Bring your golf clubs and baseball glove for Grapefruit League spring training in Florida
Baseball season already? If the surfacing contract disputes and trade talks are any indication, spring training is in fact on deck.
The Grapefruit League is a month of action throughout Florida. Fifteen teams will iron out the cobwebs and gear up for the Major League Baseball season. It coincides with prime golf season in the Sunshine State, and the PGA Tour's "Florida Swing" rolls through at the same time.
Unlike Arizona's Cactus League, where all of the teams are somewhere in the Valley of the Sun, the Grapefruit League is spread out in clusters through south and central Florida, so you'll want to pick a base near your favorite team's headquarters, score good tickets and locate a solid local golf club or two nearby. (Click here for a complete schedule of games.)
Central Florida and Orlando
The Atlanta Braves play out of Walt Disney World's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and the Houston Astros play in nearby Kissimmee.
For golf, the obvious option for Braves fans is to play one of Disney's four championship courses. My personal favorite is the Tom Fazio-designed Osprey Ridge Golf Course, followed by the scenic Palm Golf Course.
Your best chances for a pro baseball player sighting are at the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club or Bay Hill Club & Lodge (host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard). They both offer the best in service and conditions, not to mention dazzling, pro-ready layouts.
The 54-hole Orange Lake Resorts in Kissimmee provides the perfect home base for Astros fans. Arnold Palmer made Orange Lake's Legends Course a strong resort test. The 6,500-yard Reserve Course plays shorter and slightly easier. The nine-hole Legends Walk Course lights up at night for golf after dark. The executive Crane's Bend offers a quick round.
For better bargain courses, try one of these affordable Orlando courses.
If you choose to stay around the city of Lakeland to watch the Detroit Tigers, there are plenty of options. The Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, where the Tigers have trained longer than any other MLB club, is the closet outpost to new Streamsong Resort 34 miles directly south. There's a new lodge and two Top 100 courses -- the Red by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and the Blue by Tom Doak -- to spoil guests there. For closer, more affordable golf, try The Golf Club at Bridgewater, a more than 7,200-yard Steve Smyers design that plays through wetlands. Or visit Huntington Hills Golf & Country Club, which is set on 400 acres and boasts nearly 100 feet of elevation change.
Southwest Florida: Fort Myers and Sarasota
The Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins warm up in the popular beach and fishing town of Fort Myers, and the Red Sox play out of the gorgeous JetBlue Park, which even has a "Green Monster." The best stay-and-play option is the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort in Bonita Springs. This luxury hotel beside the Estero Bay has a gorgeous waterfront setting and 36 holes of golf surrounding its property: Raptor Bay Golf Club features a scenic design that has only waste bunkers -- no traditional bunkers. Next door, The Colony Golf & Country Club is a private option that offers some limited availability for hotel guests.
For golf, the biggest buzz is around Old Corkscrew Golf Club in Estero, a new Jack Nicklaus semi-private spread out over natural forest and wetlands.
If you're following the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota or the Pirates in Bradenton and have a thirst for the classics, check out multi-course Bobby Jones Golf Club, which Jones himself opened in 1927. Babe Ruth used to frequent the joint during his spring training days around here. Not many people realize how many solid options populate Bradenton, especially for the price. The closest is the IMG Academies Golf & Country Club six miles from the Pirates' park. The excellent 27-hole River Strand Golf & Country Club by Arthur Hills and the tough Preserve Golf Club at Tara are both within 12 miles as well.
Near the Tampa Bay Rays' home in Port Charlotte is Bobcat Trail Golf Club, a Bob Tway-designed, semi-private club that boasts great practice facilities and GPS in golf carts, and Riverwood Golf Club, a Golf Digest four-and-a-half-star course chock full of wetlands.
South Florida: Jupiter and Port St. Lucie
The Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals play out of Jupiter, while Port St. Lucie is located about 30 minutes south and home to the New York Mets.
The main draw in Port St. Lucie is the PGA Golf Club, home to three championship courses. Fazio built both the Ryder Course and the Wanamaker Course, while Pete Dye plotted out the Dye Course, the longest of the three at more than 7,200 yards.
Abacoa Golf Club is a relatively new Joe Lee design that opened in 1999. It's located near Roger Dean Stadium, which means you may spot some baseball players on the course between games.
Golf around Tampa and St. Petersburg
The New York Yankees headline the four teams that warm up in metro Tampa-St. Pete (the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays are the others), and there are plenty of golf courses for any budget.
The top area play for visitors is the Innisbrook Resort, home to four championship courses, including PGA Tour venue Copperhead Course, host of the Tampa Bay Championship that takes place during spring training March 14-17.
Also, the TPC Tampa Bay is a PGA Tour-worthy facility designed by Bobby Tweed and is one of the more affordable and accessible TPC options in the country. For a more affordable -- but still challenging -- play, check out The Claw, home of the University of South Florida. You can walk it for $20 after 11 a.m. any day of the week.
If you're up for a little road trip, head about 60 miles north Tampa to World Woods, home of two Fazio designs set in the woods on sandy soil, led by Pine Barrens.
For something a little more low key -- and not too far from Blue Jays camp in Dunedin -- there's Dunedin Country Club, a classic Donald Ross course. The semi-private facility opened in 1926 and serves up to 6,605 yards, with quick and small old-style greens.
Staying at two fine resorts in the area -- the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club and the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota -- affords access to their respective private clubs, the Vinoy Golf Club, a Ross original on Snell Island revamped by Ron Garl, and The Members Golf Club by Tom Fazio.