpture, by artist S. Davis – first name unknown – stands over seven feet tall, is six feet wide, and weighs over 600 lbs. It had an itinerant existence on Marco, displayed at the MICA office and in the Iberia Bank lobby before being permanently placed at Sarazen Park. As the plaque notes, and Swanker mentioned, Marco Island is also know for its “double eagles” nesting in the bird sanctuary adjacent to Tigertail Drive.

Former MIFA president Sandi Johnson, who was instrumental in finding, acquiring and subsequently moving the sculpture, said that placing art in public spaces is an important job for the arts foundation.

“We have at least a dozen sculptures in different places on the island,” she said. They include a manatee mother and baby outside Residents’ Beach, sea turtles at Jane Hittler Park near the Herb Savage Bridge, and a whittling grandfather and son outside the library branch.

Gene Sarazen is also commemorated by a bronze sculpture of him, wearing his iconic hat and plus fours, adjacent to the putting green at the Island Country Club course.

To learn more about MIFA, or support its efforts, call 239-389-0280 or go online to MIFA is a 501(c)(3) registered charity.