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.
Snaking alongside the Boca Ciega Bay, The Tides Golf Club's 18-hole course confronts golfers with oceanfront breezes that are both relaxing and a challenge to tee shots on tree-lined fairways. Waterways come into play on 12 holes and figure more prominently on the back nine, where a pond imperils errant golf balls on every single track. Tidwarf grass adorns the course's elevated greens, which provide a true surface for golfers to roll their putts or roll their toy-sized golf carts.
Course at a Glance:
After a $1.8 million makeover in 2007, Largo Golf Course invites visitors to meander through its fairways and experience FootGolf. The course includes 8 par 5s, 1 par 4, and 9 par 3s, adding up to a total distance of 3,700 yards. The game combines soccer with golf and is played with a regulation soccer ball. The holes are typically shorter than regular golf holes, with 21-inch diameter cups adjacent to the standard cups.
Course at a Glance:
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.
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 picturesque greens of Dunedin Stirling Links' 27-acre course challenge golfers with 18 holes of eye-pleasing play nestled among scenes of natural beauty. The par 3 course hones sphere-slinging skills with small greens and water hazards and highlights the coastal surroundings and plaid fairways characteristic of a Scottish-style layout. Players can hop into golf carts to zoom from each ball borough to open plain, enjoying the cool breeze off the marsh as they ride. The course's scenic setting is peppered with natural marvels, such as copses of shady pine trees and nests of ospreys⎯the golf ball's only natural enemy.