Tournament Players Club of Tampa Bay: Building its Own Great Tradition

By Jay Mankus, Contributor

TAMPA BAY, FL - When the average golfer hears TPC, short for Tournament Players Club, a light goes off in their mind. Images of the 17th hole, the island green at the TPC of Sawgrass flash within their memory. This hole has become one of the most recognizable holes in golf because the PGA Tour annually holds their Tournament Players Championship at this TPC facility.

On the west coast of Florida, simply known as the gulf coast to Floridians, there is another TPC facility that is building its own tradition. The Tournament Players Club of Tampa Bay, located 30 minutes north of downtown Tampa in Lutz, Florida, also hosts a tour event.

The Verizon Classic, formerly known as the GTE Classic, has been a stop on the Senior PGA Tour for the past 12 years. Since 1992, this tournament has been hosted by the TPC of Tampa Bay and is now considered one of the most challenging venues on the Senior PGA tour. Over the last 5 years, more than 150,000 spectators have come to the bay area annually to see some of the greatest names in golf.

As you enter the clubhouse at the TPC of Tampa Bay, pictures of these legends magnify the ambiance of this world class facility. In the foyer, life sized pictures of Jack, Arnie, Raymond, Lee and Chi Chi welcome you. Additional pictures of the gallery behind the 18th green, a map of America marked with all of the TPC facilities nationwide, and the elegance of the clubhouse interior sets the scene for an awesome golfing experience.

To savor this special day, the golf shop offers a variety of PGA, TPC of Tampa Bay and Verizon Classic merchandise. While many golfers often buy hats of each famous course they play, there is also a great selection of Ashworth, Cutter & Buck, IZOD club, Polo, Tommy Hilfiger and Tommy Bahama golf shirts available.

Tiger fans, the TPC of Tampa Bay has not forgotten about you! There is plenty of Nike outfits featuring the Tiger Woods Collection. This fully stocked golf shop also features Titleist custom club fitting, specialty items and club and shoe rentals for those guests who are on vacation.

As word of the TPC of Tampa Bay continues to spread, the blue collar worker who loves golf will have to dig deeper into his or her pocket to play this first class golf course. Currently, 18 holes of golf at this Tournament Players Club will cost $96 through April or $129 if you want to play 36 holes. During the summer, prices fall to $71 weekdays and $84 on weekends. Peak season rates are $136 for 18 and $179 for those who enjoy playing 36.

Ray Floyd has called the TPC of Tampa Bay one of the best courses on the Senior PGA Tour. Golf Digest has given the TPC of Tampa Bay a 4 star on their places to play list. Golf & Travel Magazine in a January 2001 article ranked the TPC #1 in Tampa, Florida. Meanwhile, the TPC of Tampa Bay has also received the Best Choice of Tampa award by Reader's Choice.

If these words do not motivate you to make at tee time, then maybe seeing the wall of champions in person, located just outside of the golf shop doors, will bring you here before next year's Verizon Classic. As you stare at this grandiose wall, extending several yards toward the practice facility, it is like looking at the who's who list on the Senior PGA Tour.

Names such as Irwin, Nicklaus, Trevino, Colbert and Floyd have all conquered the field of players, which seems to rise in statue each season. After playing the TPC of Tampa Bay, it is clear that a rich tradition has already begun at this TPC facility just north of Tampa.

Like the clubhouse, the practice facility at the TPC of Tampa Bay is first class. Two teeing areas on either side of the putting green overlook an expansive field of target greens and flags. At the back of the practice facility there is an area designated for pitching, chipping and bunker play. The only visible weakness of this practice facility is the smallish putting green which must be difficult to fit a large group of players during an outing or tournament.

The golf course at the TPC of Tampa Bay is a Bobby Weed design along with Chi Chi Rodriguez as the player consultant. Since Bobby Weed was the chief designer, there are not as many large landing areas for Chi Chi's high draws, as I think he would have preferred. Maybe Bobby likes to play fades. This might explain why several tee shots at this TPC require high fades for righties and draws for lefties.

