As a kid growing up in St Augustine in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Historic City News managing editor Michael Gold has many memories of a time when the bayfront miniature golf course was a very popular nighttime attraction for local families as well as vacationers and summer day-trippers from Gainesville, Jacksonville, and Daytona Beach.
Owned by the City of St Augustine, and operated under lease by Ripley’s Entertainment, the 18-hole carpet golf course that stands to the south of the Bridge of Lions, opened for business on Saturday June 25, 1949; making it Florida’s oldest miniature golf course still in operation.
Work is underway to get the carpet golf site listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a process that involves extensive and well documented research into the history of the facility.
We know that concerts were once performed in the Band Shell — an outdoor Amphitheatre of sorts whose stage overlooked the carpet golf course. Although the Band Shell is gone, the miniature golf course has continued to build its popularity over the past 65-years; especially since its initial popularity in the city’s booming tourist years after World War II.
What we did not know, until it was brought to light during the research being done by Paul Weaver, president of Historic Property Associates, was that during the years when the center of family entertainment was operated by the City of St Augustine, the municipal carpet golf course became significant for a civil rights milestone: it was the first public facility in St Augustine to be desegregated.
In June 1963, as part of the growing local and national civil rights movement, the city was confronted by Black community leaders seeking assurance that all city owned facilities would not be segregated. While there was no official policy enforcing segregation, it was an informal practice to deny Blacks use of the carpet golf facility, but that ended within weeks of being brought to the attention of the city commission. Thus, in June 1963, with the commission’s action, the municipal carpet golf course was the first desegregated public facility in St. Augustine.
The first step for the National Register of Historic Places’ lengthy application process; through local, state and finally federal agencies, is a review by the St Augustine Historic Architectural Review Board at its meeting on July 17th.