Golf Course Review: TPC Tampa Bay (FL)

* Initial general disclaimer: The bulk of this article was written in March, and finished in May, 2014*

Here in Wisconsin, this has been the winter that never seems like it will end. Six to eight feet of frost is said to be in the ground, and we’ve had temperatures below 20 degrees almost exclusively since November – three or four spans of days that didn’t get above freezing, including one stretch of the “Polar vortex” that literally had us continually around 15 to 20 degrees below zero with wind chills worse than 55 degrees below.

With no golf to look forward to for the foreseeable future, I finally broke down and booked tickets to Florida for this past weekend. My friends Stacy and Eric, and my cousin Kari and her boyfriend, Dan, live in the Tampa area, so I had golf partners and a hope for sun and warm weather.
I was originally hoping to play Streamsong, a new and world-renowned resort with two courses that debuted in the top 50 of the best courses in the country in 2013, but was not able to score tee times given the time of year, demand and fairly short notice. I am still hoping to make that happen in 2014.
Eric’s home course in the area is TPC Tampa Bay, which is located in Lutz, just 15-20 minutes outside of Tampa on a plush piece of land that is exactly what you would expect from a TPC course: Beautiful and challenging.
The first thing I will say about TPC Tampa Bay is that the greens are tremendously difficult. They are fast and unblemished, rolling around an 11 on the stimp meter. Even in the early morning, with dew yet on the ground, they were speedy and seemed nearly impossible.
Four foot putts were rolling eight feet by, and anything I was trying to firm in would round out over the edges of the cups. It took the entire front nine to start making any putts, but by the back nine we all seemed to get things down much better.
Eric and I were paired up with Ryan and Tim for our first round at World Woods on Saturday morning, and we all got along well so played together again on Monday at TPC Tampa Bay. Ryan and Tim are in their mid-twenties from Connecticut, and Tim especially has a good and consistent golf game. They were playing 36 holes a day, and like me had the need to travel south to feed their golf addictions.
Regular season rates at TPC Tampa Bay are pricy at $160 per round, including cart and range, so this is a tough course to play frequently, but for a visitor hoping to play the best tracks in the Tampa area, it should be considered a must-play.
The course starts out with a fairly straight forward par four with little trouble off the tee. At 372 yards from the blue tees, the first is a short dogleg right with trees and traps lining the right side of the fairway.
Hole 1: Par 4 (395/372/372/347/309)
The second hole is a mid-range par three at 179 yards from the blues. Playing closer to 190 for our round, I played a nice, drawn four-iron to about eight feet above and left of the pin, on the back upper tier. My putt slid by the hole by five feet and led to my first of many three-putts on the front nine. Yikes.
Hole 2: Par 3 (191/179/179/161/124)
With water left, the right side of the fairway should be cheated on the par four third hole. TPC Tampa Bay has some of the most beautiful sand traps I have seen on a golf course: White sand that plays very nicely.
Hole 3: Par 4 (425/404/404/351/310)
Hole 3: Par 4 (425/404/404/351/310)
Crossing the road through a nice subdivision, the fourth is a long par four of 408 yards with water everywhere. Anything down the right side off the tee will flirt with disaster, while the left side is bordered by more on the approach.
Hole 4: Par 4 (427/408/373/373/304)
The fifth is the shortest par four on the course, at just 322 yards from the blue tees. Less than driver is certainly recommended off the tee, as anything nearing 200 yards will leave a short iron in to the green. The other option is to fly the spattering of trees on the left side, which Eric did and left himself about a 30-yard approach. Do not fly the green on this hole, as the contours of the rough make for some devilish leaves, especially when short-sided.
Hole 5: Par 4 (332/322/322/293/236)
Hole 5: Par 4 (332/322/322/293/236)
The second, and shortest, par three at TPC Tampa Bay, the sixth is best guarded by the large trap front and left.
Hole 6: Par 3 (144/133/133/116/94)
The drive on seven is quite intimidating. The first par five on the card (one of three on-site), water lines the left side of the driving area and majority of the fairway. The most important shot, provided the ball is safe off the tee, is the second. Hidden behind a deep treeline, the green is virtually unhittable from the right side of the fairway, and is quite possibly impossible to hit from anywhere in two.
Hole 7: Par 5 (541/533/533/505/422)
Hole 7: Par 5 (541/533/533/505/422)
Water lines the entire left side of the hole on eight, with the fairway edging left farther from the tee boxes. The large central fairway trap is a good aiming point – as long as you avoid it.
Hole 8: Par 4 (414/391/363/363/316)
Hole 8: Par 4 (414/391/363/363/316)
With the same body of water continuing down the left side, the ninth is the number one handicapped hole at TPC Tampa Bay, and for good reason. The fairway is tight and meanders toward the left with a treeline on the right side making an accurate tee shot a must.
Hole 9: Par 4 (472/435/406/406/349)
Finally, we were done with the front! I lost so many balls in the water, and putted so poorly, that I was almost happy to have the first nine over with. I obviously still enjoyed it thoroughly, but the opportunity to reset my game and score was welcomed.
Starting on ten, I had a whole new, improved game. My tee shot wasn’t awesome, but it managed to stay out of the water to the right. A four-iron, the new favorite club in my bag, got me to the fringe, and I managed to two-putt for five.
Hole 10: Par 4 (395/382/344/344/295)

