Much of the nation is on the cusp of golf’s final weeks. Course closures will commence shortly, with those of you unfortunate enough to populate the colder regions of the country preparing to store the “sticks” and pull out the snow shovel/blower. No doubt your better half is probably pushing for a return trip to last year’s recommended venue (Hawaii). To refresh your memory, or if you just missed out, check out the post here. While Maui in winter is always great, this year I would make the trek to Florida. In fact, I just booked my trip for mid-March, squeezing in between the PGA tour events. I am also adding the two newest top rated venues; both at Streamsong. The trip can either begin or end in Jacksonville or Tampa. I prefer ending in Jacksonville, as a concluding round at TPC Sawgrass is a great way to finish to a great vacation. Further, for those of you who will be pulling the clubs out of storage, it would be nice to play this top 10 course after a few warm-up rounds. For our purposes, the trip begins in Tampa.
Innisbrook Resort is located north of Tampa in Palm Harbor. This exclusive community offers four golf courses, the most notable being The Copperhead Course, which is home to the Valspar Championship. This PGA tour event is scheduled for March 10 to March 13. Having played this facility several times in the past, I highly recommend scheduling a round near the time of the tournament. The highlight of this round is surviving the “Snake pit”. You should also try out the Island course as part of your stay and play package. If you need an additional challenge, head north one hour to World Woods, and play the Pine Barrens course which Golf Magazine regularly ranks in the top 25. I was less impressed with this public facility, but the green fees are reasonable by Florida standards.
After a couple of days soaking up the Gulf Coast, it is time to move inland to Streamsong. I have yet to play at this recently opened facility, however, both courses are ranked in the top 20 by Golf Magazine and the pictures look great. This links style project feels like a cross between Bandon Dunes and Whistling Straits. I will be surprised if the hour and forty-five minute drive is not warranted. Further, the accommodations look terrific. We have four rounds scheduled during our two night stay.
After a morning round at Streamsong on Day 4, we will make the one and half hour trek to Bay Hill, which will be hosting the Arnold Palmer Invitational from March 17-20. There is nothing quite like the facilities at Bay Hill. Mr. Palmer’s stamp is all over the operation. Bay Hill is a great walking course which is typically in pristine condition come tournament time. Grab a caddie and be regaled with stories of the “King” while playing another top 100 venue. There are plenty of other courses in Orlando to play, so an extra day may be desirable. Alternatively, you can always take in Disney World.
Last stop on this Florida swing is Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, just outside Jacksonville, about two and half hours from Orlando. This is home to TPC Sawgrass, a definite top 10 facility available to the public. We typically stay at the local Marriott on a golf package that includes a round at the home to the Players Championship, which will be May 10-15 in 2016. Who can forget Ricky Fowler in 2015 making three consecutive birdies on the Island Hole. TPC Sawgrass is home to the PGA and is an absolute must play for any Golfaholic. I expect it will be the icing on the cake of a phenomenal golf week.
As currently configured our weeklong trip will include three rounds at PGA tour venues included in eight total rounds at six different top 100 courses. We will sneak in an additional round, or three depending upon timing, sunlight, imbibing, etc. The accommodations were very good last time, and the addition of Streamsong should upgrade the overall experience. There is a bit driving so you might want to add a designated driver to your foursome. Excluding air travel, car rental and food, this “peak season” trip is currently coming in at just under $3,000 per person, assuming double occupancy. This is about the same cost as two nights and three rounds at the Pebble Beach resort.
The locales have plenty of activities for non-golfers and you can add Disney World to the tour, however, my trip will be with a couple of intense foursomes. We may also take advantage of StubHub (as my brother and I did last time) and get discount tickets to see the Tampa Bay Lightning and/or Orlando Magic play for under $12 per seat.
Weekly Observation: You can argue that Phil Mickelson did not deserve a spot on the President’s Cup team, but I defy you to say that the U.S. would have brought home the trophy without him. It was great to see Phil the Thrill go 3-0-1.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.