Saddlebrook Resort and Spa: The Doral of Tampa Bay

By Jay Mankus, Contributor


Beyond Busch Gardens off Interstate 275 north of Tampa, Florida lies an oasis in Florida's barren grasslands. Spacious grassy fields dance in the steady Florida winds while towering cyprus covered with spanish moss and low lying wetlands give way to 480 immaculate acres filled with golf, tennis, spas and meeting areas.

Located 1 mile east off I-275 on state route 54, Saddlebrook Resort & Spa is just 30 miles north of downtown Tampa. A resort shuttle can get you from Tampa International Airport to Saddlebrook in under an hour, or 30 minutes if traffic cooperates.

What people are saying about Saddlebrook

Saddlebrook Resort is Florida's quintessential golf resort according to one top sports writer. Racquet Magazine has called Saddlebrook arguably the best tennis resort in the nation. Saddlebrook has also received a 4 Star Diamond rating as a golf resort. Meanwhile, Golf and Travel Magazine recently rated Saddlebrook's two 18 hole championship golf courses among the top 5 upscale facilities within greater Tampa Bay.

After reading these accolades, I visited Saddlebrook to see for myself while people are choosing this resort over other Florida resorts.

The golf and tennis facilities

As I entered Saddlebrook, I drove by the practice facility which is home to the World Headquarters of the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy. This is the first thing you will see, off to your right off as you drive into Saddlebrook Resort. While you will probably not see Arnold, you will meet P.G.A. teaching professionals he helped hand pick, if you need to improve your golf game.

Before my trip, I read a quote from their web site,, which serves as a motto for Arnold's Golf Academy, “No gimmicks. No gurus. Just personalized instruction that makes learning fun.”

Since there is a 4 student to 1 teacher ratio, golfers attending this academy will receive the attention they need. Depending upon the length of your visit, students can chose from one of three sessions: 2 days, 3 days or 5 days.

The 2 day session spends one day on your short game and another on the full swing. The 3 day session is identical to the 2 day, except the final day of this session focuses on course management, teaching players how to get around the course without throwing away strokes.

The 5 day session is obviously much more detailed, yet helpful since you have more to time ask questions if you are struggling with a specific part of your golf game.

The golf academy runs from 8 in the morning until 12 noon. Each golf session is followed by lunch, then players are able to put their knowledge to the test by playing each afternoon on either the Palmer or Saddlebrook Course.

The Palmer course is great for working on your short game while the Saddlebrook Course is perfect for testing your accuracy off the tee. Lunch and an afternoon round of golf is included in your cost for these golf academy sessions.

As you continue toward the The Club Centre of Saddlebrook, you will pass a series of tennis courts on your left. These courts are adjacent to the Sports Village & Fitness Center, a paradise for those people who love to exercise and stay in shape.

Inside, you will find equipment by Reebok and Skywalker along with Lifecycles, Treadmills, and Stairmasters. There is a Wellness Center that offers group and individual programs designed to achieve and maintain optimal health. Saddlebrook's Wellness Center is like having your own personal trainer for a week.

Outside, kids or those young at heart have several options to choose from: sand and grass volleyball courts, a regulation size basketball court and a large sports field which allows some to throw a frisbee while others may play baseball or football.

One major component of Saddlebrook Resort that you will not see from this entrance road is the Tennis Complex, featuring the world renown Hopman Tennis Program. Harry Hopman, the winningest U.S. Davis Cup Coach of all time, created this program to teach his imaginative drills. Professional tennis stars like Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati currently use Hopman's drills to fine tune their games.

The Tennis School at Saddlebrook performs concentrated clinics that group players with others who match their own playing abilities. Like the Golf School, there is a 4 to 1 ratio, students to teacher.

However, if you just want to play some causal tennis with friends or family, Saddlebrook has 45 tennis courts to chose from, many of these courts have lights if you like to play golf by day and tennis by night. Or if you always wanted to play on the red clay of Paris or the grass at Wimbledon, Saddlebrook has all 4 tennis grand slam surfaces.

If you are a big tennis fan, the name Saddlebrook may trigger your memory. The tennis facility at Saddlebrook was the former home of a WTA event, the Virginia Slims of Florida. After seeing these facilities for myself, it is clear why Racquet Magazine speaks so highly of Saddlebrook.

The atmosphere of Saddlebrook

While the entrance to the front lobby is impressive, the tropical ambiance of Saddlebrook begins at the Superpool. This 500,000 gallon pool is the center piece of Saddlebrook Resort, enclosed with exotic gardens and palm trees to magnify its splendor. The Superpool is surrounded by a walking mall filled with recreation shops, the golf shop, the marquee tent, the spa and 4 restaurants.

