World Woods Golf Club's Pine Barrens Course is among the best in Florida. (Courtesy of World Woods G.C.) TPC Tampa Bay's sixth hole is only 144 yards, but the mounds and bunkers make it play a lot tougher.  (Courtesy of TPC Tampa Bay) A view of Innisbrook Resort's famed Copperhead Course, home of the PGA Tour, from the 15th tee. (Courtesy of Innisbrook) The sixth hole on the Red Course at Streamsong is a 185-yard par 3. (Brandon Tucker/GolfAdvisor) Bobby Weed and Chi Chi Rodriguez designed TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz, Fla. (Courtesy of TPC Tampa Bay) Located just north of Tampa in Wesley Chapel, Saddlebrook Resort boasts two Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

The Best by the Bay: The top golf courses of Tampa, Florida

Tampa Bay is the Rodney Dangerfield of Florida's major cities when it comes to golf. It don't get no respect.

There are probably half a dozen reasons why. Its best golf courses are scattered about the region like a paint splatter. Tampa lost its Champions Tour event a few years ago. Its PGA Tour event, while at a strong course, doesn't have the cache of the other tournaments on the Florida Swing. Bay Hill has Arnold Palmer and PGA National's Champion Course has its "Bear Trap" designed by Jack Nicklaus that makes for great theater. Doral's World Golf Championship now has Donald Trump singing its praises. That's a tough threesome to beat.

If you look big picture, Tampa stacks up with just about any city in the Sunshine State when you generously include courses within an hour's drive. Here's why:

Top places to play golf in Tampa

Here's where the math gets a little fuzzy. Geographically, Tampa can claim Florida's two best 36-hole clubs, but neither are really all that close to anything that counts as civilization.

The hot new destination of Streamsong Resort is just 55 miles southeast of Tampa in the middle of nowhere. The 36-hole World Woods Golf Club sits 60 miles north of Tampa in remote Brooksville. That's arguably the strongest foursome in Florida golf. All four courses -- the Red Course and Blue Course at Streamsong and the Pine Barrens Course and Rolling Oaks Course at World Woods -- remain fixtures in Top 100 public lists.

Those playing at either property will likely never sniff downtown Tampa or Ybor City, its Latin-inspired row of restaurants and bars. That's too bad. The trade-off is ultimately worth it for the chance to play two of the most unique golf experiences in the entire state. Streamsong opened its new luxury lodge in January.

The brawny Copperhead Course headlines Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor. Three other solid courses and plenty of pools and restaurants make Innisbrook a perfect place to stay awhile.

Tampa golf's secondary options

Plenty of secondary options add variety and price flexibility. Go shopping to find what's best for your foursome.

Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel north of Tampa boasts two Palmer designs, the Palmer Course and Saddlebrook Course. All the spoils of the TPC network -- top service and conditioning -- accompany a round at the TPC Tampa Bay, the former Champions Tour host in Lutz, north of the city.

If your party is looking to hit the beach after golf, maybe the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club's private Vinoy Golf Club, a Donald Ross original on Snell Island revamped by Ron Garl, is the best choice.

Not many people realize how many solid options populate Bradenton 45 minutes south of downtown, especially for the price. Plenty of future pros, such as Michelle Wie, have honed their games at the IMG Academies Golf & Country Club. Arthur Hills designed the excellent 27-hole River Strand Golf & Country Club, while the tough Preserve Golf Club at Tara and the Waterlefe Golf & River Club are both nearby.

Feb 11, 2014

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Jason Scott Deegan

Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.