1. The home of the PGA’s Transitions Championship is Innisbrook, located north of Clearwater in Palm Harbor, off US 19. There’s a total of four courses, Copperhead, the tournament course, and the Island Course are both championship style layouts, designed by Larry Packard in the 1970′s.
2. World Woods While it’s located about 45 minutes to an hour north of Tampa, the journey is now made easier with the road system in place now. Two great and different golf courses here, Pine Barrens, the Pine Valley clone, and Rolling Oaks, the Augusta National wannabe, both by Tom Fazio. Different and unique layouts, no development, just pure golf, reasonable rates, generally good conditions especially Spring and Winter, a nice 36 hole day, and an unbeliveable range.
3. Fox Hollow, up in New Port Richey, doesn’t get the accolades it deserves. It’s an original Robert Trent Jones, Sr layout, challenging and well maintained, with a private club feel to the course and the facilities. Lots of water and sand in play, but like most of RTJ’s designs, fair off the tee, the defense is around the greens.
4. The TPC Tampa Bay is about 30 minutes north of downtown Tampa, off the Suncoast Parkway in Lutz at exit 14. The course was designed by Bobby Weed and Chi Chi Rodriguez in 1991, and is routed through an upscale residential community with half the holes bordered by houses, the balance by undeveloped land. It’s the typical stadium style layout with mounding and banks, and from the tips plays to 6,900 yards, 135 slope.
5. You probably won’t see Cheval Country Club on many lists, because they offer the wink-wink member for a day program while the recession is on, and it’s worth it to play this private club. It’s well north of Tampa, between I-75 and the 589 Toll Road, routed through an upscale residential community. Like many of the development courses in Florida, they dug out the land to build the community and the golf course, and were left with lakes and canals, and on this course, water’s in play on 17 of the holes. It was designed by Steve Smyers and is plenty challenging at just over 7,000 yards from the tips, 74.8/140 ratings. The course has a good variety of holes, some elevation change, which is unusual for Florida, elevated greens, contoured and undulating, and a good amount of sand.
6. Hernando Oaks is in Brooksville, north of Tampa, not far from World Woods. It’s a Scott Pate design, partially through a residential development and from the back tees it’s 6,900 yards and a 132 slope. The course is challenging and full of character, and parkland in nature with tree lined fairways, with the front nine routed through the new housing and the back routed through the natural setting. The greens are mostly elevated, with mounding and collection areas, and 60+ bunkers mostly surrounding them. Water or wetlands are in play on 10 holes, but the fairways are somewhat forgiving off the tee. It’s overall an interesting design, with each hole unique and isolated.
7. Saddlebrook, like Innisbrook, is a big, classic Florida golf and tennis resort located on the northeast part of Tampa’s suburbs in Wesley Chapel. Two championship courses here, the Palmer, designed by Arnold Palmer, and the Resort course, originally designed by Dean Refram with redesign work by Palmer. Both well conditioned, fairly typical Florida design standards, our members favored the Palmer course if you have time for just one game.
8. The Bardmoor has been around a while and was at one time a PGA Tour Stop for the JC Penney Classic when it was in Tampa. It was designed by William Diddle, and plays to 7,015, slope 131 from all the way back. It’s located in Largo, which is on the west side of Tampa Bay, between Clearwater and St Petersburg. The course went under a redesign in 2006 by Gary Koch which renovated the greens to Tifeagle grass, and seem much more playable, and faster than previously. There’s slight elevation changes and a lot of unique, challenging holes with water on most all, and tree lined or bordered fairways. Great selection of par 3′s from 115 yards up to 225.
9. If you’re a traditionalist, then tied for 9th is the Dunedin Country Club, and the Belleview Biltmore, with Dunedin being about 45 minutes north of Tampa, and the Biltmore about 30 minutes west in Clearwater. Both courses are old classic Donald Ross designs from the 1920′s, and were the top courses and tour stops in their time, in fact the Dunedin CC was once the home of the PGA of America. They’re fairly similar Ross designs, parkland style, small perched greens, tight fairways where you’ll have trouble playing your handicap. They’re reasonably priced, conditions a bit less than top shelf, but sometimes fun to play the courses designed for a different game.
10 Lake Jovita, northeast of Tampa by 45 minutes in Dade City. Two 18 hole courses here, routed through a residential development. The North Course is the newer of the two courses and was designed by Kurt Sandness, and is routed through some elevation change and a little of everything in terms of Florida course design, ponds and wetlands on 13 holes, plenty of sand-80+ bunkers, and tree lined fairways. The South Course is a little longer, by 70 yards, but seems easier with a 137 slope, and was designed by Tom Lehman and Kurt Sandness, and is the original course. It’s an interesting layout, mostly parkland style with doglegs, tree lined or pond lined fairways with some elevation change, and somewhat forgiving off the tee, but is heavily bunkered, and water on 12 holes.