LAND O'LAKES — Tampa Bay Sporting Clays owner Mike Mezrah is working hard to turn the 260-acre facility into a premier destination for clay shooting contests.
About 130 shooters traveled from all over the Southeast last weekend to participate in the inaugural Suncoast Classic. The two-day, 200-target Ironman event saw winners walk away with up to $250 in cash payouts. The classic was a National Sporting Clays Association recognized event, making it a rare shoot for Florida's Gulf Coast.
"The thing about this state is that all the big shoots are at Quail Creek (Okeechobee) or on the east coast," Mezrah said. "There just isn't enough good competitive shooting going on here on the west coast, so we thought instead of everybody going over there, let's get them here. It's Gasparilla weekend, but I don't think it affected our turnout too much, and for the guys that normally go to those events that are regular shooters here, it's nice to have something closer to home."
The organizers turned up the degree of difficulty on the course. Many of the competitors were expert shooters who spend their weekends traveling to competitions or shoot at clay ranges in their hometowns, so Mezrah wanted to make sure that Tampa Bay Sporting Clays' three courses gave them a real challenge.
"It's tough. The average Joe couldn't come out here and shoot very well or make any money," Mezrah said. "A lot of these guys shoot every weekend and are expert shooters, so we've made the target setups pretty interesting. A lot of these guys come down to Florida for the winter, so we don't want to disappoint while we have them here."
Competitors stuck to 12-gauge shotguns for the main competition; but the event also featured a subgauge competition, which included a variety of smaller gauge shotguns, from .410 to 28 gauge. That competition had its own payout and provided a third course for the shooters.
"This is a great competition course, and thing about this facility is with this amount of acreage means they can do so many different things," Bradenton's Bruce Shackelford said. "They can mix up the stations and create a course like the subgauge course which is something different. That's the thing, you go to these other places around the state and they don't have this kind of space."
Phyllis Darr made the trip from Centerville, Ark., to shoot in the event as part of her regular season of shooting National Sporting Clays Association events. She was delighted by the beautiful weather and heavy woods at Tampa Bay Sporting Clays. "I just wanted to get to somewhere warm for a shoot and that part of it worked out so I'm happy," Darr said. "This is not what we usually get when we go to a shoot. Back home, the targets fly out into more of an open area, but I like the woods a lot better because it changes how you pick up the target as it's flying and you can see where it's going better. If they have another shoot here, I'll come again."