Longboat Key Club and Resort, Harbourside
301 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key; 888-237-5545, longboatkeyclub.com. Yardage: Red: 3,323; White: 3,426; Blue: 3,386. Slope: Red/Blue: 138; White/Blue: 141; Red/White: 132. Par: 72. Architect: William Byrd, 1982. Greens Fees: $85$140. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
Although Longboat Key's five nines lie nearly end to end on a single bayside spit of land adjacent to fashionable Sarasota, the two courses here offer somewhat different experiences. The twenty-seven-hole Harbourside layout is the more memorable of the two, epitomized by the fifth hole on the Blue nine (recently renamed Blue Heron; the other two nines are soon to be "animalized" as well), a 580-yard par five with a peninsula green. It was one of several holes ratcheted up last year when the course received a thorough makeover by architect Ron Garl, who is based in nearby Lakeland. The White nine features lovely stands of fig and pine trees, not to mention several varieties of palms. Harbourside's sister course, Islandside, features water on all eighteen holes. It's most appealing for the hundreds of palms and white-and-pink oleanders lining the fairways.
TOURNAMENT PLAYERS CLUB OF TAMPA BAY
5300 West Lutz Lake Fern Road, Lutz; 813-949-0090, tpc.com. Yardage: 6,898. Par: 71. Slope: 135. Architects: Bobby Weed and Chi Chi Rodriguez, 1991. Greens Fees: $55$99. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
There's plenty to like about this venue, the site of a Champions Tour event, but if you are spraying the ball, it will spray you back: All but three of the holes have water hazards, most of them very much in play, with a number of forced carries to relatively compact landing areas. This is partly a function of careful stewardship of the site's ecology, one of the pleasures of which is the abundance of shore birds, including sandhill cranes, wood storks, ibises and egrets. Like most TPCs, the operation here is courteous and efficient. Proximity to the airport makes this a great first or last stop.
THE WESTIN INNISBROOK GOLF RESORT, COPPERHEAD
36750 U.S. Highway 19 North, Palm Harbor; 727-942-2000, westin-innisbrook.com. Yardage: 7,340. Par: 71. Slope: 134. Architects: Lawrence and Roger Packard, 1972. Greens Fees: $170$190, resort guests only. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
The site of the PGA Tour's Chrysler Championship (formerly the JC Penney Classic), Innisbrook has long been an icon of Florida golf. The irony is that, except for the Spanish moss and the odd alligator, the rolling terrain, sandy soil and conifer-lined fairways on the resort's flagship Copperhead course are more likely to remind you of the Carolinas. In fact, the layout has a bit of everything, including more than seventy bunkers, copious water hazards, long uphill carries and tricky putting surfaces.
WORLD WOODS GOLF CLUB, ROLLING OAKS
17590 Ponce DeLeon Boulevard, Brooksville; 352-796-5500, worldwoods.com. Architect: Tom Fazio, 1993. Yardage: 6,985. Par: 72. Slope: 133. Greens Fees: $40$130. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
Rolling Oaks is more traditional in its bunkering than its more famous sister course, Pine Barrens, and generally less severe. But don't be lulled into a false sense of security: It does have some precipitous contours, which combined with dozens of striking live oaks give the course the feel of Texas hill country.
SADDLEBROOK RESORT, PALMER
5700 Saddlebrook Way, Wesley Chapel; 800-729-8383, saddlebrook.com. Yardage: 6,641. Par: 71. Slope: 134. Architects: Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, 1986. Greens Fees: $105$130.T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
There's some debate over which of Saddlebrook's two courses is the best. Regulars, who refer to the resort's original eighteen (designed by Dean Refram in 1976) as "the Old course," insist that it is a better layout than the Palmer (built a decade later). Although neither is particularly long or difficult, the Palmer course is the more exciting test of golf. It's wider off the tee, but elevated greens demand precise approach shots and a steady putter. The resort serves as the world headquarters of the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy, and several packages include daily instructional sessions.