If you’re traveling down south for the winter and find yourself in the Tampa, FL area you’ll have to stop for a round of golf at TPC Tampa Bay, located just 20 minutes north of Tampa International Airport. TPC, which stands for Tournament Player Club, is a chain of courses owned and operated by the PGA Tour. If you’ve never played a TPC course before, you’re in for a real test. The first course the PGA Tour owned was TPC Sawgrass, which hosts the Players Championship every year. Sawgrass opened in 1980. TPC Tampa Bay opened a decade later, and is considered one of the most beautiful courses in not only the Tampa Bay area, but all of Florida. Designed by Bobby Weed and the pride of Puerto Rico, Chi Chi Rodriguez, the course measures 6900 yards from the tips. TPCTB hosted PGA Tour Champions events for 21 consecutive years, although it no longer occupies a spot on the schedule. The course was sold by the PGA Tour in 2008 to the Heritage Golf Group, but retains its name under a licensing agreement.
TPC Tampa Bay has one of the largest driving ranges I’ve seen at a public course. Since it’s a course built for PGA Tour members for practice and competition, it has top-notch facilities. If you’re looking to spend some time fine-tuning your game at the driving range, this is the place to go. The range must have at least 12 different greens to aim at (I didn’t count, but it felt like I had so many different targets), and also has a great practice area for bunker shots. I could have spent all day at the driving range, but I had to hit the course before the Florida sun got too hot to bear.
Before teeing it up with my high school friend Geoff, we checked out the scorecard and noticed the back tees only played 6,898 yards, so we decided to give it a try.Years from now we will say that we played a PGA course from the same tees as the professionals. What we thought was a fairly “short” course, turned out to play much longer because of the water hazards, found on 15 of the 18 holes. Oh, and don’t forget the fairway bunkers, placed about 250-300 yards out on nearly every hole. Many holes challenged you to rip a driver over the hazard, but you could play it safe/smart and lay up before the hazard. This later option left a long iron or fairway wood into the green, so we did grip it and rip it a fair amount. TPC Tampa Bay offers the occasional par 4 where you still had a good 210-230 into the green even after bombing a center-cut drive, but that’s what you get when you go up against Tour-level tees.
Two memorable holes at TPC Tampa Bay are #5 and #18. #5 is the shortest of the par 4’s and sets up well for birdie … if you’re smart and accurate off the tee! The 322 yard par 4 has a cypress marsh that comes into play off the tee on the left. Because of this, you want to take a long iron off the tee, but must be precise. The fairway is narrowed by a large bunker placed strategically across from the marsh, precisely in the drive zone. If you can land your long iron between the marsh and fairway bunker up the right side, you’ll have less than 140 yards to the green. With a long and fairly flat green, you’ll have room to play it short of the pin and run it up, or just go right at it!
Around hole 10 or 11, the cart path takes you right past the #18 tee box, and you see what you’ll be facing on the last hole of the day, and after seeing it, I was dreading getting to #18 for the rest of the round. The finishing hole at TPC Tampa Bay is a beastly 456 yard par 4 with water all along the right side. To have any shot at getting on the green in two, you need to hit a long drive up the left side, but don’t go too far left as you’ll find a fairway bunker and then must risk hitting a long iron into a green that is protected with water all along the right. The safe place to miss is left of the green as there is little room between the green and water on the right. Once you find yourself on the putting surface, watch out for the hump on the left; a putt from above runs straight downhill, towards the water.
From the narrow landing areas, to the speedy and undulating, tour-quality greens, to the numerous water hazards, there was not one gimme par on the course. If you love a closing challenge, this is the course for you. The final quintet of holes 14-18 played extremely long (588-452-430-217-456). Even with the difficulties and challenges that TPC Tampa Bay presented, it is a must-play course. After your round, stop by their restaurant, ¡Quatro, located in the clubhouse. It has won many awards since opening in 2015. I tried the Blackened Grouper Ruben, and recommend it to seafood and sandwich lovers everywhere. Geoff recommends the BBQ Pork Sandwich, for those who love their southern cooking. See the photos below for a taste of TPC Tampa Bay’s beautiful design and wildlife.