Two Great Palmer Courses and one Big Super Pool – Get Tampa Bound!
By TIM BAINES
Nothing like a half-million gallon superpool surrounded by palm trees to put a big exclamation mark on the awesomeness of a terrific Florida resort that also happens to have a couple of amazing golf courses on site.
The Saddlebrook Resort Tampa is looking to get back on the map, get the word out to golfers that it’s not only very affordable, it’s very, very good. With two Arnold Palmer Signature golf courses on site – having The King attached to any project is alone worth a big thumbs up – there’s a smorgasbord of beauty. Along the way, there have been several awards, including being named among the Top 100 Golf Resorts.
“The resort itself has been primarily focused on the conference and convention business,” said Saddlebrook’s new director of golf sales Patrick Farrell. “But we have such outstanding golf courses and they were underutilized so we want to get back in play as a stay-and-play destination for golfers.”
“We just spent a considerable amount of money re-doing and restoring the courses here. It really is an awareness play – to get groups to come stay and play and enjoy the facilities on the property.”
While the golf is great, there’s much more going on here spread out over 480 acres.
“The biggest feature is everything is in a centralized location,” said Farrell. “You’ve got the accommodations (one- to three-bedroom suites), multiple bar and restaurant opens, we’re very close to the Tampa area and all its attractions (including Busch Gardens), we’ve got professional sports close by (including the NHL Lightning and spring training facilities for the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies) and the airport is half an hour away.
“Plus, there’s a lot to do here. It comes back to that centralized walk-in village theme, where everything is located around the superpool area where there are multiple things to do. We’ve also got a world-class spa where you can relax, then come out and sit by the pool or enjoy a drink on the patio.”
It’s a family-owned business with chairman and CEO Thomas L. Dempsey a full-time resident.
“One of the nice things with the property is a lot of the staff have been here 20, 25, 30 years and they’re familiar with our members as well as our guests,” said Farrell. “It’s a family-owned business, it’s a family atmosphere – it really feels homey when you’re here.”
Not only is it a popular destination, it is a nationally recognized training centre for golf and tennis. In 1992, the Saddlebrook Preparatory School was founded, designed to offer student athletes a comprehensive educational experience with concurrent enrollment in either the Saddlebrook Tennis Program or Saddlebrook Golf Academy.
Here’s what you can expect from the courses at Saddlebrook.
THE PALMER GOLF COURSE
While many of the holes provide generous driving areas, level ground is rare and the firm green fairways are contoured to resemble a rolling New England course. Facing the green from the slanting fairways, the small elevated emerald islands are framed by white-faced bunkers, azure ponds and gently swaying palm trees. Hilly lies and sweeping Florida breezes make it challenging to attain the accuracy needed to find these targets. The Tif-eagle greens are firm, fast and undulating, allowing only a crisply struck shot to hold their surface. Surrounding the greens, the thick, gnarly Bermuda rough tangles around the club and complicates the soft touch needed to play short pitch shots. Miss the green, and you face a difficult par. Several holes require length, all reward finesse. The Par 4 fifth hole is a beauty, with water to the right and sand to the left of the green.
SADDLEBROOK GOLF COURSE
As you travel the green fairways set in a hammock of cypress and oak, the natural beauty will transport you back in time to the Florida of the Conquistadors. The signature hole, the 425-yard 18th, magnifies this sensation. The drive must be sent down an emerald ribbon between stands of towering cypress, whose branches are adorned with Spanish moss, swaying gently in the breeze. Three white-faced bunkers in the landing area are framed by the lush green of the fairway. The soft afternoon sunlight glints softly off the deep pond fronting the green, where gators and turtles rest on the bank. Blue herons stand in the water waiting for lunch to swim by, while white egrets and wood storks nest noisily in the trees. Two solid, aggressive shots will reach the green and award the player with par. The course got a nice sprucing up with five new greens last summer.
“On the Saddlebrook course, it’s about course management,” said director of golf Kyle Bruce. “There are water and treelines on both sides of the fairway, you basically want to get the ball to the 150-yard marker, then move the ball from there. The greens are relatively flat so it’s easy to get up and down. It’s more course management than a grip-it-and-rip-it type of golf course.
“The Palmer course is more of a links style course. You want to try and get as far as you can down the fairway. It’s open off the teebox, left and right. Your second shot is most important, if you’re above the hole, it’s going to be a three putt, pretty much, with the undulation of the greens. If you’re not on your short game that day, it can be very tough.”
“It’s very good resort golf. It’s not lengthy, it can be very friendly, but it can be difficult at the same time.”
The resort has more than 500 units on site available to rent – with full living, dining and kitchen areas. We had a delicious meal at Dempsey’s Steak House, with its prime beef, fresh sea food and famous table-side Caesar salad. Along with a thirsty Traveling Golfer, we polished off a couple of beverages at T.D.’s Sports Bar, a happening place where plenty of guests congregate. A buffet breakfast at Tropic’s Restaurant hit the spot the next morning.
Golf packages or weekend getaways can include spa components.
“We have plenty of availability any time of year,” said Farrell. “What’s nice is the weather is usually fantastic all 12 months of the year.”
For more info on golf packages, check out http://www.saddlebrook.com/tampa-golf/saddlebrook-golf-packages/