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'Tis the season... for golf

True story:

After two Orlando men completed a round at El Diablo Golf and Country Club last week, one turned to course instructor Chuck Weisbaum and commented, "I feel like I've cheated you."

"I asked, "Why?' Weisbaum said. "And he said, "Because you should have charged me twice as much. That was far and away the best course I've ever played.' I jokingly asked for the extra money."

El Diablo, like most area public courses, slashes its rates during the summer to offset the loss of play that comes when snowbirds head north. As temperatures rise, fees drop and area golfers are left with heavenly options.

El Diablo, for example, costs $21.20 weekday afternoons for Citrus and Marion County residents and $31.80 for everybody else. The course is considered among the best in Florida, recently earned a 4.5-star rating (out of 5) from Golf Digest, and was named one of the country's top 100 layouts for $100 or less by Travel & Leisure.

"We've got a lot of locals taking advantage of (the rates)," Weisbaum said.

That's hardly the only bargain.

A round at World Woods Golf Club, which rests near the Citrus/Hernando County border, can cost up to $95 on weekdays in the winter but currently is $40 before and $30 after 2 p.m. The world-renowned Pine Barrens course is No. 97 on Golf Digest's list of America's 100 best links and recently hosted an exhibition between PGA Tour stars Phil Mickelson and David Toms.

The rates at many area courses drop $10-20 in the summer. Southern Woods, a semi-private layout that opens to non-members after 10 a.m., cuts its fee in half to $25. Citrus Hills, The Dunes at Seville, Plantation Inn and Silverthorn also have large reductions.

Some courses resort to gimmickry to draw players into the summer heat. Packages can be found at many clubs, most of which include food.

Brooksville Golf & Country Club, a private course, has opened its facility to the public in the summer, packaging 18 holes of play with a hot lunch in the clubhouse.

"Most of the places that offer a lunch are giving you a hot dog and a bag of chips," head professional Paul Attard said. "We're giving them a really nice experience and a sit-down lunch with a waitress."

Silverthorn, a semi-private club between Brooksville and Spring Hill, uses its higher-end facilities to a similar advantage.

"Our plan is to offer a better course and better service," head professional Brent Payne said.

Silverthorn is amassing an e-mail database from customers who purchase items in the pro shop _ the object being a direct electronic marketing push.

Seven Hills patrons can select food or equipment as their perk for using the Spring Hill course. Customers have the choice of lunch or a sleeve of balls.

Whispering Oaks in Ridge Manor has used its proximity to Interstate 75 and a buffet-style package to attract players from the Tampa area. For $20, golfers are allowed to play as many holes as possible from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays.

The Summertime Play Card, which costs $20 and is good from May-October, allows golfers to play Citrus Hills, Plantation Inn, Rainbow Springs, Spruce Creek Preserve and Twisted Oaks for $18 each and Skyview at Citrus Hills for $28.

PGA: Stan Cooke and Scott Wyckoff know World Woods better than any other course, but they seem pretty comfortable with Old Memorial in Tampa.

Cooke, World Woods' director of golf, was two strokes off the lead and in second place after one round of the North Florida Section West Central Chapter PGA Callaway Chapter Championship. Wyckoff, World Woods' head professional, was three shots off and tied for third with a 71.

Black Diamond's Joey Rassett had a 73. GlenLakes head pro Tom McCrary carded a first-round 78, as did Southern Woods' Rick Kelso. Mary Skinkard and Jimmie Brothers, both of Plantation Inn & Golf Resort, shot 80 and 81, respectively.

HELP: The Dunes at Seville Monday Men's League is seeking players. For information, call Mike Sussman, (352) 596-7888.

UPCOMING: The Suncoast Youth Athletics and Scholar Program will have its annual tournament 8 a.m. Aug. 25 at Silverthorn Country Club.

Prizes will be awarded for the top three placers in the four-person scramble. The entry fee is $60.

For information, call Jamie Kennedy, (352) 683-5897.

PUBLIC COURSE WEEKDAY RATES (18 HOLES)

CITRUS COURSES SUMMER WINTER

Brentwood Farms $14.80-16.95 $20

Citrus Hills $19.95-29.95 $40

Citrus Springs $12-16 $24-32

El Diablo $21.20-37.10 TBA

Lakeside $12-21 $24-32

Pine Ridge $13-19.95 $24.95-28.95

Plantation Inn $19.81-25 $26.50-48

Point O'Woods $10.92 $19

Southern Woods $25 $50

Skyview at Citrus Hills $29.95-39.95 TBA

Twisted Oaks $22.59-27.31 $32

HERNANDO COURSES SUMMER WINTER

Brooksville GCC $20+ N/A

Dunes at Seville $20-30 $45

Heather Golf $10-15 $9

Oak Hills $13-23 $33

Quarry $10 $10

Rivard $10-15 $18-22

Seven Hills $24 $35

Sherman Hills $12-27 $26.50-30

Silverthorn $18-34 $50

Whispering Oaks $15-20 $20

World Woods $30-40 $45-95

All rates subject to change.

+ Includes lunch, summer only.

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