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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 — IMG Academy’s Legacy Hotel, Streamsong Resort, the Gasparilla Inn & Club, and (see below) Innisbrook Resort.  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).

 Innisbrook may be the closest to home for Tampa Bay residents — but a golf-cation there still feels like a great escape.

Innisbrook Golf Resort

Innisbrook’s scenic Island Course.

Well, isn’t this a welcome surprise? I’d thought that my visit to Innisbrook Resort’s renowned Island Course would consist of no more than a golf-cart jaunt to the 11th tee, reputedly the second-highest point above sea level in Pinellas County. But now I was getting an impromptu golf lesson from club pro Wayne Nugent.

Upon my return from surveying the 11thas well as the remaining holes of this gorgeous course, Wayne sets me up with loaner clubs at the driving range. It’s late afternoon on a 75-degree Saturday, the first real break from the swelter in months. The breeze is stiff. I slip on a windbreaker. (Hey, it gets chilly up in these here hills.)

“I’ll meet you over there,” he says.

“Gotta tell you, I’m not a golfer,” I inform him.

“I’ll see you over there,” he replies with a smile.

I’ll spare you the sordid details of my personal golf history. Suffice to say that I haven’t seriously swung a club in about a dozen years, so I’m not exactly brimming with confidence. But I’m a life-long athlete, so the pro is convinced there’s hope.

Wayne starts me with an 8 iron, and I shank a few while he observes quietly. Then he adjusts my stance and posture, loosens my grip, and encourages me to try something called the “inside swing path.” That’ll help me hit a draw, which is important, he says. I start making solid contact (mixed in with a few clunkers). I’m still hitting a fade, but nothing like the vicious slices I used to spray. The balls are — dare I say? — flying pretty straight.

Uh-oh, out comes the driver. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sliced the ball onto the wrong fairway during my golf outings back when. But buoyed with a smidge of confidence and don’t-give-a-damn attitude, I let it rip. What’s this? Balls are launching true, still tailing right, but landing respectably straight. Wayne reckons the better shots are traveling 210, 215 — not bad for a neophyte.

After 45 minutes, we pack up.It’s hard to describe my elation. Do you believe in mini-miracles?

Copperhead at Innisbrook, the fabled course where Tiger came in second at Valspar.

I’m due a victory lap and I’m famished. We head over to Packard’s Steakhouse, one of six restaurants on the property. It’s in the clubhouse of the Copperhead Course, where the PGA Tour holds the Valspar Championship, where Tiger has tread. Copperhead may be Innisbrook’s marquee course, but the Island Course, which has more topography, is every bit its equal. The resort includes two other championship-level courses — the North Course (aka “Little Copperhead”) and the recently renovated South Course, which is more open and better for high-handicappers.

We indulge in a sumptuous red-meat feast (a 16-ounce prime New York strip for me, a 6-ounce filet for my wife, Bonnie), plus fixin’s, plus a wedge salad, plus wine and beer, plus decadent desserts. Several tables of a dozen or more men on golf-cations are yukking it up, rehashing that day’s rounds.

We pour ourselves into the car for the short ride back to our suite. Innisbrook does not have one central, multi-story hotel; instead, condominium-style buildings are spread throughout the complex, which makes for a uniquely private experience. Our one-bedroom flat on the ground floor is spacious and quiet, with a fairway just a short chip from the screen door, which we leave open. The interiors of all guest accommodations are undergoing a major remodel, which is slated for completion on January 1.

I wake up a little sore in the shoulders and hips. A couple of hours in the Salamander Spa would’ve been just the thing, but, alas, time does not permit. The plush, 12,000-square-foot facility offers a complete menu of treatments, a steam room and Jacuzzi, plus an idyllic outdoor garden. For something more vigorous, there’s a 4,800-square-foot fitness center nearby.

My aches will pass. They’re the good kind.

Innisbrook Golf Resort36750 US Highway 19 N., Palm Harbor, 888-794-8627. Innisbrook offers four basic golf-cation packages, topped by the Platinum Golf Package. Available May through October, it’s a golf-‘til-you-drop extravaganza that includes up to 36 holes a day, deluxe lodging, breakfast and lunch, a daily one-hour golf clinic and more. 

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