There are certain things golfers would like to do at least once. It could be anything from breaking 80, to playing a Scottish links course, to getting a hole-in-one. Not all of us have the means to travel around the world playing golf. But there are a lot of golf opportunities right here in the Tampa Bay area. In fact, there are so many courses and choices that it may seem impossible to experience it all. That's why we created a Tampa Bay area golf bucket list, 10 things to do before you can't do it anymore:
1. Play every course
Let's start big. There are nearly 80 regulation public golf courses in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties (shameless plug: check them all out at tampabay.com/golf). Throw in nearly 20 courses in nearby Bradenton and Sarasota, and there are about 100 courses to check off the list. Try to play at least one new course a week, or maybe a month. Then you'll always have something on that one person in your golf group who thinks they have played better area courses than you.
2. Go to Hernando County
Short of playing them all, if you've never ventured north, or if you live in the area and haven't checked out the local courses, do yourself a favor. World Woods, The Dunes, Brooksville Country Club and Hernando Oaks are a few of the courses that have huge elevation changes. Brooksville's four quarry holes on the back nine are worth a trip in itself. It isn't flat courses with water, but instead hilly terrain with waste areas and large greens. Definitely a change of scenery and a must for the golf bucket list.
3. Get a set of lessons
It's amazing how much your game will improve just by taking a couple of lessons. And this area is chock full of capable instructors. Not only does the course down the street have a PGA instructor, so do most driving ranges and executive courses. Instructors are best at seeing flaws in your swing you never knew you had. It should make future rounds more enjoyable.
4. Play in a tournament
There are tournaments year round in our area. The best are scramble tournaments, and most benefit local charities or causes. They are usually laid-back affairs, with longest drive and closest-to-the-pin prizes, along with best-ball scoring. Most golfers have played in at least one scramble, but if you haven't you should make it a point to do so.
5. Play a historic course
Sure, Central Florida is famous for its flat, watery courses that wind through housing developments and swamp land. But it didn't used to be that way. Pinellas and Hillsborough counties were booming in the 1920s, and courses were being built to woo tourists. Dunedin Country Club (now Dunedin Golf Club), Clearwater Country Club, Lakewood Country Club (now St. Petersburg Country Club), Belleair Country Club, Belleview Biltmore and Palma Ceia provide a sampling of old-school courses built between the late 1920s and 1940s. Babe Zaharias Golf Course, Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club and Rogers Park are Tampa courses full of history. It's pretty cool to play the same courses Walter Hagen, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan once played.
6. Play at night
Anybody can play golf during the day, but try playing a round at night. Locally, there's only one place to tee it up after hours. Terrace Hill Golf Course in Temple Terrace is a nine-hole course with a few par-4 holes. It's well-lit and a lot cooler to play in the summer. Also, keep your eyes open for glow golf tournaments. Courses use glow-in-the-dark golf balls and light the fairways and greens with glow sticks. At least you can say you played golf at night.
7. Stay and play
Get a group together and spend a few days playing 36 holes a day. Places such as Saddlebrook in Wesley Chapel, Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, World Woods in Brooksville and Lake Jovita in Dade City all have at least 36 holes of championship golf. The villas are right on the course, so you don't have to travel and can play as much as you like. It's like going to golf heaven.
8. Play a private course
Now is the best time to play a course you wouldn't normally have a chance to play. More private courses are offering summer memberships. If that's too much, there are also chances to be a member for a day. Places such as Feather Sound, Pasadena CC and Belleair CC allow you a chance to try out the course before you join. Of course, there are still ultraprivate local courses that don't want you within 5 miles, but who needs Old Memorial anyway?
9. See how many holes you can play in a day
A few friends and I tried this many years ago, and we got in 45 holes before we didn't want to ever swing a club again. It can be at the same course, but it's even more fun to play on different courses. Make sure the courses are close to each other and see how many different holes you can play in a day.
10. Play with a pro
It's not impossible, though it may cost a few bucks. Both the PGA's Transitions Championship in Palm Harbor and the Champions Tour's Outback Steakhouse Pro Am at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz have tournaments early in the week where a pro plays with amateurs. You get to walk between the ropes, hit next to them on the driving range and shoot the breeze between shots. There is no other sport where you get to play with the competitors on a tournament-ready course.
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.