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Shaped by a mix of cultures ranging from early Spanish settlers in the 1500′s to invading golfers in the 1980′s, Ponte Vedra Beach has a rich and unique history. Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer best known for his pursuit of the legendary “fountain of youth,” landed on what would later become Ponte Vedra Beach on April 2, 1513. Seeing no suitable harbor, he sailed south and landed where Don Pedro Menendez later founded the nation’s oldest city of St. Augustine in 1565. A small settlement begins to take shape in the Ponte Vedra Beach area. Haciendas were built and the roots for gracious living were planted.
For the rest of the century, Ponte Vedra Beach and the surrounding areas was the scene of many conflicts between native Timucuan Indians, the Spanish, the French and the English. For several decades during the 1700′s, the area was the subject of raids that destroyed many haciendas and decimated the Indian population. In 1821, Spain sold Florida to the United States and the state became a territory. Ponte Vedra Beach blossomed with new settlers, plantations and sugar cane.
Later Florida’s first governor, General Andrew Jackson, divided the territory into two counties – Escambia and St. Johns. The peaceful life of the area started to come to a halt with the start of the seven-year Seminole War in 1835 and continued with the four-year Civil War in 1861, which struck a final blow to the old plantation culture.
In 1914, two young chemical engineers, Henry Holland Buckman and George A. Pritchard, discover that Ponte Vedra’s beautiful beaches contained over a dozen industrial minerals, including rutile and ilmenite, components necessary for the production of titanium and zirconium. By 1916, the National Lead Company had bought out Pritchard and Buckman; and the mining settlement was dubbed Mineral City. Mineral City played a crucial role in World War I, as titanium was a key component in the manufacture of poison gas; and Germany controlled much of the world’s titanium supply. Therefore, the U.S. government ordered as much titanium as Mineral City’s mines could produce.
The National Lead Company built the first 9-hole golf course in Ponte Vedra for its employees along with a log clubhouse and polo field in 1922, which in 1937 became the world famous Ponte Vedra Inn & Club. With the postwar mineral market dried up and production at a standstill, National Lead used its clubhouse and golf course as the base from which to launch a resort community. But the old Mineral City tag would never do. In one account, one of the developers reads a newspaper story claiming Christopher Columbus was born in Pontevedra, Spain, which was total fiction because Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy. Nevertheless, the National Lead Company rechristens Mineral City as Ponte Vedra in 1928.
The state began work on a road along the shoreline from Ponte Vedra Beach to St. Augustine in 1929; hence State Road A1A was born which helped to speed up development of the resort community. Development marched on right through the Great Depression. Despite all this effort, however, the area remained relatively unknown. It did not match the development pace of South Florida as a tourist destination. Just as the country began to emerge from the Depression, Ponte Vedra’s development picked up speed, then World War II erupted in 1941.
Blackout curtains were required to deceive the German submarines patrolling off the Atlantic Coast. Ponte Vedra residents are among the very few stateside Americans to actually witness acts of war firsthand as German submarines sank ships within sight of the Ponte Vedra shore and oil from torpedoed tankers blackened the beaches. On the night of June 16, 1942, four Nazi saboteurs from a German submarine paddled ashore to Ponte Vedra Beach in a small rubber boat, carrying explosives and a cache of U.S. currency and embarked on a mission which they dubbed “Operation Pastorious”. They frolicked on the beach like tourists to disguise their intentions. Fortunately, before any damage was done, two of the Germans tipped off federal authorities about the plot and all were captured.
As America’s economy boomed following the war, Ponte Vedra Beach resumed its evolution in the 1950′s as a resort community centered around golf. The grand course designer Robert Trent Jones was commissioned to expand the existing Ponte Vedra Inn & Club golf course to 27 holes. By 1966, a bypass was created and State Road A1A rerouted to the west, eliminating Ponte Vedra Boulevard as the main north-south road and opening up western Ponte Vedra and Palm Valley to development. Developer James Stockton Jr. broke ground in 1972 on the 1,100-acre development known as Sawgrass. Stockton will later say he chose the name after “tossing and turning” one night. The name exercise, he says was “growing wild – like that sawgrass on the property.”
Today, Sawgrass is home to THE PLAYERS Championship golf tournament and is world headquarters for the PGA Tour, thanks to a now-legendary 1978 deal in which developers Jerome and Paul Fletcher “sold” PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman 415 densely wooded acres. The purchase price: one dollar. In addition, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP Tour) also calls Ponte Vedra Beach home, bringing even more national and international attention to the area as a recreational Mecca.
Between 1980 and 1990, Ponte Vedra Beach’s population more than doubled to 14,727, according to U.S. Census data. Between 1990 and 2000 the population nearly doubles again to approximately 28,500. Today, this thriving community has come to be considered one of the most luxurious and prestigious recreational and residential destinations in Florida, if not the entire country.
Just last year, it was voted Money Magazine’s “Best Place to Live in Florida” and among the top 50 places to live in the United States. With our above average income, low crime rate and top-performing schools-This is a Great Place to Live and Work!
In 1974, Deane Beman had been appointed Commissioner of the Professional Golfers Association Tour. The Tournament Players Championship, one of his main responsibilities, had been played at various courses around the country and was looking for a permanent home. Beman had been impressed with the people he had met in the Jacksonville area and their sense of commitment to community. He had been favorably impressed with the volunteers he had seen in action at the Greater Jacksonville Open. He felt if they could sustain that level of commitments to his Tournament Players Championship, they would make a winning combination.
He began to look at various places around Northeast Florida, Ponte Vedra Beach being only one. He was not at first completely sold on the area. The country was experiencing an economic downturn and some Ponte Vedra developments were in financial trouble. A large tract was even being considered for a mobile home development of 25,000 units.
In 1973, brothers Jerome and Paul Fletcher purchased 5,000 acres west of A1A with the idea of developing the property. At the time, anything west of A1A was not considered worth much attention. All the interest had been in developing the beachfront properties. They had persisted against conventional wisdom, however.
They immediately sold the Plantation property and the Fairfield Communities property. They had themselves developed what is now the Oakbridge section of the Sawgrass Players Club. They felt having such a prestigious organization as the PGA in the midst of their development would only help everyone so they made Deane Beman a deal he could not refuse. They offered him 400 acres for the sum of one dollar! Not only would the PGA TOUR get land for a tournament quality golf course, but enough land to build their headquarters as well. And what a deal it was.
The TPC at Sawgrass is designed as a stadium course to both challenge players and provide excellent viewing for spectators. The course design has worked so well it has become the prototype for 14 other TPC courses. Later a valley course was added to handle additional golfers.
The PGA TOUR opened its national headquarters in the fall of 1984 just in time for the first PGA Tour tournament. The TOUR was home to stay. Ponte Vedra Beach has benefited greatly from the One Dollar Deal. The televised tournament has focused national and international attention in the area. Other developments have followed.
Not to be overlooked are the charities that benefit from the tournament. The TOUR has always emphasized raising charity dollars; it’s what keeps the volunteers involved over the long haul. In addition to local charities the TOUR supports the TPC Scholarship Fund for local high school and college students and a drug rehabilitation center.
Not a bad deal for $1!