Recently I got this question via Twitter: "Looking for a golf resort in Tampa area or West coast Florida or maybe Arizona for Oct -- long weekend w spa -- any ideas?"
Spas and golf make up my favorite combination, and there's no shortage of them. This question came from someone who lives on the east coast, so obviously, Florida is easier to get to, but Arizona, of course, is loaded with golf/spa destinations. Here are a few suggestions:
Florida suggestions headed up by Innisbrook
Tampa is an easy flight from most east coast cities, so this would make the most sense for the weekend. I also suggested the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, but it was pointed out to me correctly that there are few direct flights to the airport in Panama City, Fla., which is about 30 minutes away from Destin. Still, if you can get there, Sandestin has five terrific golf courses, good spa services and nice accommodations. And you can find some pretty good deals on golf packages there.
With that said, here are some suggestions for the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, and I'll start with Innisbrook Resort. The primary reason is the golf, plain and simple, led by the Copperhead Course, home of the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship. Copperhead isn't your typical Florida golf course. There's elevation change, not an overabundance of water and some pretty tough greens. Golf Channel analyst Charlie Rymer says it should be on your Florida "bucket list," and it's among the pros' favorite stops on the PGA Tour. The other three courses at the resort, all designed by the late Larry Packard, are excellent, too, and the resort is top notch. It just opened a new 18,000-square-foot spa, salon and fitness center to go with its luxury accommodations. A weekend at Innisbrook is a special experience.
It's certainly not the only choice in the area, though. In St. Pete, there's the historic Renaissance Vinoy Hotel and Resort. There's only one golf course there, but it's well above average. Originally a Ross design, this 6,700-yard course that was once public has been renovated over the years and is now kept in immaculate condition. It isn't overly difficult, but it's a lot of fun.
But the clincher for me is the resort, which sits on St. Pete's pristine waterfront. The hotel, now operated by Marriott, opened New Year's Eve 1925. There were balls and weddings and luxurious dinners and accommodations, it once served as hospital, and it closed for a while before it was restored to its original splendor in the 1990s. The architecture was, and still is, Mediterranean Revival with an elegant, sophisticated decor. There's a vibrant pool scene, a spa and exceptional dining, including a Sunday brunch that won't be topped.
And, finally, my other choice in the Tampa area is the Saddlebrook Resort. Saddlebrook not only has 36 holes of Arnold Palmer-designed golf but an outstanding golf academy as well. And if you're a little sore from working on your game or playing too much golf, check out the Spa at Saddlebrook, which offers in addition to traditional services, a comprehensive couple's treatment.
Arizona trip worth it, but take a long weekend
For our reader in the east, Arizona is a fairly long trip, so a long weekend would certainly be in order here. But for our readers west of the Mississippi -- and certainly those in the Mountain and Pacific time zones -- Arizona is your weekend destination in the fall.
There are options all over the state, but to keep this simple, I'll stay in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.
My first choice is the Boulders Golf Club & Resort in Carefree. This unique resort has 36 awesome holes laid out among ancient giant boulders (hence the name) with luxury casitas, fine dining and one of the best places to get a facial or massage treatment -- the Golden Door Spa. I once got a gentleman's facial there, and it still ranks among the top four or five spa treatments I've received anywhere in the world. Plus, if you're looking to relax, it doesn't get more peaceful than The Boulders. After golf, you won't have any problem relaxing.
The Four Seasons Scottsdale has a similar vibe to it, though it's a larger resort. It'll be pricey but well worth it if it's in your budget. Like The Boulders, it has 36 holes. The Tom Weskopf/Jay Morrish-designed golf courses -- the Pinnacle Course and Monument Course -- are among the very best golf courses in Arizona.
The resort also boasts great dining -- I love The Proof, an American Cantina as well as Talavera's steakhouse. This is a resort that pays attention to every detail. Not only do adobe casitas blend flawlessly into the desert landscape but also each room is packed with thoughtful features. Add to that a spa that features the "Golfer's Massage" -- which uses warmed golf balls to knead the muscles -- and you've got the ultimate golf experience.
There are several more worth mentioning as well. The Westin Kierland has 27 holes of golf, an excellent spa, a plethora of water activities including the "Flow Rider," and one of the best Scotch collections in the world.