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Highlighting the Tampa Bay area's public golf courses

We have trekked hundreds of miles to get video of every public course in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties to have as complete a course video library as possible at our website, tampabay.com/golf. This week we add our final video. We — myself and videographers/editors Brent Puckett and Jen Hiatt — encountered angry golfers and angrier alligators. We almost got hit by errant shots and got yelled at by members for wearing jeans. Not every course cooperated. Scotland Yards in Dade City and Airco Golf Course in Clearwater never returned our calls. Zephryhills City Golf Course hung up on me twice. An official at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor made it very clear the resort does not consider its course "public." And East Bay Golf Club in Largo didn't like our video and asked us to take it down, which we did. Here's a breakdown of some of the courses:

Five best courses

1. World Woods (Brooksville): At the end of the Veterans Expressway, it has two 18-hole courses that are visually stunning. The Pine Barrens course uses elevation and waste areas. Rolling Oaks uses well-placed bunkers and rock formations.

2. TPC Tampa Bay (Lutz): Home of the Champions Tour's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, it's pricey during certain seasons, but it is a championship layout with nature everywhere.

3. Lake Jovita (Dade City): It has a north course and a south course, and both are hard. Lake Jovita sits on a hill overlooking Pasco County, and the view on some tee boxes is picturesque.

4. Westchase Golf Club (Tampa): The course is relatively new and winds through wetlands. It's a walk through a nature preserve.

5. Saddlebrook Resort (Wesley Chapel): It has two courses, the Palmer and the Saddlebrook. Both are top notch. The fairways and greens are usually in tournament shape.

By the numbers

60 Courses videotaped in Pinellas (13), Hillsborough (18), Pasco (19) and Hernando (10) counties

1,170 Holes taped (four courses had 36 holes, one had 27)

4,472 Approximate miles traveled

3 Courses that did not respond to taping requests (Zephryhills City Course, Airco, Scotland Yards)

1 Video rejected (East Bay).

Five quirkiest courses

1. Triple S Golf Ranch (Dade City): The anti-country club, it is open to all types of golfers. Jeans? No problem. It has a Wild West theme, complete with broken-down stagecoaches around the entrance and each hole named after a famous Wild West figure or American Indian.

2. Brooksville Country Club: It's fairly straightforward until the 12th hole. Then it turns into holes built around a deep rock quarry. The view is spectacular.

3. Silver Dollar Golf Club (Odessa): The course has three nine-hole tracks. They are named the Bobcat, the Panther and the Gator. The course isn't lengthy and uses extreme doglegs to keep golfers honest. You can play a quick nine, or you can play 27 different holes.

4. Riverside Golf Club (Ruskin): This course is in a 55-and-over retirement community, so it is on the short side. After six holes of playing around the homes, the course veers into open farmland. An oddly placed driving range is behind the eighth hole.

5. Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Course (Clearwater): From McMullen Booth Road, the course looks like a lengthy par 72. But it is a short par 69, where iron off the tee is usually the best play. It has some tricky holes, and water comes into play.

Five diamonds in the rough

1. The Golf Club at Cypress Creek (Ruskin): From the smallish clubhouse, it doesn't look like much. But it gets difficult quickly. It sits on 640 acres of wetlands.

2. Dunes Golf Club (Weeki Wachee): Sand waste areas are all over the course, which has doglegs, multitiered greens and thick woods. And it has elevated tees and greens.

3. Heritage Harbor Golf and Country Club (Lutz): The course sits off Lutz Lake Fern Road and is in the shadows of TPC Tampa Bay, which gets most of the attention. But it has a championship layout, and woods and wetlands wind through it.

4. Diamond Hill Golf and Country Club (Dover):It looks like an Average Joe kind of course, but tough holes are scattered throughout.

5. Dunedin Country Club: The 90-year-old course used to be private, and many believe it still is. It's not. Designed by Donald Ross in the 1920s, it hasn't changed much. It's shorter than most modern courses, with an emphasis on play around the green. It has marshland and pot bunkers, just like the old-school courses.

Golfing on a budget

1. Bloomingdale Golf Club (Valrico): It has a challenging layout and can be played for less than $40 in the winter. Even on the weekend, morning rounds are $45, which is a bargain this time of year.

2. Plantation Palms Golf Club (Land O'Lakes): It can be played for less than $50 in prime time, and much less in the summer. The layout is challenging, with rolling hills and marshes. It's the kind of course that makes you use every club in the bag.

3. The Eagles Golf Course (Odessa): It has two courses, both championship, and Florida residents can play each for less than $40 at this time of year. It's cheaper in the summer.

4. Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club (San Antonio): Off Interstate 75, it has a par-72 course and a nine-hole course. The par 72 can be played for less than $25 before 11 a.m. on weekdays, which makes it one of the cheaper courses in the area.

5. Clearwater Country Club: The course is a bit short and narrow, but even in prime time you can play it for less than $30. It also has twilight specials and discount rates for junior golfers.

Most challenging holes

1. Par 5 NO. 14 at Lexington Oaks Golf Club (wesley chapel): It is over 500 yards from the white tee. It has a carryover marsh to a dogleg right fairway. That is followed by a dogleg left and a narrow fairway to the green. Visually intimidating.

2. Par 5 No. 11 at Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club South Course (dade city): The tee box is elevated 94 feet above the fairway. The hole winds down to a small green, with water and woods waiting to snatch your ball.

3. Par 5 No. 14 at USF Golf Course (tampa): It is known as "The Claw'' because of the clawlike branches atop a tree that hangs over the fairway. A severe dogleg left is about 150 yards down the fairway, but if golfers try to cut the fairway too much, "The Claw'' swats the ball away. After that, there's another dogleg before the green. And the fairway is narrow throughout.

4. Par 3 no. 15 at Diamond Hill Golf Club (dover): Imagine standing on top of a large hill and looking straight down to a green 200 yards away. And the green is protected by a lake and a large sand trap.

5. Par 4 no. 13 at Brooksville Country Club: The tee shot is atop a rock quarry, and the fairway is below.

Highlighting the Tampa Bay area's public golf courses 11/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 11:19pm]
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