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Stay out of the sand at Wentworth Golf Club in Tarpon Springs

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TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. -- Florida is known for its beaches, but you can see a lot of sand with an afternoon at Wentworth Golf Club.

The golf course, about 20 minutes north of west Tampa, is known for its ferocious bunkers that dot every hole and swallow balls quickly, normally requiring a high blast over a steep edge just to get the ball in play. They are not exactly pot bunkers, but the effect is the same: If you enter, you might not escape.

'The bunkers are the key to defending the course,' said Frank Reynolds, head professional at Wentworth Golf Club. 'The course is always in great shape and there isn't a lot of water, but the traps can hurt you.'

Wentworth is not an overly long course (6,459 from the tips), but it plays longer since the bunkers are strategically placed. Most of the holes have a slight bend, so crafting tee shots is the best way to get around because going too far on a straight shot will put you right into one of the beaches. Playing a draw or a fade when needed is key at Wentworth.

The course twists and turns along a property that features homes, but they don't get in the way except on the most errant tee shot. There are plenty of trees on every hole, and the bunkers -- rather than the water -- are what make Wentworth dangerous yet fun at the same time.

Florida golf architect Steve Smyers designed Wentworth in 1990 as a private course, but it has recently gone semi-private. It is family owned, and operated by Ace Golf. With its elegant English manor-style clubhouse, it doesn't look much like a typical Florida course.

A recent visitor to Florida during a holiday vacation gave Wentworth some rave reviews.

'This is my first time in Tampa,' said Sam Carlson, of Syracuse, N.Y. 'I've played a few courses this week and this is the best. It's worth coming back to Tampa just to play this one again.'

Another benefit at Wentworth is that walking, which is usually forbidden at any upscale Florida course, is allowed. The walk, however, can be tough since the fairways undulate.

Wentworth begins with a tough 361-yard par 4 that bends to the left and has bunkers on the right and trees to the left. The second is a 453-yard par 4 that is the No. 1 handicap hole on the course. It's a long hole that has an extreme cut to the left and a foreboding bunker straight ahead. Hitting to the right is not an option unless you want to go squirrel hunting. The key is the approach, but the green is surrounded by a couple of massive bunkers on the left and another on the right. There's little lay-up room, and going for the green and ending up short means sand or a huge ditch on the right.

After a few breaks, No. 6 makes things tough again. It offers one of the tightest fairways on the course. The 420-yard par 4 plays long, so only the most confident drivers should consider taking a huge chunk off the tee.

The back side is much the same as the front, with No. 11 being the toughest challenge. At 410 yards, it doesn't seem long, but don't try to drive it. It is one of the few holes at Wentworth that puts water into serious play as it runs the entire right side of the fairway.

Wentworth's hardest challenges are the par 4s. The par 3s and par 5s can be tricky, but the greens are mostly benign; it's simply a challenge to keep it in the fairway and to plot the approach before going off the tee.

There's one more thing that makes Wentworth one of Tampa's better golf outings. Sports restaurant Mulligans is one of the better 19th holes in the area. Wentworth also offers an excellent driving range and putting facilities.

Wentworth Golf Club: The verdict

With so many choices for golf in Tampa Bay, it's tough for one to stand out, but Wentworth Golf Club offers great facilities and a challenging course that requires every club in the bag. Just remember to stay out of the sand. There's plenty of that about 10 minutes away on the Gulf of Mexico.