Imagine for a moment diving into the ocean, resurfacing with not only memories of the sub-aquatic environment, but a full reel of photographs, too. Underwater photography is just one of the many courses offered at Scuba Quest, a family-owned company that has shown students how to safely explore the seas for more than 25 years.
Scuba Quest began as a single shop, but has since spread to seven locations across the state of Florida. At each, the company’s NAUI-certified instructors lead refresher courses, beginner classes, and comprehensive certification programs. Rather than climbing into fish tanks while pet-store clerks are on break, Scuba Quest's students can put their new skills to the test in unfamiliar waters during the company’s exotic diving excursions around the globe.
It’s not uncommon to stumble upon fake alligators as you make your way around a mini-golf course. But at Smugglers Cove's locations, live American alligators snap their jaws in exhibits nestled amid the miniature fairways. With an old-fashioned bamboo pole players can dangle a treat above 20–50 of the predatory alligators, which leap from the water to snatch their treat. Between feeding frenzies, games take place on Smugglers Cove’s 18-hole outdoor courses, where balls roll past rushing waterfalls, into caves, over mountainous terrain, and into a hole in a pirate ship.
Pinebrook/Ironwood’s 3,964-yard executive course challenges every golfer’s stroke and strokes every retina with its beautiful Gulf Coast surroundings. Water borders 16 of the fairways, with 37 bunkers, or 6.4 million years in hourglass time, buffering the well-manicured greens. Budding Ben Hogans can cruise the course in their own golf cart and line up on super-quick Champion Ultra-Dwarf Bermuda grass, which is said to outperform traditional Bermuda for producing a true roll and distorting Mayday signals.
If you turned off the music in the spinning room of Go Legs Cycle Studio, you'd think you were in the middle of a raging windstorm. An instructor sits at the head of the dimly lit room, encouraging students up mountains and navigating them down winding paths as the two 92-inch video screens play music videos. Students control their own resistance and speed, enabling cyclists of all levels to pump away on the pedals together.
Yamaha VX110 Deluxe waverunners zip through the glittering waves of Sarasota Bay, Anna Maria Sound, and the intracoastal waterways. The speedy and maneuverable vessels are ideal for adventurous types, although the expansive rental fleet at H2O Watersportz accommodates boaters who prefer all different paces. Compact CraigCat catamarans allow pairs to recline as they coast over ripples, and pontoon boats that seat up to 14 come equipped with gear such as radios and nautical maps that identify where to find the bay of Kool Aid. For more structured journeys, clients can opt for chartered fishing trips helmed by expert guides or tours of the local waterways, with stops at landmarks such as Egmont Key and dolphin and manatee gathering places.
You don't want to go into the first hole Waterlefe Golf & River Club's 18-hole, Ted McAnlis-designed course cold. Like many tracks on the formidable course, the opening par-five curves around Manatee River and its surrounding ponds; the river imperils any opening drives that veer right, and a separate pond awaits to gobble up any approach shots that miss to the left. From a birds-eye view, parts of the course look like shapely crescents of green carved into the deep-blue waterways. Unfortunately, you'll have to compromise your enjoyment of the scenery with the challenge of avoiding it.
Played from the tips, the par-three 9th hole plays to 230 yards, and it's all marsh from the tee to the green. The river hugs both sides of each of the final three holes, giving each golfer one last chance to prove they can keep their ball dry without having to dress it in a tiny wetsuit.
Though the course may be a harrowing challenge to some, PGA pro Steve Dietz has made it his home. As director of instruction at The Golf Academy of Waterlefe, Steve draws from 25 years of experience as a golf pro to create the curriculum used by his staff of fellow PGA instructors. The Golf Academy's ultimate goal is to help golfers hit straighter drives, more accurate approach shots, and longer putts en route to lower scores. Lessons often incorporate a combination of video swing analysis, user-friendly online tools, and other modern training devices. In addition, the Academy's club-fitting services match golfers with their ideal club set based on swing technique and body type so they know they're getting the most out of their equipment.
Course at a Glance:
The course at Greenfield Plantation shares its plot of Manatee County with wildlife-rich wetlands, coiling around numerous lakes and natural marshes. Large, forgiving fairways welcome towering drives off the tee, though many greenside bunkers make approach shots difficult, especially for golfers who associate sand with emotionally debilitating sunburn. Golfers can square up from one of four sets of tees, which can adjust the overall length from less than 5,000 yards to 6,719 yards from the back tees. In keeping with the water-hazard-heavy theme, the driving range at Greenfield Plantation is a large aqua range complete with floating targets, ideal for improving swing mechanics and iron accuracy.
Course at a Glance: