Tampa's tournament-tested golf courses

TAMPA, Fla. -- Do you have serious game?

If you do, you'll want to play the excellent lineup of golf courses in Tampa that serve as sites for pro tournaments, U.S. Open qualifiers and collegiate matches.

Even if you're not a single-digit handicap or an aspiring professional, you can still enjoy and appreciate these courses, which are superb designs with multiple tee-placements and consistent maintenance standards.

Regardless of where your game stands, if you want a solid test of your overall golf skills, try Tampa.

Tour pro-approved Tampa golf courses

The PGA Tour stops in Tampa every March for the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course. Stretching to more than 7,300 yards, this in-your-face test was designed by Larry Packard, the 100-year-old designer who helped create the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Copperhead's pine tree-lined fairways give it more of a Carolinas than Florida feel, and the fast and tricky greens can easily destroy a scorecard full of good scores.

Innisbrook's Island Course, a par 72 that plays 7,310 yards from the back tees, is the site of the ISPS Legends Tour Open Championship. An impressive field of lady legends plays the annual November tournament, including Hall of Famers like Nancy Lopez and Beth Daniel. The Island Course has also played host to numerous U.S. Open Qualifiers and NCAA Championships.

Picturesque and demanding, the Island Course has a little bit of everything from tight fairways and abundant bunkers to intimidating water hazards and elevation changes.

Like the ladies, senior men professional golfers have found Tampa very appealing. For many years, the Champions Tour played an event at TPC Tampa Bay, a 6,898-yard gem designed by Bobby Weed with Chi-Chi Rodriguez as player consultant. Designated as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the challenging layout, which opened in 1991, is routed around natural wetlands, cypress heads and several ponds and lagoons.

In Dunedin, a quaint, Scottish-inspired town 20 miles northwest of Tampa, Dunedin Golf Club, once the home of the PGA of America, hosted 18 Senior Tour Championships from 1945-62. Opened in 1926, the Donald Ross design underwent a major restoration in 2007 that rebuilt the greens, tees and bunkers. Golf icons like Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Walter Hagan and Ben Crenshaw played at Dunedin Golf Club.

College- and amateur-tested Tampa golf courses

The University of South Florida men's golf team is regularly ranked in the top 25 in the nation. Its home course, as well as the USF ladies golf team, is The Claw at USF, a William F. Mitchell design with long, tight fairways rimmed by large oak trees and tall cypress and pines. The 6,863-yard par-71 course is known for having some of the best greens (Champions Bermuda grass) in the Tampa area.

The Tampa Tour, an amateur golf league that caters to younger professionals who want some friendly competition, has a 12-event season with play on local courses like Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club, The Claw at USF and Innisbrook's Copperhead and Island golf courses.

The Babe Zaharias Golf Course has been the site of the Tampa City Men's and Ladies Amateur Championships. Weaving through a tree-laden neighborhood, the 6,244-yard par-70 Zaharias layout doesn't intimidate anyone with its yardage, but it's a testy track with four par 4s in excess of 400 yards on the back nine.

In 2013, Rogers Park Golf Course hosted the Tampa City Men's Amateur Championship, an event open to amateur men who are at least 18 years old with a verified handicap of 18 or less. The 1975 champion was Gary Koch, the PGA and Champions Tour player and golf analyst for NBC Sports. Built in 1952, Rogers Park is a 6,802-yard par-71 design that is surrounded on three sides by the Hillsborough River.

The Golf Channel Am Tour also has a local Tampa tour that plays some of the top courses in the area. The 2014 schedule includes stops at World Woods, the Ritz-Carlton Championship Course in Bradenton as well as top courses in the Orlando and Naples areas.

Qualifier sites

Fox Hollow Golf Club has been used for pre-qualifiers, Monday qualifiers and Class A qualifiers for the Valspar Championship. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., the course has undulating fairways, exotic, innovative bunkering and five sets of tee boxes ranging from 7,138 yards to 5,203 yards.

Avila Golf and Country Club, a 7,004-yard par-72 Jack Nicklaus design, has hosted a U.S. Open qualifier.

Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.
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Tampa's tournament-tested golf courses