Florida has always been a magnet for golfers. The mild year-round weather coupled with beautifully designed courses has been bringing them in for decades. The Breakers Hotel claims to have built the first eighteen hole golf course in Florida. According to Golf.com, the Breakers links opened in 1896.
Quite a bit north of the Breakers, there’s a little road in Jupiter named “Toney Penna.” Not everyone knows who Toney Penna was or how he ended up with a street in Jupiter named after him. I’ve been told bits and pieces of the Toney Penna story by my parents, but this month, I decided to learn more.
Toney Penna, who became a well-known golfer beginning with his 1937 win of the Pennsylvania Open Championship, moved to Delray Beach in 1946. The Pennas moved right next door to my Aunt Eleanor’s house along the Intracoastal Waterway, a few blocks from my grandparents’ house on N.E. 7th Avenue. Penna’s son, Jerry, was a year or so younger than my father. I’ve been told that Jerry, Dad and my Uncle Warren ended up getting into mischief together. There’s a hush-hush tale about an abandoned building, the three boys and police… but that’s a story for another time.
Penna used to take a small duffel bag filled to the brim with golf balls to a field to practice his drives. After Penna dumped out the golf balls, Dad and Warren would take the empty bag far down the field and chase after balls, gradually filling the bag back up. I’d heard that Dad caddied for him once upon a time, too.
As a local celebrity, Penna lived peacefully along the water in Delray, but it seems he had some famous friends. He played golf often with Perry Como who had a house along the Jupiter Inlet. Back in Delray Beach, Penna’s visitors caused quite the sensation. According to Dad, Hollywood luminaries showed up at Penna’s house from time to time--Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis among them. Wouldn’t you have loved to sit in on that party?
So how did a street in Jupiter, forty-five minutes away from Delray, end up named Toney Penna? Penna worked as a representative for MacGregor Golf Company designing clubs until 1967. It was the early 1970s when he went out on his own, opening a little facility where he designed and manufactured golf clubs. The building is still there, located on the south side of Toney Penna Drive, just east of Military Trail, but it’s been renovated and its now impossible to tell that once upon a time golfing royalty worked there.
If you’d like to get your hands on a Toney Penna club, be prepared to pay. The MacGregor Toney Penna Clubs are extremely rare collectibles. A collector’s guide on E-bay says, “An all original, excellent condition set of WWs (white woods) should be worth $1000 or more.” And as for irons, the Penna VIP irons (1963-1967) are considered one of those items so rare, it’s hard to set a value.
I’m sure that when Dad and Warren were cutting through Aunt Eleanor’s hedge to get Jerry for yet another adventure, Dad had no idea that Jerry’s dad, and later Jerry, would make golf clubs so well designed that devoted golfers still search for and collect them.
Accomplishments worthy of having a street named after him, I think.
This article first appeared in my column with Seabreeze Publications, Inc., "The Florida You Don't Know."