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The Sporting Life

Since 1980, Palm Beach County has greatly increased its offerings in many kinds of spectator and recreational sports for its residents and visitors:

AUTO RACING: From 1981 to 2008, the Moroso family hosted hundreds of racing events each year on 200 acres in northwest Palm Beach County. Dick Moroso, owner of Moroso Motorsports Park, was inducted into the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame in 1998, and the Special Olympics Athlete of the Year Award was for named for him. In 2006 the park received the county’s Providencia Award for benefiting tourism. The Moroso family sold the business in 2008, which is now known as Palm Beach International Raceway.

GOLF: The PGA of America returned to Palm Beach Gardens in 1981 when E. Llwyd Ecclestone Jr. built PGA National Golf Club and Spa west of Florida’s Turnpike, with a building for the PGA of America that was expanded in 1990. The Honda Classic has been held in Palm Beach Gardens since 2003.

EQUESTRIAN/POLO: The Village of Wellington is world-famous for polo and equestrian events. The Palm Beach International Equestrian Club at Palm Beach Polo and Country Club was built to host the Winter Equestrian Festival, which has made the Palm Beaches the show jumping capital of the nation; the National Horse Show, Palm Beach Steeplechase, and other prestigious events are also held there nearly year-round.

In 2003 John and Carroll Goodman founded International Polo Club Palm Beach, where polo is showcased January through April, ending with the U.S. Open Polo Championship. In 2012, John Goodman was convicted of DUI-manslaughter and vehicular homicide for the 2010 death of Scott Wilson.

TENNIS: Christine Marie “Chris” Evert (1954- ), who reigned as the world’s top tennis player for most of the years from 1974 to 1981, has spent much of her adult life living and working in southern Palm Beach County. Evert began holding celebrity fundraising tournaments locally in the ‘70s. One month after her last match in 1989, having formed Chris Evert Charities, Inc., she hosted the first Chris Evert Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic; it is still held each fall at the Boca Raton Resort and Delray Beach Tennis Center (in Boca Raton). In 1996 Chris, with others, established the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, which became national headquarters for the U.S. Tennis Association in 2007.

Venus Ebony Starr Williams (1980- ) and her sister Serena Jameka Williams (1981- ) moved to Palm Beach Gardens with their family in 1993, when the sisters enrolled in Rick Macci's Tennis Academy in Deerfield Beach. Venus and Serena have made history repeatedly since they joined the professional tennis circuit in 1994 and 1995. Venus founded V Starr Interiors in 2002, a design firm based in Jupiter.

BASEBALL: The Montreal Expos, who had held spring training at the West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium from 1968 to 1972, returned from 1981 until 1997, when the facility closed. Stadium manager Rob Rabenecker Jr. oversaw spring training for the Expos and the Atlanta Braves during their last ten years and is credited with convincing the county commission to build a two-team facility. When the $28 million Roger Dean Stadium opened at Jupiter’s Abacoa in 1998, the first home run was hit by Mark McGwire, who later that year broke the record for single-season home runs. Rob Rabenecker managed the facility.

Roger Dean Stadium is the nation’s only stadium to host two minor-league teams, the Jupiter Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals, and Florida's only two-team spring training stadium. Through 2002, the Montreal Expos and the St. Louis Cardinals shared spring training. In 2003 they were replaced by the Florida Marlins, who won the World Series that year; the Cardinals won it in 2004. That year hurricanes Frances and Jeanne caused over $3 million damage at Roger Dean Stadium. The stadium now hosts two professional for spring training, the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals and the it is home to four minor league teams, the Jupiter Hammerheads, Palm Beach Cardinals, Gulf Coast Marlins, and the Gulf Coast Cardinals.

FISHING: Lake Okeechobee has been a sportfishing center for many years, especially for bass, which can grow quite large in such a large lake. Although water management, pollution from agriculture and development, and hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 took their toll, in 2009 there were signs of spawning fish and growth throughout the lake. Tournament fishermen were doing well.

Saltwater fishing is enjoyed from several public jetties and piers along Palm Beach County’s coast. The Juno Pier, destroyed in 1984 by Tropical Storm Isadore, was replaced in 1999 by a $12 million, 990-foot pier at Juno Beach Park. The construction schedule worked around the sea turtles laying eggs on the beach, and subdued lighting on the pier was designed not to misdirect newborn sea turtles, which instinctively crawl toward light. Elements were also incorporated to help alleviate beach erosion.

 

Jon Stoll

Promoter and Palm Beach resident Jon Stoll (1953-2008) was credited with putting Palm Beach County on the pop-culture map. Although his Fantasma Productions became one of the largest independent promotion and performance companies in the nation, Stoll refused buyout attempts by large corporations. For 30 years he was based in West Palm Beach, where he also booked acts for Mizner Park Amphitheatre in Boca Raton and SunFest; Fantasma managed 500 concerts per year by 1987.

In 1984 Stoll bought the Carefree Center in West Palm Beach, where locals attended foreign films and small concerts in the aging theater. He turned the bowling alley into the Comedy Corner, one of the top venues for live comedy in the nation. Hurricane Wilma caused a roof collapse at the Carefree Center in 2005. Stoll reopened briefly in 2007-08 as The Theatre in the former Christian Lighthouse Church at Conniston Road and Parker Avenue.

 

 

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