Like some TPC courses, the TPC of Tampa Bay features a stadium golf design. Steep inclines around greens, rolling mounds and ample room between holes create the perfect environment for fans to watch golf. While several water hazards and three residential roads divide this course into three sections, spectators can either stay in one place or follow their favorite star over this 6,898 yard, par 71 layout.

One of the special features built into this Tournament Players Club is a wildlife refuge. In fact, a small section of the clubhouse is dedicated to the large exotic birds you will see as you play. Colorful pictures warm you up to the creatures you will find within the large waterway between the 10th and 18th holes.

Ibis, sandhill cranes, heron, commorants, egrets, wood storks and limpkin cover this wildlife refuge with a sea of colors. You might even see one of the baby sandhill cranes protected anxiously by its mama. However, beware of hitting flying birdies off the 18th tee. As you make your way up the 18th fairway, you will pass their main nesting area along the banks of this preserve.

By keeping the environment in mind as this course was built, Bobby and Chi Chi have earned national recognition from the New York Audubon Society. Due in large part to their work, the TPC of Tampa Bay is now a certified member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. This certification proudly hangs from the clubhouse walls.

Two major themes of the TPC of Tampa Bay are spectacular views and collection areas. The views at this Tournament Players Club are enhanced by elevated tees, exotic fairway bunkers, gentle rolling hills, scenic wetlands and deep greenside bunkers that are often tilted at an angle to highlight their physical features. The best example of these visual effects occur on the 332 yard, par 4 5th hole.

An elevated tee stands above a pond which runs down the left side of the fairway. Beyond this pond and behind the green is a wetland covered in native grasses and brush. Trees down the right hand side are extenuated by a slightly raised fairway bunker which is your target off the tee. Just behind the 150 yard marker, this fairway bends to the left, slightly uphill to a green that is sandwiched between two deep bunkers with steep lips. Three seems easy after your drive, but this green is devilishly slick.

Greens like #5 are common throughout this Tournament Players Club. If there was rough around these greens, players would be cursing each time they miss the putting surface.

To create a player friendly environment, the collars have been mowed to fairway height around every green which form collection areas similar to those found at Pinehurst #2. Depending upon where the pin is placed on a given day, some players might wish there was rough to protect against impossible touch shots to a green sloping away from you. However, these collection areas will almost insure that players with great short games will rise to the cream of the crop at this facility.

Because of how aesthetically pleasing this course is to play, its nearly impossible to single out a few holes as quote signature golf holes. While some holes have homes located to the left or right of them that distract from its overall make up, other holes are secluded by Florida pines, cyprus and wetlands.

The last five holes at the TPC of Tampa Bay could be signature holes for any course in Florida. Just ask those Senior PGA Tour players who wilted down the stretch at the 2001 Verizon Classic. The 14th hole is 588 yards, 15 is 452 yards, 16 is 430 yards, 17 is 217 yards and the 18th is 456 yards, uphill!

While each hole is difficult, the 452 yard, par 4 15th is the most intimidating. Players face a long carry over water from three of the four sets of tees at the TPC of Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, there is little room for error to the right with out of bounds just beyond trees which line this side of the rough. If your tee shot is dry, players still must avoid this water hazard that lurks along the entire left side. If you bail right, three greenside bunkers await arrant shots.

After playing this TPC facility, it was not as hard as I thought it would be. However, as the round wore on, my confidence was shaken by water hazards on 15 of 18 holes. When you do play here, I suggest playing the white tees on the back nine unless you enjoy suffering like me. The TPC tees measure 3,557 yards, 3433 yards from the blue, 3,093 yards at the white and 2,572 yards from the ladies tees on the final 9 holes.

For your traveling convenience, the TPC of Tampa Bay currently works with two hotels near Tampa International Airport. In the future, the golf staff is looking to add other hotel accommodations to include golf packages to lessen costs for travelers outside of Tampa.

Come to the TPC of Tampa Bay and play where pros and amateurs will try to qualify for this year's US Open. Other professionals will try to squeak through the first stage of the PGA & Senior PGA Qualifying School. The TPC of Tampa Bay, a must play whenever you visit Tampa, Florida.

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