TAMPA, Fla. – If you happen to be making your way into the Tampa area in late February or early March, whether it be coming east from Orlando or south down Interstate 75, don’t be surprised to look around on the highway and see your fellow travelers donning Yankee caps and shirts, as well as spotting license plates that read JETER NY or YANKFAN.
Escaping the cold from up north, thousands of Yankee fans make the annual pilgrimage to Tampa for a wonderful blend of spring training baseball and some long overdue fair-weathered golf.
The Yankees call the newly named George M. Steinbrenner Field home during spring training and the fans that flock south have an abundance of activities to choose from once the final out of a game has been made – from horseracing, fishing trips, beach excursions and, of course, plenty of golf and plenty of sunshine.
And topping the list of golf in the area is the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, located a little northwest of Tampa in Palm Harbor, Fla. Best known as one of the more respected stops on the PGA Tour, Innisbrook is home to not one, not two, not three, but four championship tracks.
Often included in Golf Digest’s annual list of ‘Top 100 Courses You Can Play,’ the Copperhead Course is an absolute gem. With rolling terrain and tree-lined fairways, the course gives you much more of a Carolina feel, with giant pines framing almost every hole.
The course is in immaculate shape each spring as the PGA Tour event was moved from the fall and into the current Florida Swing. So ask yourself: How often do you get to play one of the best courses in America and with the added bonus of having it set up with PGA Tour-like conditions?
The only catch about playing at Innisbrook is that you have to stay at the resort in order to receive playing privileges. But they have made that an easy option as they have spring training/golf packages already set up. They do, however, cater more to the Philadelphia Phillies, as their spring training facilities are located just south in Clearwater.
And one thing is clear - both stadiums – Steinbrenner Field for the Yankees and the Phillies’ Bright House Field in Clearwater - are both fantastic venues to watch baseball games. The stadiums themselves and the die-hard fans wandering about are worth the price of admission.
'It's not just baseball,' said longtime Yankee and regular spring training fan Dan from Long Island. He was one of many who put together annual golf and spring training trips for large groups of friends.
Other courses in the area that don’t require a stay are Fox Hollow, The Eagles and Westchase.
Fox Hollow, north of downtown Tampa, holds the enviable distinction of being the last golf course in a long line of world famous courses to be built and designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. With rolling, undulating fairways, it’s a vintage Jones Sr. design. It also boasts one of Florida’s finest practice facilities.
The Eagles Golf Club features two 18-holes courses that offer entirely different personalities. The Lakes Course measures over 7,100 yards and features an abundance of water which, of course, inspired its moniker, as water comes into play on virtually every hole. The Forest Course measures 6,700 yards and features a signature island-green, the par-3 sixth hole, which rivals the famous 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass in Jacksonville.
Convenient to all parts of the Tampa Bay area including Downtown Tampa, Westshore, Tampa International Airport, St. Petersburg Clearwater Airport, Gulf beaches and only 10 minutes from Raymond James Stadium, Westchase Golf Club is easy to find and has a beautiful and challenging Golf Digest Four Star-rated golf course. Nationally known architect Lloyd Clifton designed Westchase's 6710-yard, par 72 course, which winds through natural wetlands, wooden bridges and bulkheads.
And like mentioned above, Tampa Bay Downs, located on the west side of town, offers a daily race card beginning around noon each day. If you plan your day right, this is one heckuva way to spend a day: 18-holes of golf in the morning, a little horse racing in the afternoon, dinner and drinks at sunset overlooking Tampa Bay, and finally a spring training night game.
That my friends, is what is meant by hitting for the cycle.