The Claw's closing at USF reminds us of other area sports venues … – Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA — The Claw is closing up shop, and another extremity of our sports history is being snipped from the area scene.
Late last week, USF confirmed it will shut down its 56-year-old public golf course (universally known as The Claw) after years of financial losses and deterioration. To be sure, the 18-hole track is a shell of its old self, with neglected landscaping and a gray portable serving as a pro shop.
But it still leaves divots of nostalgia in the psyche of many, be they Bulls golf alumni who played competitive rounds there, or hackers who spent carefree afternoons carting around its sand traps and sprawling oaks. In that sense, The Claw is similar to several other area sports landmarks that struggled to remain viable in their final days and ultimately weren’t resuscitated.
While we wanted their misery to end, we were really sad to see them go. Here are 10 that remain missed by legions of locals.
Years in existence: 1955-1988
Raymond James Stadium now rests where this ballpark of a bygone era once did. Named in honor of the first Tampa native to play Major League Baseball, it initially served as the spring-training home for the White Sox before the Reds (and their Class-A minor league team) became primary tenants in 1960. When the “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s was humming at full-throttle (winning consecutive world titles in 1975 and 1976), Al Lopez became a March hot spot. For a time, it was deemed a prime location for a prospective big-league franchise, and when uncertainty over its future lingered, the Reds bolted. In anticipation of landing a franchise, the Tampa Sports Authority demolished it in 1989. That franchise, of course, landed in St. Petersburg.
Years in existence: 1965-2004
No area sports arena served a more diverse clientele in its day than the Bayfront Center. From free kicks (soccer) to dropkicks (pro wrestling), this venue had it all. The indoor version of the Rowdies flourished there (winning North American Soccer League titles in 1976 and 1980), while the Tampa Bay Thrillers won the Continental Basketball Association title as tenants in 1985. Minor league hockey also had a brief run at the Bayfront in the early 1970s. But ultimately, the alley-oops and odd-man rushes succumbed to a higher art form; the arena was imploded in December 2004 to make way for a larger Salvador Dali museum.
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Years in existence: 1965-1993
Situated along the banks of the Hillsborough River (where a waterfront park of the same name now resides), this arena served as the area’s primary concert venue for a time but also hosted an assortment of sporting events. The first formal home court of USF men’s and women’s basketball, it also hosted some big-time boxing cards, the Floridians of the now-defunct American Basketball Association, and a plethora of prep hoops tournaments. When more state-of-the-art arenas began sprouting, Curtis Hixon was deemed obsolete and was demolished in 1993.
Years opened: 1925 (Derby Lane), 1933 (Tampa Greyhound)
Greyhound racing was immensely popular before it became polarizing (and ultimately banned in Florida). Both venues are still operating, albeit mostly as sites for simulcast wagering elsewhere, but the live-racing aura and clientele they harbored in a prior century are fading memories. Before bay area nightlife evolved, these tracks were hot spots, attracting thousands on a weekend night and a smorgasbord of celebrities who would lay down a few bucks on a quinella or trifecta. Those dog days, however, formally ended on Jan. 1, 2021, when a constitutionally amended ban on greyhound racing in Florida took effect.
Years in existence: 1941-2004*
Before Tampa evolved into a major sports city, professional wrestling was a prime entertainment source, and this nondescript white military structure was its mecca. Teased by the storylines woven during Saturday-evening prerecorded broadcasts of “Championship Wrestling from Florida,” hundreds would shoehorn themselves into this cramped arena every Tuesday night, where Dusty Rhodes, Eddie Graham, Jack Brisco, the Great Malenko and others took center stage. For a time, the armory — with neither frills nor air conditioning — also served as home for USF basketball. It still stands today, albeit as the Shanna & Bryan Glazer Jewish Community Center.
* While built in the 1930s, the armory formally was dedicated on Dec. 8, 1941.
Years in existence: 1962-1983
For two decades, auto-racing enthusiasts flocked to Fowler Avenue’s eastern edge, where this paved oval track provided a smorgasbord of action, from late models to modifieds to outlaw sprint cars. Noted for its golden-arched sign and the gravelly voice of onetime race announcer Gordon Solie, this track took on a historic dimension when it hosted the only NASCAR race ever held in Tampa in 1962. Richard Petty won the event, and Zephyrhills’ Buzzie Reutimann — a Golden Gate fixture — placed 10th. After the speedway shut down, the land was converted into a sprawling indoor/outdoor flea market. Today, an apartment complex resides there.
Years in existence: 1955-2007
Technically, this ballpark still exists, albeit in a different incarnation from the one that served as the Phillies’ spring-training home for nearly a half-century. Named in honor of a former big-leaguer (and Clearwater Chamber of Commerce president), it hosted the Phillies from 1955-2003, when the club moved four miles east to what is now known as BayCare Ballpark. Eventual Hall of Famer Robin Roberts started the stadium’s dedication game (a spring-training triumph against Detroit on March 10, 1955) and tossed the ceremonial first pitch for its last spring game (against the Yankees on March 28, 2003). The Clearwater Bombers, a men’s fastpitch softball dynasty for decades, also played their home games at the old Jack Russell from 1955-1984. Though partially razed in 2007, some of its remnants remain, and it has since been renovated. But face it, that original glory is gone.
Years in existence: 1953-1998
A generation before the birth of the Bucs, this eclectic Spanish sport — rock-hard balls slung against a wall and snagged with a curved reed basket — evolved into a local phenomenon. Lured by the legal wagering, fans would cram into the 4,000-seat fronton on South Dale Mabry Highway to bet on what was billed as “the world’s fastest game.” For a time, the fronton wasn’t merely a sports venue, it was a bona fide nightspot. “Jai alai in Tampa was like eating black beans and rice in Tampa,” former super-fan Nancy Kurtzman told the Tampa Bay Times in 2018. “It was just part of our culture. It’s who this city was. We miss it.” The sport began fading with the advent of the Florida Lottery and the arrival of pro sports franchises, and shut down for good in 1998.
Years in existence: 1967-1997
Devoid of armrests and other amenities, the “Big Sombrero” was a relic that pales next to the gussied-up, gazillion-dollar NFL stadiums of the modern era. But, oh, what sports memories it spawns. Before its end zones were enclosed to accommodate NFL audiences, it served as home for University of Tampa football, the first interracial college football game ever staged in the South (Florida A&M vs. Tampa, 1969) and countless high school showdowns. It later hosted two Super Bowls, the first season of USF football, a Pro Bowl, several editions of the Florida Classic (Florida A&M vs. Bethune-Cookman) and one of the greatest Florida-Miami games ever staged (1984).
Cuscaden Park, Ybor City
A baseball shrine when Ybor was a thriving cigar-factory town and not a party district
Phillips Field, Tampa
This 20,000-seat stadium was home to University of Tampa football and hosted Florida’s first high school state title game (1963).
A La Carte Pavilion, Tampa
Once a prime boxing venue attracting such world-class fighers as James “Bonecrusher” Smith and John “The Beast” Mugabi
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Joey Knight is a sports reporter who helps cover all sports teams in Tampa Bay, from high school athletes to professionals. Reach him at


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