Eleven is the first par three on the back nine, and looks pretty straight-forward from the tee, but has a tough green and is well surrounded by traps.

Hole 11: Par 3 (179/166/166/136/98)

The twelfth was my best hole of the day. After a short drive that landed in the mud left of the fairway, I hit a massive three-wood from 240 out to about 20 feet past the pin. I had my first eagle putt of the 2014 season, and left it short – still, though, I was happy to post my first birdie of the year.

Hole 12: Par 5 (495/487/487/473/404)

Thirteen is an interesting hole with a tough green. Water on the left side is easily avoided with a reasonably long drive, and the green is highly elevated above the playing surface, making for an uphill approach that needs to stick.

Hole 13: Par 4 (345/333/333/309/255)
Hole 13: Par 4 (345/333/333/309/255)

The fourteenth is the longest hole at TPC Tampa Bay, and to me one of the toughest tee shots. Water runs down the left side of the fairway, and trees line the right. All target areas for the second shot are relatively narrow, making this a very challenging par five.

Hole 14: Par 5 (588/574/574/528/455)

At 438 yards from the blue tees, and 452 from the tips, the fifteenth is a long par four! With water lining the entire left side, and massive white bunkers found on each side of the fairway, a par on fifteen is a great score.

Hole 15: Par 4 (452/438/366/366/286)

The first thing you’ll notice on the sixteenth tee is a spattering of sand traps on the left side of the fairway. The right side is relatively open, but does not allow for as long of a tee shot.

Hole 16: Par 4 (430/413/413/373/332)

My favorite hole at TPC Tampa Bay, the seventeenth is a wonderful par three. With water encompassing the middle and right side of the hole, the rule of thumb is to club up to avoid the pond.

Hole 17: Par 3 (217/197/160/160/101)

One of the most challenging finishing holes you’ll find anywhere, the eighteenth at TPC Tampa Bay is an excellent par four. A huge pond makes up the majority of the tee shot’s line of sight, and means either a tremendously long drive or phenomenal accuracy is absolutely essential off the tee. Following a clean drive, the approach will likely be 200 yards or more, with water right and a small false front on a sharply sloped green.

Hole 18: Par 4 (456/443/404/404/300)

TPC Tampa Bay is a wonderful golf course and prototypical TPC track: An excellent layout that features tons of water, perfectly manicured sand traps, and fast, challenging greens. While the $160 rack rate is pricey, I certainly recommend checking it out for a fantastic Tour-like golf experience.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Lutz, FL
Yardage: TPC-6,898, Blue-6,610, Green-6,332, White-6,008, Red-4,990
Slope/Rating: TPC-140/74.2, Blue-136/72.1, Green-131/70.4, White-126/69.0, Red-117/69.2
Par: 71
Weekend Rates: $160

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