Which resort is king of the Florida Swing

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The Florida Swing is the only four-event stretch on the PGA Tour hosted exclusively by courses open to the public. In this edition of Travel Punch Shots travel editor Erik Peterson and TravelGolf.com senior writer Mike Bailey debate which course – PGA National, TPC Blue Monster at Doral, Innisbrook or Bay Hill – is king of the Florida Swing.

By ERIK PETERSON

Although each of the four courses on the Florida Swing is a must-play for the traveling golfer, only the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Tampa is regarded by several major champions as one of the finest courses on the PGA Tour – if not in the entire nation.

'If I could only play one course the rest of my life, it would be Copperhead,' two-time U.S. Open champ Curtis Strange once said. 'It has that much character.'

'Copperhead is the best course we play on Tour,' said PGA Champion Paul Azinger.

Retief Goosen had the same sentiment after winning the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook in 2009. “It's one of the great courses on the PGA Tour,” the two-time U.S. Open champ said.

British Open champion Stewart Cink said Copperhead's layout is good enough that 'it could host a U.S. Open.'

Granted, many of the world’s best golfers have a “tougher is better” mentality to evaluating golf courses, but their high praise is impossible to ignore, even if it’s contrary to the view of ordinary golfers who might have a different set of values when evaluating the quality of a golf course.

No matter which set of tees you decide to play, you’ll understand why pros like it so much.

Rolling through tree-lined terrain that’s atypical of the Tampa Bay area, this Larry Packard design is one Florida’s most scenic inland courses. Contrary to Florida Swing counterparts Bay Hill and PGA National, Copperhead doesn’t have any houses around it.

Most holes have a risk/reward element to them, due to elevation change, doglegs or water hazards. Though it’s 7,340 yards from the tips it’s known as a thinker’s course, evidenced by short-hitting Jeff Sluman co-owning the course record of 9-under 62.

Whether you’re a pro or an amateur on a golf vacation, there’s no doubt Copperhead is king of the Florida Swing.

By MIKE BAILEY

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – In addition to serving as current host of the Honda Classic, PGA National Resort & Spa also has an impressive past, having hosted the 1983 Ryder Cup, 1987 PGA Championship and 1982-2000 Senior PGA Championship. A recent $65 million renovation has only strengthened its position as the best venue on the Florida Swing.

The Champion Course at PGA National opened in 1981 and although it was originally designed by Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus' name is most often associated with it because not only did he do the redesign in 1990, but the famous Bear Trap stretch of holes (15-17) is named after him.

The Bear Trap includes a pair of par 3s over water sandwiched around a par 4 with water off the tee and in front of the green. It's considered one of the toughest stretches on the PGA Tour, and a place where the tournament is often won or lost. Add a little wind and it gets really interesting.

But for the traveling golfer there's nothing better than an all-inclusive resort, and PGA National is just that. The aforementioned renovation included a complete overhaul of the Palmer Course, new greens on the Squire Course and other improvements on the other three courses.

You could stay here five days and play a different course each day without having to drive anywhere. Perfect.

Plus, those capital improvements also include a stylish new lobby and iBAR, which is a great place to hang out, mingle and watch sports after your round. There's also the outstanding Ironwood Grille Restaurant and a remodeled 40,000-square-foot spa that includes outdoor mineral pools, dubbed the Waters of the World.

In addition, guests can improve their game at the resort's Titleist Performance Institute, David Leadbetter School of Golf, Dave Pelz Scoring School and a tour-level clubfitting experience.

If golf is what you're after, PGA National is the answer.