After coming from the storm of the century in the northeast, I had lunch at the Poolside Cafe, located at the north end of the super pool. Instead of feeling wet snow in my face, I felt the warm trade winds and sunshine of Florida as I ate. I saw children playing in the water with their parents. Hundreds of relaxed adults were basking in the sun while others ate lunch under umbrella tables decorated throughout the pool area.

This is an atmosphere everyone must experience at least once a year to make yourself feel normal again.

If one day in the sun is not enough to make you relax, why not try the spa located at the south end of the Superpool. Saddlebrook's spa facility features a 7,000 square foot spa that offers body treatments, facials and salon services. If you like privacy, Saddlebrook offers 12 private treatment rooms for your convenience.

Whether you are a golfer, tennis player or just love to lay out in the sun all day by a pool, Saddlebrook Resort & Spa has something for everyone in the family. Resort packages include groups, families and individuals. Saddlebrook's packages feature: Golf Escape, Spa Escape, Days of Indulgence, Suntastic Summer, Couples Golf & Spa Escape as well as unique Holiday Packages.

Lodging accommodations

Saddlebrook Resort features 800 guest rooms with three different styles of rooms: Deluxe Guest Room, One Bedroom Suite and Two Bedroom Suite.

The deluxe guest room is great for an individual or young couple without kids. This guest room sleeps up to two guests.

The one bedroom suite is great for a honeymoon, sleeping two comfortably. This room also serves well for someone on business who has time to play golf during the day.

The final bedroom, a two bedroom suite, is your typical room for a family of 4. This suite is large of enough to give mom and dad a good night’s sleep while allowing the kids to have their space too.

Unlike a RCI or Fairfield Resort, Saddlebrook is a rental community. Individuals or families can buy a one bedroom suite between $60-80K, two bedroom suite from $70-95K, two bedroom suite from $90-120K or go all out and buy a three bedroom suite for $90-145K. Furniture is included in the total cost of each suite.

Owners of these suites can stay up to 40 days each year, which includes club membership. Meanwhile, your suite is rented out by the resort the rest of the year. Each quarter, Saddlebrook sends owners a check. Owners can make up to a couple of thousand dollars each year for a small unit to well over $10 K for a large unit.

This concept, while probably not new, is the best of both worlds if you own a timeshare like I do. For additional information, call Saddlebrook at 800-729-8383.

Dining and entertainment

Saddlebrook features four award winning dining opportunities, each with their own appeal. The Cyprus Restaurant offers a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, featuring market fresh seafood. Terrace on the Green, which also has a full menu for all three meals, is the best located restaurant at Saddlebrook.

Terrace on the Green is literally on top of the 18th green of the Saddlebrook Course. While not exactly on the green, it is a few yards to the right of this green. Because of its location, just above an elevated green next to a pond in front of this green, it is unlikely golfers will stray an errant shot into the gallery of umbrella covered tables.

The final two restaurants are located adjacent to the proshop at the north end of the Superpool. Dempsey's Steak House is where you want to go if you are craving steak or pasta. Meanwhile, TD's Sports Bar is a great place to have a sandwich and watch your favorite sports team or golfer on one of TD's eight big screen TVs.

While everyone who visits Florida wants to see Disney World, which is a 90 minute drive, Busch Gardens, only a 30 minute ride by car, is also a popular destination. If the beach is more to your liking, guests at Saddlebrook can drive 30 minutes to one of several beaches on the gulf coast.

However, if you chose to use Saddlebrook's airport shuttle or simply want to stay put on your vacation, there are more than enough opportunities onsite to entertain yourself.

On weekends and holidays, live bands set up and play outside near the Superpool. Enjoy dancing, swimming or just listen relax and listen. The night life includes two ballrooms, two pavilions, meeting rooms and a polo lounge.

The honest truth about Saddlebrook Resort

You can find more difficult, more challenging and more picturesque golf courses in the state of Florida. There may be other tennis facilities in Naples, Florida which are superior to Saddlebrook. Other resorts in Florida might even have bigger or more exotic pool and spas.

However, when you consider the quality of Saddlebrook's two 18 hole golf courses, their first class tennis facility, the superpool & spa and all the recreation opportunities on site, Saddlebrook is the complete resort. Everything you need for a vacation is onsite. In my opinion, Saddlebrook Resort & Spa is the marquee resort on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Come and see why Saddlebrook is so special!

Jay Mankus, Contributor

A former golf standout at Concord High School in Wilmington, Del., Jay Mankus graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in Recreation & Parks Administration. Before graduating, Jay spent time as an intern at a golf club in the east suburbs of Cleveland specializing in golf course maintenance and design.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • football camp at Saddlebrook

    Eric Avaya wrote on: May 16, 2010

    In addition to the golf and tennis programs they offer, they recently partnered with the Debartolo group to offer a high-end Elite Football Academy that caters to Quarterbacks. Same philiosophy as their other academies. My nephew attended, it was a first class, one-of-a-kind program, with great coaches.