Playing the bay's Dream 18

Published October 10, 2007

By RODNEY PAGE Times Staff Writer photos by chris kozlowski Times Staff

Wouldn't it be great to play a golf course with 18 of the toughest, most challenging holes the Tampa Bay area has to offer all on one track? A course where every hole provides an intimidating view from the tees? Where the water or sand traps look much bigger than the fairways? Where the rough is ankle deep and the greens are lightning fast? ¶ We know, it sounds like hard work. ¶ But that didn't stop us from creating a killer, virtual course that would bring even a scratch golfer to his knees. Long par 5s with postage stamp greens. Challenging par 4s surrounded by sand or water or both. Beautiful par 3s with elevated tee boxes and trouble everywhere. There would be no break on this course. ¶ Criteria: We selected one hole from 18 different courses in our four-county area (Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando). The courses could be public or private, and preferably par 72. Each nine holes would equal par 36 (two par 3s, two par 5s and five par 4s). ¶ A hole at Old Memorial, one of the area's best courses, was selected but the Times was denied access. ¶ The hole numbers for our course do not necessarily correspond to their home course. The real hole number is in parentheses next to the course name. Handicap was made at our discretion. Yardage is from the blue tees.e_SClBHole 1

Par 5, 568 yards

Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club, St. Petersburg (16)

Handicap: 9

Description: Break out the driver, and keep it straight. There is water on both sides of the fairway. It will take three perfect shots to hit the green in regulation. Oh, and the green is an island. Good luck.

"The island green sets this hole apart," Vinoy golf pro Stephen Johnson said. "You have to hit it straight all the way down. If you do, you should have a wedge into the green."

Course information: Private, vinoyclub.com, (727) 896-8000.e_SClB

Hole 2

Par 4, 441 yards

Saddlebrook Resort, Saddlebrook Course, Wesley Chapel (18)

Handicap: 7

Description: It's the signature hole of both courses at Saddlebrook. There are fairway bunkers and woods right and left. And just to make things worse, the second shot must avoid the water on the right and the well-bunkered green with out-of-bounds right and hazards to the left. But at least the green is large. "A good drive is the key on this hole," club pro Bill Holden said. "If you're going to have a chance on the second shot you need to hit it long off the tee. It's one of those holes golfers think about during the round before they even get to it."

Course information: Public, saddlebrook.com, (813) 973-1111.e_SClB

Hole 3

Par 4, 427 yards

Feather Sound Country Club, Clearwater (18)

Handicap: 14

Description: A lake skirts the entire right side then, just for fun, the lake juts back out in front of the green. The drive must cut part of the lake to place the ball in the proper area. Then the second shot must stay left of the lake. The green is large, but uneven.

"It's a drive over water and then an approach shot over water," Feather Sound club pro Chad O'Dell said. "Depending on your drive you could have a 5-iron in or an even longer iron."

Course information: Private, feathersoundcc.com, (727) 572-6677.e_SClBHole 4

Par 3, 123 yards

Avila Golf and Country Club, Tampa (5)

Handicap: 15

Description: It may not be a long hole, but don't hit it short or long. Short means a lost ball, with water leading from the tee to the green. Too long and you face a tricky chip back. The green is slick, so hit your tee shot high and soft.

"It's our signature hole," Avila club pro Chris Slattery said. "It's all carry. There's marsh surrounding the hole and a big rock wall in front. It's not the longest hole in the world, but it provides a lot of challenges."

Course information: Private (not taking members), avilagolf.com, (813) 961-1770.

Hole 5

Par 4, 417 yards

Westchase Golf Club, Tampa (6)

Handicap: 13

Description: You must hit your tee shot well to carry the lake. The second shot could be a low- to mid-iron uphill shot to a two-tiered green. Make sure you're on the right level to have a shot at birdie.

"Personally, I think No. 6 is the prettiest hole on our course," club pro Richard Veghte said. "It doesn't have that feel like you're in a real-estate development. It's got the water to carry and then the fairway is framed nicely. It's got a two-tiered green, so you have to be on the right level to make birdie."

