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Swing Away: dR Tampa Bay’s Golf-cations Guide

You’ll never go begging for a tee time in West Central Florida. But why settle for only shooting your basic 18 at the local course when from time to time you can indulge in a true golf getaway? For this golf-cation survey, we’ve selected four facilities — Innisbrook Resort, Streamsong Resort, the Gasparilla Inn & Club, and (see below) IMG Academy’s Legacy Hotel.  All are within easy driving distance, and each offers a distinctly unique golf-plus adventure. Even if you’re not that good a golfer, or not a golfer at all, you may well return from these trips with a new love for the game (and perhaps a lower handicap).

The newest of the four is at a location that’s famous as a training ground for young athletes, IMG Academy. Now, with its recently opened Legacy Hotel, IMG is a destination for golf-cations, too — including high-tech golf lessons for grown-ups.

IMG Academy & the Legacy Hotel

Inside IMG Academy’s Legacy Hotel. Photo by

Gazing out the window of the Icon Lounge on the second floor of the Legacy Hotel at IMG Academy, I see playing fields. They’re everywhere on this 600-acre, world-class sports facility in Bradenton.

The tableau serves to remind golf-cationers why they’re here. Not to play a few leisurely rounds in between facials, dinners and poolside cocktails — although those amenities are on-site. No, people come here to work on their game: to hit longer drives, straighter irons, yip-free putts. To get their swing right. And to get their mind right.

That’s why IMG calls the program, simply, Adult Golf School.

The spanking new Legacy, which opened in October, is designed to set up golfers for maximum performance. Music, lighting, and atmospheric scents are calibrated to energize participants in the morning and relax them at night. The hotel has a pool, a breakfast/lunch/dinner restaurant called the Icon Eatery (“big on flavor, low in fat”), a couple of bars and a small spa. The 150-room Legacy is comfortable, classy, functional — but it doesn’t tempt you to laze around. After a restful night, students are amped to grab the bag and head out to the range.

Adult classes consist of four golfers, grouped together by skill level. The school offers one-, three- and five-day camps, the three-day being the most popular. Students receive plenty of individual instruction throughout, and get to focus on the parts of their game that need the most work.

“Each morning we spend at the training facility,” says technical director Scott Davies. “You work on your swing, your short game. Each afternoon, you play nine holes on the golf course, all done with your coach.”

IMG’s technical director for golf, Scott Davies, demonstrates the proper swing path. Photo by Eric Snider.

The scenic and challenging course, which is open to the public, dates back to 1972 and for years was part of a private country club. In 2003, after a $2.5 million renovation, it opened as IMG Academy Golf Club. The course’s 6,482 yards (from the back tees) are bedecked with lakes, slender pines, massive oaks and native foliage. The 10th hole features an “island green” that’ll make your knees quake.

I’ve come this late Tuesday afternoon to get a taste of the Adult Golf School experience. Davies, clad in a brilliant blue shirt with matching sneakers, greets me at the training facility and ushers me to the driving range. We start with some golf-specific stretching exercises using bands. Then he has me hit a few balls with an 8 iron while he records video of my swing.

It can use some work. My ball striking is weak. We adjourn to a high-tech indoor facility, where Davies goes over the video with me, pointing out my handful of strengths and myriad weaknesses — in a very encouraging manner, it must be said. He shows me a drill meant to limit my body from drifting, and to shift the weight emphasis from my right leg to my left. Within minutes, my balance has vastly improved; I’m seeing the ball better and striking it cleaner. The thwack indicating crisp contact puts a grin on my face.

My abbreviated session lasts about an hour. Imagine the gains an Adult Golf School student could make in a multi-day camp.

A golfer works on her swing with some high-tech help.

As you can imagine, such focused instruction might cause some muscle pain. For that, there’s the IMG Academy Wellness Spa, located a short cart ride from the range. Here visitors can get a haircut, a mani-pedi or other pamperings, but the spa’s special forte is its deep-tissue sports massages. They’re geared toward reviving athletes, but that means everyone from an NBA player training in the offseason to a 70-year-old woman looking to improve her short game.

After a quick spa tour, we cart back to the hotel. It’s around 7 p.m. We pass by gaggles of live-in IMG high school students heading out to baseball diamonds or hitting tennis balls with coaches or playing beach volleyball in the new recreation area by the dorms.

Ah, youth. Adult golfers of all skill levels can attend a camp and recapture some of it — and lower their scores in the process.

IMG Academy & Legacy Hotel5650 Bollettieri Blvd, Bradenton, 941-208-0598. Golf instruction packages including Legacy room nights are coming soon, according to IMG management.  

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