Terrific Tampa, Florida golf resorts: The best places to stay and play

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Multi-amenity golf resorts and communities are the most convenient way to incorporate lots of golf on a visit to the city by the bay. Tampa has an impressive line-up of stay-and-play options with golf courses sporting designer labels such as Arnold Palmer, Tom Fazio and Tom Lehman. Stroll out of your Tampa hotel room, condo or villa and -- voila! -- you're surrounded by a golf course, or it's just a few steps away.

Better still, once you finish roaming the fairways each day, there's lots to do, including nearby beaches, Tampa's Latin Quarter Ybor City, Busch Gardens and professional sports teams such as the NFL's Buccaneers, NHL's Lightning and MLB's Rays.

Here are some of the top golf resorts in Tampa:

Saddlebrook Resort

Planned specifically for golfer convenience, palm-studded Saddlebrook Resort -- about a 30-minute drive north of Tampa International Airport -- has an innovative resort village concept that puts guests within a short walking distance of two Arnold Palmer-designed signature golf courses, a 500,000-gallon super pool, restaurants, spa and other major amenities.

The Palmer Course at Saddlebrook has rolling fairways and terrain peppered with several lakes, streams and ponds, while the Saddlebrook Course has tighter fairways with a definite target-golf feel.

Accommodations at Saddlebrook encompass 800 units with 133 deluxe hotel rooms, 162 one-bedroom suites, 240 two-bedroom suites and 5 VIP suites with amenities such as luxurious European-style bedding, private balcony or patio and marble bathrooms.

Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club

One of Tampa's lesser publicized stay-and-play options, Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club, qualifies as the quintessential hidden gem. A 1,054-acre upscale, gated, master-planned community set in rolling hills dotted with ancient oak trees about a 30-minute drive north of downtown Tampa, Lake Jovita has two championship courses and accommodations featuring three-bedroom/two-bath villas with four queen-sized beds, full kitchens and a screened lanai.

Lake Jovita golf includes the South Course, a hilly layout designed by PGA Tour pro Tom Lehman and Kurt Sandness, which has a hole with a 94-foot drop from tee to green and the North Course, where elevation changes and a unique pine-dotted terrain create a North Carolina ambiance.

World Woods Golf Club

Located near the small town of Brooksville, 50 miles north of Tampa, this spectacular 2,100-acre complex is home to two highly ranked Tom Fazio-designed courses, a nine-hole short course and a massive 20-acre practice facility with target greens and fairways.

While World Woods Golf Club is off the well-worn golf vacation path, it's well worth the visit. Built by a Japanese billionaire in 1993, World Woods has some of the best golf the Sunshine State has to offer. The Pine Barrens Course is sculpted through an expansive pine forest with dramatic elevation changes and amazing waste bunkering.

Rolling Oaks has a distinctly different look with giant oak trees draped with Spanish moss and bleached white sand bunkers.

Lodging options near World Woods include value-oriented chains in Brooksville such as Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, Quality Inn & Suites, Days Inn and Microtel Inn and Suites. Some golfers choose to stay at the Plantation Inn on Crystal River Resort, which is about a 25-minute commute.

Plantation Inn on Crystal River Resort

Southern hospitality and friendliness are the calling cards for the Plantation Inn on Crystal River Resort, with its signature white-columned inn, 27 holes of golf, and superb diving and fishing opportunities.

The Mark Mahannah-designed Championship Course at Plantation Inn, a host for several North Florida PGA Section events through the years, weaves around lakes and loblolly pines, and the short nine-hole layout is ideal for juniors and beginners. Accommodations feature 196 guest rooms, suites and golf villas with a loft-style bedroom.

Innisbrook Resort

If you want to play where the pros tee up every March for the Tampa Bay Championship, the 1,000-acre Innisbrook Resort has 72 holes of golf. The highlight layout is the Copperhead Course, a demanding track with narrow, pine-tree-lined fairways, steep elevation drops and pool table-fast greens.

Located 25 miles from the Tampa International Airport, Innisbrook has low-rise lodges with suites appointed with a full kitchen, oversized living and dining areas, a private patio or balcony, flat-panel TVs and luxury bedding.

Other Tampa-area resort options

Guests at the Emerald Greens Condo Hotel in Tampa are afforded play privileges at Emerald Greens Golf & C.C., a private/resort club with 27 holes of golf redesigned by Dan Maples.

Streamsong Resort, located 48 miles southeast of Tampa, home to two award-winning championship courses designed by Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Doak, features a 216-room hotel expected to open in early 2014. The mesmerizing layouts are set on formerly phosphate-mined land with hills, dramatic landforms, sweeping sand dunes, ridges and vistas.

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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Does the Saddlebrook Resort have 3 Day Golf packages available?

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Terrific Tampa, Florida golf resorts: The best places to stay and play