Course information: Public, westchasegc.com, (813) 854-2331.

e_SClBHole 6

Par 4, 400 yards

Countryside Country Club, Clearwater (7)

Handicap: 8

Description: The drive is key. There is water on the right that extends 250 yards from the tee. Hit it too far left and you're out of bounds. The second shot is uphill to a well-bunkered green that has a severe back-to-front slope. "It demands two precise shots," pro Tom Champine Jr. said. "You have to be long off the tee and you also have to keep the ball in the center to right-center of the fairway. Then you have to keep the second shot below the hole. Anything above the hole could be a three-putt."

Course information: Private, countrysideclub.com, (727) 796-1135.

e_SClBHole 7

Par 4, 392 yards

Belleair Country Club, East Course, Largo (14)

Handicap: 16

Description: This is a picturesque hole that slopes downhill toward the Gulf of Mexico. The fairways are tight, with trees on the right and marsh on the left. Do not hit your approach long or it could end up swimming with the fishes.

"You better hit it straight or you're going to be putting up some big numbers," club pro Jim Slattery said.

Course information: Private, belleaircc.com, (727) 442-0229.

e_SClBHole 8

Par 3, 127 yards

Brooksville Country Club at Majestic Oaks (17)

Handicap: 18

Description: The tee shot is from atop a rock quarry and the small green is in the basin of the quarry. It is guarded in front by a lake, and behind the green are the sheer walls of the limestone quarry.

"The thing most people do is take too much club and hit it behind the green," longtime Majestic Oaks player and clubhouse employee Don Barrett said. "With the elevated tees it looks a little longer than it really is."

Course information: Public, brooksvillecc.com, (352) 796-8236.

e_SClBHole 9

Par 5, 538 yards

The Claw at USF, Tampa (14)

Handicap: 10

Description: Many a USF grad has cursed this hole, known as "The Claw," which gives the course its name. It is surrounded by trees on the left and includes the famous Claw, named for the top of a tree at the dogleg that rejects any balls in its path. Then there is an elevated green. The fairway doglegs early, so driver is not the choice here. "The hole is hard enough without it," pro shop manager Chris Curry said in an Aug.23 story on the course. "Add the Claw to it and it's anything but nice."

Course information: Public, theclawatusf.org, (813) 632-6893.e_SClB

Hole 10

Par 4, 445 yards

Fox Hollow, Trinity (18)

Handicap: 2

Description: So you've just had a hot dog and feel recharged at the turn. Sucker! This hole is maddening. You must worry about water on both sides of the fairway landing area. Warning: The water on the left is not visible from your approach shot, so try to bail out right. "You have to absolutely kill your tee shot down the left side to have a chance," pro shop employee Donny Alston said. "Then you have to watch out for water on both sides. It's one of the toughest finishing holes anywhere."

Course information: Public, golfthefox.com, (727) 376-6333.

e_SClBHole 11

Par 4, 405 yards

Wentworth Golf Club, Tarpon Springs (2)

Handicap: 6

Description: A long par 4 that is framed by trees, especially on the right. Watch out for the fairway bunkers on the left. The second shot is uphill to an elevated green, and it will likely take a long iron to get there. "I think it's one of the best par 4s in the area," club pro James Kyle said. "You have to be long and accurate to have a chance."

Course information: Private, wentworthgolfclub.org, (727) 942-4760. e_SClBHole 12

Par 5, 569 yards

St. Petersburg Country Club (6)

Handicap: 11

Description:The course was built in 1924 and has changed little since. It requires an accurate tee shot or you could be in somebody's back yard, or perhaps in the small creek that runs down the left side. Also, two trees on the right and left make for a small chute to drive through. The green is on the small side and is surrounded by bunkers as well as a lake to the right. "Visually, it's very intimidating, especially for the right-to-left golfer," club pro Terry Decker said. "The premium here is on accuracy."

