Bring your 'A' game to TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz, Florida
LUTZ, Fla. -- If you want to play any of the 30 TPC golf courses scattered around the United States, you have to know what you are getting into. They might not all be identical, but they all share one thing. They are nasty and sometimes diabolical.
TPC courses don't advertise as being fun and a pleasant golfing experience. If you want to walk where the pros have walked and don't mind a couple of snowmen on the scorecard, the TPC courses are a great experience. Just make sure you know what you are getting into.
TPC Tampa Bay is no exception. Designed by Bobby Weed, it plays to 6,898 yards from the tips, but most TPC courses aren't designed to play long.
Much like one of its sister courses, the famous Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, you don't need to keep the cover off the driver. You can get by with a 3-wood on most holes because there are too many traps and too much water to take chances with. Like Pete Dye's Sawgrass layout, water and bunkers come into play on every hole. And that doesn't include all of the natural wetlands that can also come to play on an especially errant shot.
TPC Tampa Bay: tough play
Some golfers don't like to play it safe. That's great for the Champions Tour players who play in the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am every April, but playing it safe is the only way for the average golfer to navigate this course. Even hitting it in the fairway is no guarantee of a par, because hardly any shot is on a level lie.
There are mounds all over the course, and they make for uneasy approach shots. The first hole is a fine example. Huge bunkers line the right side of the fairway, which slopes deeply to the left. Keeping the tee shot left is the best play, but you are also messing with the heavily wooded left side.
Florida is known for target golf, and most club professionals hate the term even though that's the perfect way to describe TPC Tampa Bay. You can reach the par 5s in two, but any shot that isn't hit perfectly is going to result in a snowman.
"We think it is tough but fair," said TPC Tampa Bay Head Professional Justin Wink. "We make it playable for everyone, but this is demanding, and you have to bring your best game."
There are a lot of courses that show water on their scorecards on just about every hole, but only a real beginner can get wet. At TPC Tampa Bay, you can dunk it on almost any hole on the course if you don't hit it straight. It might be fun to pull out the driver and go for it, but the 3-wood is the safe shot on nearly every hole. It might mean a little more club on the approach, but, in a golf world where the term "risk-reward" is way overused to the point of being a cliche, the term really applies to any TPC course.
Reaching the greens doesn't mean much unless you can combine a feel for speed and break because the multi-level greens make putting a nightmare, especially when they are set up for an event. Missing the green means an almost-certain bogey.
The 18th hole requires a drive that flirts with water all the way down the left side into a narrow fairway, then an approach to an elevated green that slopes off in all directions leaving for a nasty chip. Leaving an approach on the upper tier of the fifth is an almost-certain three-putt with a drop of almost three feet to the bottom tier.
TPC Tampa Bay: The verdict
It isn't that the TPC isn't a great course, because it is. It was rated 13th in the nation in the Best Public Golf Facility category by GolfWorld Magazine. The thing is, it can be intimidating and is probably the hardest golf course in Tampa Bay. Bring plenty of golf balls, because you will need them.
"Man, that was tough," said Ryan Winters, a visitor from Jacksonville playing for the first time. "I've played TPC Sawgrass, and this is tougher. Great course; great shape. I wasn't expecting this."
His playing partner, Joe Lewinsky, just shook his head and laughed. "I don't know. That was tough. Even when I hit it where I wanted to it was still tough. You miss by five yards, and you are dead. It was great, though. I want another shot at it."
Like most TPC courses, TPC Tampa Bay isn't for everyone. Beginners should stay away. Medium handicappers should just enjoy walking where the pros have walked and not worry about the scorecard.
If you come to Tampa for a golf vacation, enjoy the course, but don't look to go low. It's worth the trip, but there are plenty of courses close by to schedule for the following day to bring your ego back to par.
Photos courtesy of TPC Tampa Bay.