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 West Coast of Florida
by Jonathan Gibbins

 

The west coast of Florida is often overlooked by those who prefer to take in the Disney experience or the bright night lights of Miami and this is a shame. This selection of coastline boasts the sunniest climate in the world (Clearwater), a big city (Tampa) and several relaxed and pretty towns (Sarasota, Venice). There are also many islands scattered down the coast for any lucky individual who happens to own a boat.

It seems most people who get a fly-drive holiday to Florida avoid this area and there is a good reason. The only way to get from east coast to west coast is to take "Alligator Alley", a straight road completely surrounded by the everglades in which a breakdown service is in the form of a helicopter.


Innisbrook Golf Course
Anyway, golf is what I came for and just next to Tampa airport is the wonderful Innisbrook Resort at Tarpon Springs. There are three courses here that are all worth playing and represent very different challenges. The jewel of the resort is the Copperhead course which has hosted tour events for both sexes and the seniors and makes a huge effort for wildlife. Armadillos, pheasants, swans, turtles and other exotic birds grace the links with their presence and all they ask in return is that you donít drive like a maniac in the buggy to scare them. The course is undulating and carves itís way through towering pines, which gives you a sense that you have left Florida for a few hours.

A course to be avoided for the beginner at Innisbrook is the Island Course, which has water on every hole and normally this is not a little pond by the green.

The next stop is south into the lovely town of Clearwater and is a little more affordable than some other resorts of the same quality. The Belleview Biltmore resort hotel (and most of the town) was built around the turn of the century and the Victorian charm shines through in the largest occupied wooden structure on the planet. The course to play here is the resort course designed by Donald Ross some 75 years ago and has stood the test of time as elegantly as the wooden hotel. It is vintage Ross with crowned greens, slender bunkers and a couple of beastly par 3ís.

Another Ross course is the nearby Dunedin Country Club, which used to be the PGA Headquarters at one point but is now an affordable municipal track with a modest budget from the city council.

The next golfing stop is south once more, only this time it is offshore on an often forgotten golfing heaven called Lee Island. It is all part of Lee County, which had 38 golf courses at the last count and is reached by a bridge just off I-75 which runs from Tampa to Naples. The serenity here is quite special with every law of the island keeping away all kinds of pollution, high speed and anything tall.

A great find turned out to be Beachview Golf Club located on the nearby Sanibel Island. The course is a wonderful swirl around inlets and waterways and had the bonus of wide fairways to keep the provisional balls in the bag for a change. Iíve noticed from playing courses like this that the golf really doesnít matter when you start gazing at boats floating by, herons swooping down to catch fish and water-skiers

Belleview Golf Course
losing their balance when the boat turns. That is unless your doing much better than you normally ever do, then the golf becomes very important.

A course very close to this is The Dunes, a Mark McCumber effort that has many more trees than the last course but still has plenty of lakes to think about. The clubhouse facilities here are quite wonderful with tennis, fishing and water-sports all on offer for anybody needing to kill time while someone is slogging away on the course.

The west coast of Florida is much quieter than the Orlando area and the east coast, but still combines the best of both of those to keep up the attraction. Tampa has Busch Gardens, a theme park that attracts just as many visitors as any Disney park and the Lee Island area has exactly the same ambience as any island in the Florida keys. The weather is wondrous, the golf is stupendous and the sun sets out at sea on this coast, what more could a stress-riddled westerner want?

Information:

Belleview- (£30-40) 001 813 581 5498

Innisbrook- (£40-100) 001 813 942 2000