Course information: Private, stpetecc.com, (727) 867-2111.

e_SClBHole 13

Par 3, 150 yards

Tampa Palms (17)

Handicap: 17

Description: It's no big deal, really. Don't worry about the lake guarding the green, or the bunkers just behind the green. This was the finishing hole when Tampa Palms hosted the Senior PGA Tour's GTE Classic in 1988. "Where that hole sits, it seems as if the wind is always swirling," club pro Kevin Kenny said. "Club selection is key. Short, obviously, is wet, and then long could mean a difficult bunker shot. Really, a 150-yard shot isn't that hard, but throw in the water and it's intimidating."

Course information: Private, tampa-palmscc.com, (813) 972-1991.

e_SClBHole 14

Par 4, 457 yards

World Woods Pine Barrens Course, Brooksville (12)

Handicap: 4

Description: Golfers must carry a sandy marsh area to a downhill fairway on this long par 4. Then an approach shot, usually with a long iron, over even more sand awaits. The green is large but multi-tiered.

"The hard part is you have a downhill second shot but you have to elevate it to clear the marsh," club pro Scott Wyckoff said. "Most shots feed to the left side of the green, so when the pin is on the right side, you have to make sure you're on the right tier."

Course information: Public, worldwoods.com, (352) 796-5500, extension 4.e_SClBHole 15

Par 5, 530 yards

Cypress Run, Tarpon Springs (11)

Handicap: 12

Description: A double dogleg that winds through oak trees from tee to green. The tee shot must be long enough to get to the corner of the first dogleg. The second shot must be long enough to get past a lone tree that sits in the corner of the second dogleg. Then the third shot must go to a wide green protected by bunkers, two overhanging trees and a lake to the right. No big deal. "The best thing about this hole is the trees that frame it from tee to green," club pro Steve Martin said.

Course information: Private, cypressrun.com, (727) 938-3774.e_SClB

Hole 16

Par 4, 458 yards

Innisbrook, Copperhead Course, Palm Harbor (16)

Handicap: 3

Description: It's a beautiful view from the tee box ... if you're a spectator. For the golfer, the view is of a lake down the right side and the rough down the left. It doglegs to the right, so long hitters can try to shave off yardage by flying over some of the lake. The safe play is to the left, but not too far. The green is surrounded by bunkers and is undulating. "That (expletive) hole," PGA Tour member Frank Lickliter said of No.16 during the 2007 PODS Championship. "I've made bogey on that hole most of the time for the past 10 years. I hate that hole."

Course information: Public, innisbrookgolfresort.com, (727) 942-2000.e_SClB

Hole 17

Par 3, 200 yards

Bayou Club, Largo (16)

Handicap: 5

Description: It's late in the round, so on this hole you get a choice. You can hit from the bridge-side tees and have a bail-out area to the green. Or you can pick the island-side tees and carry your shot over water. Either way it's a long iron shot that requires accuracy. "If you take the island tees it's all carry to the green," club pro Scott Johnson said. "The bridge side gives you more of an out. Either way it's a tough hole."

Course information: Private, bayouclubgolf.com, (727) 399-1000.e_SClB

Hole 18

Par 4, 452 yards

TPC of Tampa Bay (15)

Handicap: 1

Description: One of the most difficult holes on the Champions Tour all season, the left side of the fairway is lined by a lagoon and wetlands. The green is nestled next to the water with trees towering behind. Throw in the fact that it takes a long iron second shot to reach the green, and this makes for a fun finishing hole. "It's our No.1 handicap and it's the most difficult for our golfers," TPC head pro Justin Wink said. "It's also the most difficult for the Champions Tour players."

Course information: Public, tpc.com/tampa_bay/, (813) 949-0090.

Front nine

Par: 36. Yardage: 3,433.e_SClBBack nine

Par: 36. Yardage: 3,666e_SClBTotal

Par: 72. Yardage: 7,099

On the Web

For an up-close view of our Dream 18 golf holes, check out a multimedia report at golf.tampabay.com featuring photos and descriptions of each hole as well as audio from Times staff writer Rodney Page describing how to safely navigate the course.