Island golf retrospective: ‘The first shall be last’

Rory O’Neill
Special to the Eagle

In April 1967, I was 15 years old. My brothers and I played our first round of golf at the Marco Island Country Club with our dad Jack O’Neill.

We were on our first family vacation to Marco Island after purchasing property in January. It was paradise, with a tropical golf course in the middle of the island. The sixth hole was the most amazing to me.

The family moved to Marco Island two years later and being members of the semi-private club, we played the course regularly. My dad played in seven Tony Lema Pro-Am Tournaments with notable pros and even had Joe DiMaggio as a partner one year. He also, at age 62, won the four local inter-club league tournaments, “when his sizzling 74 gross produced a net 65, five strokes better than his nearest competitor” in a field of 72 (Eagle Sports Reporter Al Zingaro, August, 1972 ). Way to represent.

Rory O’Neill writes: “I teed off with my brothers Peter and Brian and my son Hunter, a local amateur tournament golfer (inheriting his grandfather’s game).”

The club also hosted Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer playing an exhibition match for the Florida Sports Fishing Association. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and even Richard Nixon played our course.

One day in the late ‘70s, I was working on a home next to the fourth tee with two of my brothers. We noticed a foursome approach the tee, but didn’t pay any attention until we heard the snap of a ball hitting the sweet spot. Turning quickly we recognized Gene Sarazen had just teed off. We stopped

everything and watched.

It was Frank and Virginia Mackle, Earl Cartwright (CFO, Deltona) and world-famous and regularly-seen-around-Marco Island, Gene Sarazen. I believe it was their last round together before selling the club to the members.

This golf course has provided many memories for my family. So with the closing down for complete renovations, my brother Peter, employed at the C.C., approached the golf professional, Paul Boland; told him how we first played 50 years ago this month and would like to play the last round on Sunday afternoon, April 2. The pro responded by saying, “I insist that your family be the last foursome.”

I teed off with my brothers Peter and Brian and my son Hunter, a local amateur tournament golfer (inheriting his grandfather’s game). His most influential instructor and good friend Landon Comeau, former golf professional, is credited for giving my son the ‘bug.‘ Thank you Island Club, way to represent.

We were joined by our, long time, friend Jim Shelton, who provided the photo and other goodies.

Hunter pared the first hole, three others with a birdie on the fourth for the front nine. Peter was close behind with a pin smothering approach on the third. Brian and I were neck and neck until his fantastic drive on the seventh was followed by a center of the green iron shot and a tap in par. My last putt was my favorite shot, with the sun setting on the golf course I’ll never see again.

Living in a home on the ninth fairway (you could have guessed ), we’ve seen a lot of renovation progress in just two weeks, Ryan Golf Construction looks like a great choice.

So, in closing, I hope to complete the verse … “and the last (to play the old course) shall be first” (to play the new course).