Taking the golf gang to Tampa Bay in comfort with villa accommodations

You've arrived. The house has a large deck, a huge kitchen with granite countertops, a breakfast bar -- something your wife has been pushing for -- and a living room with a fireplace big enough to roast an ox. There is a barbecue grill, a private pool and a media room with a large-screen HDTV.

The fridge has been filled with life's essentials like milk, juice, Bob Evans breakfast rolls, eggs and beer, and there are lots of munchies in the cupboards. Your tee times were lined up ahead of time, so you're good to go.

When your golfing gang, "The Scums," first talked about a golf trip to Florida, it was all about playing golf, hanging together, playing golf, eating take-out, watching football, playing golf, grabbing a beer from the fridge and playing golf. Renting a home or condo or even adjacent suites with kitchens in a resort like Saddlebrook in Wesley Chapel made sense, not only because of the comfort factor, but also because it was economical. When you divided the nightly rate by the number of people, the total was typically less than $100 per person, per night. Sweet.

With direct flights from the Scums' home base into Tampa along with several golf-oriented communities and resorts, the search zeroed in on Tampa Bay with the following places making the Scums' "A" list.

Citrus County is a biggie. About an hour north of Tampa it's a haven for golfers looking for reasonably priced accommodations and access to more than 20 good golf courses with affordable green fees.

Van Der Valk Golf Resort

You can start with the Van Der Valk Golf Resort in Inverness, where condos and homes are sited along the fairways of Lakeside Golf Course. Executive Villas have spacious living areas, pools with Jacuzzis and open kitchens. Tee up at Lakeside and nearby Juliette Falls Golf Club, the Meadows Course at Citrus Hills, Skyview Golf & Country Club and Citrus Spring Golf & Country Club. Off the course you can go canoeing, fishing and hiking. As a guest you can also use the fitness center and spa amenities at Terra Vista and Citrus Hills.

Plantation Inn and Golf Resort

Crystal River in Florida's horse country, with its rolling pastures and white fences, is another good golf destination. Stay at the Plantation Inn and Golf Resort, graced by white-pillared buildings, and warm up on the Lagoons Course, a lively par-31 executive course with five par 3s and four par 4s. Then play Plantation Inn's Championship Course for some serious golf challenges.

World Woods Golf Club's villas

Head 20 minutes south to World Woods Golf Club, where there are two highly rated Tom Fazio courses -- Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks (think Augusta!) -- along with three warm-up holes (a par 3, par 4 and par 5), and a nine-hole Short Course. Check into the club's attractive villas six miles from the golf club, a good base for playing Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks as well as Southern Woods Golf Club and Sugarmill Woods's Oak Course, Cypress Course or Pine Course.

Innisbrook Resort

Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor has four superb golf courses (Copperhead, Island, North and South, plus the par-36 Fox Squirrel). Stay in one of Innisbrook's spacious condos in low-rise buildings overlooking fairways and gardens. After golf, head to Packard's Steakhouse for Paul Bunyan-sized steaks. You won't need a car on site either. Innisbrook offers complimentary shuttle service throughout the property.

Saddlebrook Resort

Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel has a decidedly Florida feeling with tropical gardens, low-rise condos, two courses (Saddlebrook and Palmer), a large scalloped pool, 45 tennis courts, four restaurants, spa, fitness complex and huge pool. Book side-by-side three-bedroom suites with full kitchens and living rooms and ask about fairway home rentals.

Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club

At Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club in Dade City you'll find two solid courses. Lakes come into play on both the North Course (designed by Kurt Sandness with very un-Florida-like ups and downs) and the South Course (designed by Tom Lehman and Sandness). Lake Jovita's three-bedroom Club Villas overlook lakes and fairways. Each comes with four queen-sized beds, two baths, a fully equipped kitchen and a screened lanai. Stay here and you can use the club's pool, fitness center, restaurants and tennis courts as well as the extensive golf practice facility.

Also try Emerald Greens Golf Resort & Country Club, a boutique golf resort with 27 holes designed by Dan Maples and 50 two-bedroom condos. Nearby, play Emerald Greens, Lake Jovita South, TPC Tampa Bay and Westchase Golf Club.

Tampa off the golf course

Ranked by Forbes as the fifth-best outdoor city in the nation, take in events like the Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest, a bawdy celebration for all fun-loving folks; the high-flying Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus; Busch Gardens with its incredible roller coasters; and Ybor City, a go-to place for authentic Cuban sandwiches and hand-rolled cigars. Explore miles of white sandy beaches and sport fishing.

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.
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Taking the golf gang to Tampa Bay in comfort with villa accommodations