North of Tampa, Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club offers challenges for every handicap

By Jeff Berlinicke, Contributor

LUTZ, Fla. -- Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club is not a course that's going to kill you, but it's challenging and makes you use all of your clubs. It's one of the most enjoyable golf courses in the Tampa Bay area and a nice respite from some of the more difficult tracks in Tampa Bay.

Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club - hole 9
The ninth hole at Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club is a short par 4 that leads to the clubhouse.
Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club - hole 9Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club - hole 17Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club - hole 18
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Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club

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Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club in Lutz shares a home with a variety of birds including hawks, ospreys, loons, ibis, herons and kingfishers. In addition to being a bird sanctuary, this 18-hole public golf course provides a challenging round.

18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 72 | 6898 yards | Book online | ... details »

Heritage Harbor doesn't offer the punishment of TPC Tampa Bay, which is right down the road, or Cheval Golf & Country Club, which is next door to TPC. But Heritage Harbor is a fun course, not too long at 6,900 yards from the tips, with plenty of water that only comes into play on the most errant tee shots on most holes.

It's an interesting layout that maintains the natural wildlife that surrounds the golf course, which was the goal of course designers Jed Azinger and Gordon Lewis. It also was designed to accommodate the many homes that come into play during a round. Heritage Harbor is loaded with family homes, and some of them come close to the fairways.

There are four sets of tees, and the shorter boxes allow for some interesting decisions. It runs 6.898 from the tips, 5,400 from the white tees and 4,700 from the reds. But that doesn't make it any easier because the course was designed to challenge golfers from every level. It's tough enough to master from the tips, but beginners can catch a break from the shorter tees.

Manager John Panno said Heritage Harbor is actually two separate nines, the front being a links style with the back being more Florida-style target golf.

"On the front nine, you are playing bump-and-run golf," Panno said. "Hit it low and far and set up to run it to the green. On the back, it's one target after another. It's like you are getting two golf courses for the price of one."

Don't take the course for granted. The 14th is a killer par 3 that plays 260 yards from the tips. It's the toughest hole on the course, but there are plenty of other challenges.

Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club's opening hole forces a bomb that carries the dogleg to the right and, although the pond on the right doesn't come into play, there is sand just ahead, so you can take your chances on carrying the bunker or stay safe and play a long iron to the green.

It gets tougher on the back. The 13th requires a forced carry over natural wetlands to reach the green. It's a par 4, but it requires a long drive to have any chance of clearing the marsh.

The 18th is a scenic par 4 where you can use a driver from the back tees (378 yards) and then hopefully get close enough to a natural area that has to be carried in order to reach the elevated green in two. Watch out for the wooded area behind the green. To get to the green, you ride your cart over marsh on one of the course's many picturesque winding wooden bridges that carry you over the wet spots.

The back nine is clearly the more difficult, but both sides make for a pleasant round of golf. It is challenging from the tips and tame on high handicaps. The course offers an aqua driving range and a large putting green along with individual lessons that run only $30 for a half-hour. There are also golf clinics for kids 7-16 on Saturday mornings.

Tony Baggett and his wife, Marcy, play Heritage Harbor often and live close by. Tony is a 12-handicapper. Marcy doesn't know her handicap, but she says she tries to break 100. Playing from the shorter tees, Marcy says she can do things she can't do on other area courses.

"I keep it straight and don't hit it very far, so this is perfect for me," Marcy said. "It's just fun and it never gets too crowded, so I never have to worry about holding up play. It's probably my favorite course in this area."

Tony plays from the tips and likes the challenge that the various lengths bring on.

"A lot of courses have tees that are mostly close to each other," Tony said. "Here, it's like Marcy and I are playing courses that are custom-made for each other. It's a great course to have fun. It challenges you if that's what you want, but it is a lot less tough on players who are still learning the game."

Heritage Harbor is about 20 minutes from Tampa International Airport. There isn't a lot of lodging in the area, but anyone wanting to pair up a few days with Heritage Harbor, TPC Tampa Bay and many other close courses can easily find mid-range hotels about a half-hour away.

Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club: The verdict

Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club is a pleasant round at a course that is surprisingly never crowded. The course is in immaculate shape year-round, and the distances between tee boxes offer something for any handicap. If you come to Tampa to play the TPC Tampa Bay, stop by Heritage Harbor as a warm-up.

Jeff BerlinickeJeff Berlinicke, Contributor

Jeff Berlinicke is a golf writer based in Tampa, Fla. He writes for multiple publications including the Tampa Tribune, Golf Fitness Magazine, and the Associated Press. He has also received multiple honors from the Florida Press Association.

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