A dark secret pervades the golf scene in Tampa. Dick Sutton will reveal it, but only if we promise to put our readers wise: "There is too damn much golf here," he says.
As president of the Ben Sutton Golf School, founded in 1968, just southeast of downtown, Sutton's perspective is that of an insider. Still, even a glance at the course listings for the region (including nearby Clearwater and St. Petersburg as well as Sarasota sixty miles to the south) shows that a huge proportion were built in the last decade and a half. Florida's Gulf Coast is no longer the underserved market it once was.
Too many courses, too little time?Life holds far more dire problems, and Tampa is a pleasant place to confront this one. Florida's third largest city, it has an abundance of something in short supply elsewhere in the state: a palpable sense of neighborhoods and local lore. There's Ybor City, known prior to the Cuban trade embargo as "Cigar City" and now a center for dining and nightlife; Tarpon Springs, the funky Greek sponge-fishing port; and the Gasparilla pirate ethos, inspiration for both an annual festival honoring the city's mythical invasion by a band of seafaring pillagers and the nickname of the NFL's Buccaneers.
WHERE TO PLAY
RITZ-CARLTON MEMBERS GOLF CLUB, SARASOTA
7295 Lorraine Road, Bradenton; 941-309-2000, ritzcarlton.com. Yardage: 7,549. Par: 72. Slope: N/A. Architect: Tom Fazio, 2005. Greens Fees: $165$225, resort guests only. T+L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
Tom Fazio has said this course, scheduled to open in December, had the largest landscaping budget of any he's done in Florida—and that's saying a lot. The site is extravagant: more than 300 acres framed by the Braden River, its estuary and protected wetlands. Formerly a flat piece of farmland, the layout uses fill from sixteen excavated lakes to create mounding of up to thirty-five feet. The course also benefits from the planting of nearly 500 palm trees and scores of oaks, which lend a sense of maturity. The caddies in white coveralls don't hurt either.
WORLD WOODS GOLF CLUB, Pine Barrens
17590 Ponce DeLeon Boulevard, Brooksville; 352-796-5500, worldwoods.com. Architect: Tom Fazio, 1993. Yardage: 6,902. Par: 71. Slope: 136. Greens Fees: $40$140. T+L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
Thanks to its huge waste bunkers, Pine Barrens is often referred to as "the closest most of us will ever get to Pine Valley." In terms of atmosphere (though by no means natural setting), World Woods brings to mind another mecca of American golf: Bandon Dunes. The club exudes a golf-only attitude and resides in the middle of nowhere—an hour from Tampa proper—unmarred by housing and entirely worth the trip. In addition to designing two eighteens here, Fazio created a nine-hole short course; a three-hole warm-up loop that consists of a par three, a par four and a par five; a thirty-six-hole putting course; and a large circular driving range. Pine Barrens itself offers ample creativity in terms of hole design. For example, the 330-yard fifteenth, a dogleg-right par four that has a split fairway and dares longer hitters to cut the corner and go for the green. A foursome recently hit for the cycle on the hole—a par, a birdie, an eagle and a double-eagle hole in one.