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New par-3 course at East Bay has lots of character

Character without maturity is one way to describe the newest course in the Tampa Bay area.

East Bay Executive Golf Course opened last Tuesday in Largo. It's next to East Bay Golf Course, a par-72 championship course on East Bay Drive.

For men, the holes range from 93 yards to 158, totaling 2,087 yards. From the women's tees, they range from 69 to 114 and total 1,633. All the holes are par-3 and pose a variety of challenges.

I played the course Sunday afternoon under ideal conditions _ temperature in the mid-70s and uncrowded conditions. It only took 2 hours, 5 minutes to play the 18 holes in a threesome, and that's not because we were parring every hole.

Carved out of a 20-acre parcel of ugly pepper bush, the course has several aesthetic finger ponds and numerous tall palm trees. But there's virtually no heavy brush where balls can get lost and immerse golfers in a time-consuming search.

Holes No. 8 and 13 pose an interesting challenge in that they share a double green. I started to walk off No. 8 in the wrong direction before I realized the situation, hearing the familiar "fore" yelled from the 13th tee.

No. 18 requires negotiating over, around or through branches of an old oak tree that protects the green.

Development of the course started last May with a major cleanup project, followed by a growth period starting in mid-December.

According to course general manager Bruce Orr, the greens are seeded with rye and Tif Dwarf Bermuda grass. When the rye dies in May, the course will be closed for about six weeks for a growing period for the Bermuda grass. During that period, lights will be installed for night play.

"We're looking forward to the lighting," said Orr, who also manages Baypointe in Seminole. "With lights, the course will have a lot of potential."

Tom Blevins of Largo had the course's first hole-in-one Sunday when a 7-iron shot on the 124-yard seventh took two bounces and rolled into the cup. He shot 61 for the round. "I like this course," Blevins said. "It's pretty challenging. And when the lights go in, working people will have a place to play at night."

Sunday, the club also signed up its first two annual members. Bob and Frances Rerisi of Redington Shores became the charter members.

PGA pros Darryl Spelich, formerly at Bardmoor, and Ken Bladen serve both East Bay courses and are available for lessons on the range, practice putting green or the courses themselves.

The walking greens fee is $10. To rent an electric golf cart is an additional $7 per rider.

The pro shop number is 581-3333.

Double eagle: Mark Miller of Seminole put two driver shots together at the River Club in Bradenton on Sunday for a double eagle on the 519-yard 13th hole. Playing in a Florida Golf League match, Miller, 31, used a different driver _ one with more loft _ for his 235-yard approach shot. He and his partners saw it disappear at the pin. Six three-putt greens left him with a round of 83.

Coming up: The 15th annual Bevelle Crane Invitational will be at Lakewood Country Club Sunday and Monday. The tournament brings together the best amateur women in the bay area. Anne Lacy of Seminole beat Sharon Gonzalves of Palma Ceia by a stroke in last year's 36-hole match. Other prominent contenders this year include Sharon Baerenklau, club champion at Countryside; Mary Critchfield, club champion at Lakewood; Vicky Conroy of Tara, and Karen Thomas, club champion at Pebble Creek.

Gonzalves is coming off a big win _ with a 76 _ in the West Coast Women's Golf Association match at Avila on Feb. 21.

Twenty of the players have handicaps of 12 or less.

Club day: Mangrove Bay will host a vendors club and equipment day on March 19. Free range balls will be provided from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 893-7804.