By Jason Lusk
Tee off at the Best Golf Courses in Florida
Famed course architect Donald Ross played here. The PGA Tour returns every year. And plenty of visitors to St. Petersburg-Clearwater skip a day on the beach to tee it up at several prime golf destinations.
Looking for a classic test restored to glory? You got it. Want a modern beast that vexes the best players in the world? You can have that, too. There's something for everyone--a mix of new and old, stunning landscapes, great dining and other diversions and inventively demanding courses shaped by some of the top designers in the world.
Whether you boldly stride to the back tees or hit from the front of the tee box, there are plenty of opportunities to chase that little white sphere in St. Pete-Clearwater.
Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club, St. Pete
Located on gorgeous Snell Island 1.7 miles away from the 1927 Mediterranean-style resort, the exquisitely manicured Vinoy Golf Course was re-designed by renowned gold course architect, Ron Garl, and put back into play in 1992.
Conditions for play are ideal year-round--Gulf breezes cool in summer time and the temperate Florida climate makes winter a delight.
But this course offers much more than challenging rounds and the venerable traditions of the old-world resort. The 18-hole par 71 layout is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary where wildlife takes refuge and each hole is surrounded by vegetation, including pines, live oaks and over a dozen varieties of palm. Expect to find yourself grappling with a jungle or beached on one of 63 strategically placed bunkers.
Play as many holes as possible as day turns to night and get the special twilight rate.
Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, Belleair
Donald Ross believed each hole should present a unique challenge, never allowing a player to sluff off for a swing without paying for it. This design philosophy led to many of the best courses in the world, such as Pinehurst No. 2, Oakland Hills, Inverness, Oak Hill and Seminole, where major championships are played, layouts that are part of the most prestigious private clubs. And Belleview Biltmore Golf Club is among this elite.
The course was built in 1925 and, in recent years, has undergone renovations to restore the noted Ross design features. It offers fairways designed by the game's master, covered with lush grasses that only modern agronomy could offer.
Though not long by today's standards, a par-71 stretching to 6,614 yards from the back tees, the Biltmore tests every club in the bag. Long-but-wrong hitters find plenty of trouble, with water hazards and bunkers sprinkled in just the right places to make a player think. Each shot demands attention.
But it's not all punishment. The magnificent setting salves a bruised ego, and the on-site golf academy can help wayward golfers find the fairway. If scenery and education aren't enough, you'll at least know you played a course that's stood the test of time.
Dunedin Golf Club, Dunedin
Come experience golf the way it was meant to be enjoyed and walk in the footsteps of some of the sport’s best known players! Golf legends Bobby Jones, Gene Saraze, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Paul Runyan and others have graded the historic Dunedin Golf Club which opened on Jan. 1, 1927. Former home of the PGA of America, this 18-hole course was designed by world renowned golf course architect Donald Ross. The facility went through a major restoration with rebuilding of greens, tees and bunkers in 2006-2007, which has restored the course to nearly the same as when legendary Ross drew it up on the drafting table.
Since inception, the club has hosted 18 Senior PGA Championships and was voted #4 Best Value Golf Course in the United States in 2014 by a Golf Advisor poll. And we think it’s pretty great, too! Dunedin Golf Club was voted Best Golf Links in our 2014 “Best Of” St. Pete/Clearwater poll which is voted on by locals and visitors. This award winning course also offers a practice facility, The Fairway Grille, and has PGA Professionals on staff to give golfers an experience they won’t soon forget!
Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, Palm Harbor
The Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club claims (correctly) that after you step onto the resort's extensive, manicured grounds, you will never want to leave.
The Copperhead’s elevation changes, reminiscent of courses found in North Carolina, test the best players in the world each year. The 7,340 -yard, par-71 brute, designed by the imaginative architect Lawrence Packard, is one of the PGA Tour's favorite stops. Paul Azinger, a 12-time PGA Tour winner, called it the best course the PGA Tour plays.
The Copperhead rolls through mature trees with water strategically placed to test golfers of any level. Uneven lies are common, forcing creative play to slick greens guarded by daunting sand traps and unbelievable Bermuda rough. Choose your tees wisely, and you will make it up the hill to the 18th green with your spirit intact.
Innisbrook's other courses aren't softies, either. The 7,310-yard, par-72 Island Course, in particular, can prove every bit as tough as the Copperhead. As the name implies, water abounds. Keep it straight, or keep plenty of balls within reach.
Bardmoor Golf & Tennis Club, Largo
Bardmoor Golf & Tennis Club offers a bit of a breather in places, with wide fairways and room to play. But don't plan on setting any course records.
Home of the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour's JCPenney Classic for 13 years, the 7,015-yard, par-71 track received a $2 million face-lift from Gary Koch in 2001.
The greens can be doubly diabolical, both as targets for approach shots and again when putting. Koch pushed many of them up from the fairways, and imperfect approach shots bound down the slopes. Short-side yourself one too many times, and you will begin to question your strategy.
Avoiding the water is the course's theme. The ponds in play on almost every hole lend themselves to several fantastic risk-reward holes. The 398-yard, par-4 seventh slices around a lake, begging for a bold tee shot to set up a short approach, and the 529-yard, par-5 eighth forces a carry over a pond to a green above another water hazard. The 376-yard, par-4 14th wraps around a lake, daring you to swing the driver to set up a birdie.
Great swings lead to great scores; bad swings leave you all wet. Avoid the red stakes and keep the ball on the proper side of the hole, and you might be able to sign a scorecard worth remembering.