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 — Innisbrook Resort, IMG Academy’s Legacy Hotel, Streamsong Resort, and (see below) the Gasparilla Inn & Club. 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).
At Gasparilla, a classic course and an Old Florida feeling mix with a wide array of modern amenities.
The Gasparilla Inn & Club
The par-4 15th hole of the Gasparilla Inn & Club golf course has a doozy of a water hazard. It’s Charlotte Harbor, which rims the course to the east and also borders the 14th and 16th.
“Just don’t hit it left,” says the club’s director of golf, Robert Duke.
The course takes up the entirety of a small island across a short bridge from the historic Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande, about an hour-and-a-half drive south from St. Petersburg. The Inn, which opened in 1913 as a resort getaway for wealthy Northeasterners, still conjures Old Florida. So Old Florida, in fact, that the entire complex closes from July 5 to early October.
The 18-hole course opened in 1933, and no one is certain who designed the original. The current layout was drawn up by legendary course architect Pete Dye in 2004. Despite its fairly recent makeover, the Gasparilla course still evokes the Sunshine State of yore. And no, you don’t have to wear knickers.
For starters, there are no tee times. That’s right. If you’re a club member or an Inn guest — the course is not open to the public — you just show up and play. “That way you don’t have to plan your whole day around a 9:30 tee time,” Duke says. How does the club manage this? “Very carefully,” he quips, then explains that on busy days groups will stagger their starts on different holes. They generally don’t wait more then 10 minutes to get on.
The 6,800-yard course is walkable, although there are no caddies. Unlike most so-called seaside golf courses, you can see water from every hole. It plays pretty fast — about three-and-a-half hours, Duke says — and shifting winds can make for a tough round. But the ambience and stunning vistas can mitigate the misery. “We have lots of people say, ‘I didn’t play good but I saw bald eagles and dolphins, so I don’t really care.’ If someone can play a bad round and still be happy, that makes things nice.”
The property’s surfeit of amenities will help ease the sting, too. Of all the resorts profiled here, the Gasparilla Inn & Club is the most all-encompassing. The five restaurant/bars, strategically placed around the property, are headlined by the stately Dining Room at the Inn (where no jeans, shorts or tank tops are permitted).
The Beach Club sidles up to the Gulf of Mexico and sports a white-sand waterfront; a family pool; a full-service spa with 80-foot heated lap pool and a private courtyard; and a well-equipped fitness center.
Tennis, anyone? The Gasparilla Inn offers seven clay courts surrounded by fencing and lush foliage. And for the ultimate in genteel Old Florida, the Gasparilla Inn Mallet Club features three certified croquet lawns.
As long as you’re hitting balls with clubs, though, you might as well get yourself back out on the course.
Gasparilla Inn & Golf Club, 500 Palm Ave., Boca Grande, 941-964-4500. Golf packages, which combine a room night with an 18-hole round or rounds, are intermittently offered and prices vary, depending on the season.