A course to fit every snowbird who drops in

Published December 9, 2005

The holiday season is upon us, greens fees are still reasonable, and soon friends and family from the North will be winging their way to breezy, balmy Florida for extended visits.

Leaving behind the rigors of snow and sleet, they'll be eager to be squired around some of our area's best golf courses for some midwinter fun on the links.

But where do you take your golfing pals and kin when they show up looking for a round in paradise?

The answer depends on who's coming.

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The Hotshot Brother-in-Law From New York, Where Everything Is Better Than It Is Here, Except Golf in the Winter:

This sort of fellow is looking for the kind of golfing experience he sees on TV every week. He has a single-digit handicap, a set of clubs that costs more than your car, and a burning desire to express his golfing superiority over all mortals.

Well, send him to the Westin Innisbrook Golf Resort, 36750 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, (727) 942-2000, and see how he likes them apples on the Copperhead course. That's where PGA Tour players competed in the Chrysler Classic, and where more than a few of them lost their lunch money to the dreaded Copperhead. Only caveat is, he needs to be a guest at the resort to play the three courses there.

No problem. Means he and his bratty kids won't be in your hair for a week.

Alternately, you can take him to the Tournament Players Club of Tampa Bay, 5300 W Lutz-Lake Fern Road, Lutz, (813) 949-0090, where the senior PGA Champions Tour players knock it around every year.

Another great option in the Brandon area is the Bloomingdale Golfers Club, 4113 Great Golfers Club, Valrico, (813) 685-4105, which is consistently ranked among Florida's top 10 golf courses. The reason being, they don't do swimming, tennis or spa treatments. They just do really good golf.

Either way, Hotshot Brother-in-Law will be impressed with the manicured experience and certainly won't make a fuss about how these courses compare to his home club (which is likely under 6 inches of snow).

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Uncle Milt From Cleveland Who Just Took Up the Game to Get Away From Aunt Betty:

Uncle Miltie is a novice, so you need not go out of your way finding a top-notch golf club for him to lose golf balls on.

He just wants a few minutes' rest from Betty, some quality time in the midday sun, and a couple of Bud Lights after the round.

Think municipal course. Tampa Bay is blessed with lots of these. A favorite is Mangrove Bay Golf Course, 875 62nd Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, (727) 893-7800. It's such a pretty course, winding its way through a waterfront locale with mullet jumping in the bay and lots of mangroves.

Mangrove Bay is affordable, friendly and easy to play. When you're done, you don't so much remember the golf as much as the unexpected pleasure of enjoying such a serene setting in an urban environment. The Bud Lights are easy on the wallet, too.

In Tampa, the recently revamped Babe Zaharias Golf Course, 11412 Forest Hills Drive, Tampa, (813) 631-4375, is an excellent choice. In the past year the city has spent millions bringing "The Babe" back up to the level its patrons have enjoyed for decades. This is a classic urban golf course with classic urban golfers. Uncle Miltie from Cleveland is bound to make a friend.

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Your Nefarious Frat Brother From Your Bacchanalian College Years:

This guy doesn't so much want to play golf as drink beer with one hand while holding a golf club in the other.

Any number of local courses will fit the bill, providing they have excellent beer cart services. The Eagles, 16101 Nine Eagles Drive, Odessa, (813) 371-6307, provides some of the best mobile adult beverage service in the bay area. And the course is user-friendly enough to keep the clientele happy whether they are serious golfers or serious imbibers.

Lansbrook Golf Club, 4605 Village Center Drive, Palm Harbor, (727) 784-7333, is another course that takes customer service to another level. The golfing experience is great, but the attention to customer service is even better.

Lansbrook is a stout test for even the best golfer. And if they have a stout in one hand, it's even more difficult. But fun all the same.

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Your Aged Grandparents From Pittsburgh Who Hit the Ball About 86 Yards:

Here, you're looking for quality time, not so much quality golf.

Best recommendation is a tidy par-3 course where those 86-yard tee shots will actually amount to something. The Lutz Executive Golf Center, 2220 Newberger Road, Lutz, (813) 949-6687, is one of the best around.

It has just nine holes, but they're nine really nice holes. And if the grams want to play a full 18 holes, the second go-round is discounted. Given that it's in a pristine, rural environment, the Lutz Executive Golf Center is a great way to show off the quiet side of Florida.

In St. Petersburg, Twin Brooks Golf Course, 3800 22nd Ave. S, St. Petersburg, (727) 893-7445, is a splendid place to knock a ball around. Like the Lutz course, there's water you have to hit over, and trees that come into play, and any number of sand traps.

But if you can bang it 86 yards, you (and your grandparents) should have no problems.

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The Pal or Relative You Don't Want to EVER Come Back:

Yeah, there are those. They arrive uninvited. They raid the fridge. They're mean to the dog. And they want to play golf.

Okay, then golf you shall play. Take them to the most dastardly courses we have here.

In Tampa, just pull into the parking lot of USF's "The Claw," and watch them tremble. Better yet, wait until you arrive at the infamous 538-yard 14th hole, "The Claw" hole, and place a small wager. Even though it's a par 5, bet Mr. Mean-to-the-Dog that he can't get on the green, let alone into the hole, in five strokes.

You'll use that money for puppy treats.

- Logan Mabe plays as much golf as he can afford. You can contact him or share your golfing life stories at LDMabe@aol.com