Trip Dispatch: Stepping back in time at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in St. Pete

By Mike BaileyMarch 24, 2014, 3:44 pm

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Just a week earlier, Babe Ruth's daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, was here, regaling tales of how she would attend dances for young people in the now magnificently restored ballroom at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club. She's 98 years old, still sharp as a tack, according to our historical guide, and a living link to the Golden Age in these parts. Some of the golf courses in the immediate area also share those same traits. The Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club, now private but open to resort guests, can trace its history back to the turn of the previous century, and while it was moved from its original 9-hole location closer to the water (originally designed by Donald Ross), the current Ron Garl redesigned version has come through like a champ.

The same can be said for another classic course, Belview Biltmore Golf Club, less than 10 miles away from the Renaissance Vinoy. Opened in 1925, this Ross gem was known as Pelican Golf Club for most of its existence, but has undergone several ownership changes in the past few years. Last year, it was rescued by the city of Belleair, which has kept the green fees very affordable (less than $50) with maintenance standards well above the price. It's actually located next to 36 holes of more Ross-designed golf at private Belleair Country Club, and if you get the chance to play over there, take it. Those two courses are always in tip top shape and are two of the better courses in the state.

Back at Belleview Biltmore, though, there's no mistaking those Ross greens, but they're not the same old greens. A few years ago, the course was restored to the original Ross specs as a 6,614-yard par 71,and as part of the renovation it got new Tif-Eagle greens, which are in excellent shape and as difficult to putt as always. The course might be little short by today's standards, but the layout is interesting with a variety of holes. Add in those greens and scoring is a challenge.

Vinoy and Biltmore were just two of the courses I checked out as part of a quick, five-course tour while I was in St. Pete. My journey also included Mangrove Bay, one of the busiest and golf-centric munis in the country. Mangrove Bay is St. Pete's only championship municipal layout, but it's solid. At almost 6,800 yards, the course is laid out through 180 acres Florida mangroves, just a few hundred yards from the bay. With water on half the holes and plenty of sand, it will challenge good players and high handicappers alike. It's also in better shape than your typical muni, but the real bonus is the practice facilities and two par 3 courses that are also part of the St. Pete municipal system. Next door is a nifty par 3 course called Cypress Links, which is maintained as well as most daily fees. Best of all, it's perfect for beginners or even advanced players who want to work on their approaches and short game. And a few miles away, the city has another par 3, Twin Creeks, which is actually 18 holes.

And finally, I also went to nearby Largo and checked out checked out Bardmoor Golf & Tennis Club, which once hosted the PGA/LPGA JC Penney Classic. This paspalum course (Tif Eagle greens), opened in 1990 and was renovated by Gary Koch in 2003. It's 7,000 yards from the tips and has plenty of water, so it can certainly be a formidable test for most players.


The public can play Donald Ross-designed Belview Biltmore in St. Pete. 

I had been through St. Pete before, but only on my way to Bradenton or Sarasota, where there's plenty of golf and tennis. St. Pete, in case you’re not familiar, is across Tampa Bay to the west of Tampa. Just north is Clearwater and between the two you'll find unspoiled beaches devoid of most of the spring break traffic, chalked full of great restaurants and a few historic hotels.

One of the best is the Renaissance Vinoy, now operated by Marriott. Opened New Year's Eve 1925 and named after developer Aymer Vinoy Laughler, the grand hotel, originally named Vinoy Park, has been through a lot. In its early years, during Ms. Ruth's time when her famous father spent winters playing golf in the area and training for the New York Yankees upcoming seasons, it was place to be. There were balls and weddings and luxurious dinners and accommodations. The architecture was, and still is, Mediterranean Revival with an elegant, sophisticated décor.

During World War II, the U.S. Army set up camp there, and after a couple of ownership changes, this magnificent resort closed for nearly 20 years until it was restored meticulously in the early '90s.


The waterfront Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg dates back nearly a century. 

Today, the resort, which presides majestically over St. Pete's pristine waterfront offers the modern amenities that seasoned travelers and vacationers expect out of a first-class resort. From well-appointed rooms with views of the ocean, tennis complex or the city to one of the best and liveliest pool decks you'll find anywhere, the Vinoy is a pampered step back in time. My time here was not only spent playing golf, but enjoying fine dining, a tennis lesson, a sailboat excursion into the bay (where we anchored for a quick swim) and exploring the waterfront and downtown attractions.

Those attractions include the The Chihuly Collection and the Dali Museum. To see Dale Chihuly's spectacular collection of glass sculpture is believing. The hurricane-proof Dali Museum not only included an impressive display of Salvador Dali's incredible paintings and drawings but a special Andy Warhol exhibit as well. After the Dali, we strolled through the Saturday farmer's market next to where the Detroit Tigers play their Grapefruit League spring training games.

And there was dining, of course, lots of it, in town and at the hotel. The hotel features several restaurants, including Fred's Steakhouse, which serves some of finest cuts in South Florida. The most memorable, however, was saved for the last, the Sunday brunch at Marchand's a restaurant/bar that not only offers delectable meals with wine and beer pairings, but live entertainment and dancing. Sunday, though, brought items you don't see in a typical brunch. Lobster omelets, crab cakes and your own custom Bloody Marys – and that was only the beginning. No need for lunch or dinner after that.


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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.