Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami have football teams. Orlando and Miami have basketball teams. Flagler County is joining big league sports–by participation, anyway–with the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association’s sanctioned 18 horseshoe pits on Kentucky Blue Clay at the 20-acre Old Dixie Park off South Dixie Highway.
There are currently 10 to 15 million horseshoe pitchers in the United States and Canada, with some 70 in Flagler, who form the the Flagler Palm Coast Horseshoe Club. The sport is as old as Ancient Greece, when hoplites took to using discarded horseshoes took to pitching them at stakes to pass the time.
“Flagler County really did a grand job for us,” Club President Tom Martone said.
They don’t quite have team jerseys or souvenir franchises. But the organization does have the potential to bring in tourism dollars. Martone is looking forward to the day Flagler can bid to be the host city for a big event and is already setting the goal to bid for local and even a state tournament in 2014. “An upcoming World Tournament will be in Knoxville, Tennessee, for 11 days,” he said. “There are 1,500 horseshoe pitchers signed up and that’s going to bring a big income into Knoxville.” The local club intends to have more than sanctioned tournaments, including charity events.
The choice of 18 courts isn’t coincidence: it’s the required minimum number for horseshoe-pitching tournaments. Some 70 tournaments are held around Florida annually.
“This is part of the eco-tour thrust of the county to bring people into” Flagler, county spokesman Carl Laundrie says. “It’s a very active club and there are usually competitions in the state or nearby states every weekend.” It is these competitions the organizers are hoping to lure down to Flagler to attract competitors and their families to stay, dine and shop locally.
Located west of the Flagler section of Plantation Bay, the 6-year-old park is probably one of the most unknown and subsequently underused in the county. Amenities include a playground, basketball and tennis courts, and restrooms. The land acquisition didn’t cost the county. It was contributed by the Plantation Bay developer. “Plantation Bay hasn’t built out on the Flagler side as much as they expected. This was part of the regional
impact,” Laundrie said. (In exchange for concessions on the size or density of a development, developers are expected to build parks, roads, schools or grant land for public uses and environmental protection.)
The county pitched in $20,000 from the general services park fund for the construction of the 18 pits, storage shed and picnic pavilion. Groundbreaking took place in February. The park is now functional, though an official dedication ceremony has yet to be scheduled. The entire park will continue to be maintained by the county.
These aren’t the first horseshoe pits in the county but they are the first sanctioned by the NHPA, something that will help the local club attract tournaments. The other horseshoe pits are at Wadsworth Park, on State Road 100 just before the Flagler Beach bridge, “but they weren’t sufficient to handle the horseshoe club members,” Laundrie said.
The facilities are not just for club members. The public is welcome to bring their own horseshoes and use the facilities as long as no tournaments are scheduled. Martone is hoping maybe the younger generation will get the horseshoe pitching bug. “Kids out of school are more than welcome to join us. We’d have fun with them,” Martone said. “The more you pitch the better you get.”
The club charges $1 to play with all of the money going to a pizza party the first Tuesday of each month. The club meets from 9:45 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays at the park.