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.
Designed by Ted McAnlis to take advantage of the area’s natural wetlands, the fairways at The Preserve Golf Club are riddled with water hazards and marshy areas. Water comes directly into play on 9 of the course’s holes, and players end up traipsing across 11 bridges as they hit their way from beginning to end. Many stumble at the 3rd hole, whose aim-blocking sabal palms earn it a handicap of 1, or at the course’s signature 17th hole, which drowns balls left and right. The course’s greens are newly recarpeted with ultradwarf bermuda grass, and pines, oaks, and palms line the fairways, their branches grasping at stray balls like nature’s catchers' mitts.
Before tackling the aquatic mischief of the championship course, golfers can take aim at the island target greens of the aqua driving range, where 40 hitting stations let players gear up for the watery course. After facing down the fairways, players select from a deli-style menu at Ryder Cup Grille, which features live music from artists such as Larry Crane, longtime guitarist for John Mellencamp.
Course at a Glance:
At Evie’s Golf Center’s mini-golf course, putter-wielding patrons embark on an 18-hole, par 40 odyssey through treacherously sloped, emerald-turf corridors kissed by the gentle mist of hole-side waterfalls. Outduel old rivals with a smooth and dependable putting stroke, or use the round as practice to fine-tune new techniques such as using your own double-gripped putter or intimidating finicky orbs until they take cover in each hole.
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:
A round of miniature golf on Ace’s tropical-themed course, complete with waterfalls, streams, ponds, and lush Floridian vegetation, fills afternoons with fairway fun for friends and family (children ages four to 10 are admitted for $4.99, and kids under four get free admission). PGA pros and sand-trap stragglers will enjoy the upscale practice range, with covered swinging areas to protect golfers from weather, as well as stadium lighting for nighttime play and elaborate Field of Dreams fantasies. For harder hitting, baseball batters and softball sluggers step into batting cages, where professional pitching machines can vary speeds from lightning-bolt throws to lackadaisical lobs.