Baseball fans headed to spring training in Florida should drag their clubs to the Sunshine State.
What a great way to get an early taste of summer. While the millionaire ball players work on their swings, golfers can dial in theirs. The teams in Florida's Grapefruit League compete in March and April at stadiums stretching from Lake Buena Vista and Kissimmee near Orlando in central Florida to Fort Myers and Jupiter in the south.
A morning tee time at a course near a stadium would pair well with an afternoon game. Now that's a worthwhile double-header.
Park: Champion Stadium, ESPN World Wide of Sports Complex, Lake Buena Vista
Best nearby courses: Tom Fazio's old Osprey Ridge course has been transformed into the Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Resort Orlando. Disney's Palm Course and Magnolia Course, hosts of the PGA Tour for decades, play like typical Florida tracks with lots of bunkers and wetlands. Other Orlando stalwarts like Bay Hill Club & Lodge, ChampionsGate Golf Resort, Waldorf-Astoria Golf Club, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes and Celebration Golf Club sit within a 12-mile radius.
Park: Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee
Best nearby courses: All of the courses above are in play for Astros fans, too. Falcon's Fire Golf Club, 12 miles from the stadium, rarely disappoints. Within 20 miles are Shingle Creek Golf Club and Orange Lake Resort. If you're bringing family along, Orange Lake provides the perfect home base (pun intended). The condo-style accommodations and restaurants are nice. The pools and putt-putt are kid-magnets. Variety defines the golf scene. Arnold Palmer made the Legends Course a strong resort test. The 6,500-yard Reserve Course at Orange Lake plays shorter and slightly easier. The nine-hole Legends Walk lights up at night for golf after dark. The executive Crane's Bend offers a quick round.
Toronto Blue Jays
Park: Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Dunedin
Best nearby courses: If you want close, try Dunedin Golf Club three miles from the stadium. The classic Donald Ross course dating to 1926 was restored during a renovation in 2006-07. If you want the best, head five miles farther north to Palm Harbor, home of Innisbrook Resort. The Copperhead Course hosts the PGA Tour every spring, but several of the resort's other courses deserve a look. Want to pull off a cool triple play? Attend the PGA Tour event and a baseball game during your stay, followed by a round on the Copperhead after the Tour leaves town. The course will still be in tournament shape.
Park: Bright House Networks Field, Clearwater
Best nearby courses: Innisbrook is just 11 miles from the stadium. If you stay at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club 17 miles away, you get access to the private Vinoy Golf Club, a Donald Ross original on Snell Island revamped by Ron Garl.
New York Yankees
Park: George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa
Best nearby courses: TPC Tampa Bay, 16 miles north of the field in Lutz, is worth the drive to play a former Champions Tour venue. New York money will pay for more than a few rounds at World Woods, a 36-hole club flung even farther north in Brooksville 60 miles away. Pine Barrens, peppered with sand, and Rolling Oaks, a paradise of rolling hills, are almost as good a 1-2 punch as Streamsong's Red Course and Blue Course. Emphasis on the almost. If you can't justify driving that far, the Palmer Course and Saddlebrook Course at Saddlebrook Resort 25 miles away in Wesley Chapel will work just fine.
Park: Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland
Nearby courses: The Tigers are the beneficiaries of being just 34 miles north of Streamsong Resort, the hot new destination home to the nationally ranked Blue and Red Courses buried in the sand dunes of an old phosphate mine. Closer to the stadium, the Cleveland Heights Golf Course, a 27-hole municipal course in Lakeland, has improved its conditioning and layout during a renovation the past two years.
Park: McKechnie Field, Bradenton
Best nearby courses: Not many people realize how many solid options populate Bradenton, especially for the price. The closest is the IMG Academy Golf Club six miles from the park. Arthur Hills designed the excellent 27-hole River Strand Golf & Country Club eight miles away, while the tough Preserve Golf Club at Tara and Waterlefe Golf & River Club are both within 12 miles.
Park: Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota
Best nearby courses: Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch by Palmer, nine miles from the park, sits half-way between the Pirates' stadium and the Orioles' stadium. For a splurge, stay at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota three miles away for access to the Members Golf Club, a gorgeous Tom Fazio playground. Don't let the name Sarasota National Golf Club fool you. The recently renovated course, run by Arizona-based Troon Golf, is located in Venice, 29 miles south of Ed Smith Stadium.
Tampa Bay Rays
Park: Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte
Best nearby courses: Riverwood Golf Club, a Golf Digest four-and-a-half-star course three miles away, is chock full of wetlands. Second dibs go to Oyster Creek Golf Club inside a gated community in Englemont across the Charlotte Harbor another 12 miles northeast.
Boston Red Sox
Park: JetBlue Park at Fenway South, Fort Myers
Best nearby courses: This park, with its mini-Green Monster, would be the one place I would skip a round of golf to go see another game. It takes 15 miles of back roads to find Old Corkscrew Golf Club, a bear of a Jack Nicklaus course loaded with water hazards. There is a decent selection of golf courses in Fort Myers, but the best of southwest Florida reside in Naples at least 45 minutes away.
Park: Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers
Best courses nearby: The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort, 12 miles away in Bonita Springs beside Estero Bay, boasts 36 holes at Raptor Bay Golf Club and Colony Golf & Country Club, a private club that opens its doors to resort guests. No traditional bunkers, only waste areas, line Raptor Bay.
Park: Space Coast Stadium, Melbourne
Best nearby courses: Impeccable conditions as good as the infield grass draw golfers to Duran Golf Club less than two miles from the stadium. Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg and other baseball stars such as Ken Griffey Jr. have been spotted at Joe Lee's Viera East Golf Club in Rockledge three miles from the stadium.
New York Mets
Park: Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie
Best nearby courses: I-95 is the only barrier between golf and baseball bliss in Port St. Lucie. The stadium and three courses at PGA Golf Club -- two by Fazio and one by Pete Dye -- are just three miles apart, separated by the highway. Play all three courses there -- the Wanamaker, Ryder and Dye -- to find your favorite.
Miami Marlins/St. Louis Cardinals
Park: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
Best courses nearby: Too bad the area's best courses -- Trump National and The Bear's Club -- are ultra-exclusive and private. Abacoa Golf Club, a Joe Lee design, is so close to the stadium (less than a half mile) that golfers can almost hear "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch. PGA Golf Club is just a 40-minute drive up I-95. Or head 15 minutes south to Palm Beach Gardens to take on the Champion Course at PGA National.