Golf in St Pete’s a beautiful work of art

Mark Harvey discovered classic courses, culture and creole food when he went to play golf in St Pete’s, Florida

  • St Pete’s, FLA – a glamorous call-back to ‘Roaring Twenties’ America
  • Museums, Theatres, Riviera-style hotels and mouth-watering food markets
  • ‘Golden Age’ golf St Pete’s
  • Walk in the footsteps of PGA Tour winners at Innisbrook
  • Survive the Snake Pit at Copperhead
  • Vintage style at the Vinoy Hotel

Florida is much loved by us golfers, with stellar resorts and courses – from Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill to TPC Sawgrass – a wonderful climate and stunning natural scenery.

If I told you it was equally as remarkable for the quality of its arts and culture, maybe you’d laugh out loud.

After all, the ‘Sunshine State’ is known more for adrenaline seeking theme parks, Disney and space missions than for how it caters to the arts.

Then again, maybe you haven’t thought about St Pete’s?

St Petersburg is a short distance from Tampa to where British Airways fly a daily Heathrow shuttle, making it a relatively easy hop across the pond from the UK.

Downtown St Pete’s is based around a stunning waterfront with a relaxed Riviera like feel, and plays host to a large and diverse range of cultural experiences.

It’s literally packed with art galleries, museums, music venues, food and drink.

On the museum front, The Dali houses the largest exhibition of the surrealist’s work outside of Spain.

There’s the internationally renowned Dale Chihuly Collection – showcasing a master of glass work – at downtown Morean Arts Centre. There’s also the Museum of Fine Arts and deeply moving Florida Holocaust Museum.

Museum of Fine Arts St Petersburg
Museum of Fine Arts St Petersburg, FLA

Music lovers won’t be disappointed – the Mahaffey Theater is home to the Florida Orchestra and St Pete’s has a whole host of more intimate music venues such as the iconic rock and blues based Ringside Café which boasts live music every single night.

The great food vibe of the city is epitomised by its local markets and cool Creole style eateries offering the region’s freshest and best artisan foods.

Taste of the Deep South at St Pete’s Creole Cafe

The hospitality hub of downtown St Pete’s is the wonderfully enigmatic pink hotel – The Vinoy Renaissance.

It’s a fitting choice for a golf holiday as a golfing bet led to its creation.

OK, interesting story time. At one of those hip roaring twenties parties that fascinate film makers, a bet was taken by none other than Walter Hagen.

Walter Hagen and The Vinoy Hotel

Mr. Hagen was challenged to hit golf balls off the face of his hosts’ prized pocket watch.

The famed ball striker won the bet without a scratch on the watch and the host, an extremely wealthy businessman, was then persuaded by now exuberant guests that he should build a hotel on the spot where the balls landed.

The rest, as they say, is history.  

Golf in St Petersburg, Florida

Golf in Clearwater and Tampa Florida
Morning sun across the Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbour, Florida

So what about the golf courses in St Petersburg?

We kicked off at the Vinnoy’s own private members course, a short drive from the hotel itself.

The ethos is strongly one of nature and the flora and fauna flourish to the benefit of the golfing experience. 

I enjoyed warming up on the practice facilities, including an enormous putting green – not quite the Himalayas of St Andrews fame – but certainly impressive.

On course, the stand out holes were two water lined stunners, the 9th and 16th.

The almost island green at the par five 16th further testing your nerve after two narrow fairways between water have been hit.

A short distance away in Palm Harbour is the Innisbrook Resort, with six golf courses and on site hotel, spa and all the trimmings.  

Innisbrook Resort copyright creative commons Chad Davis

The star of the bunch is The Copperhead, current home to The Valspar Championship which has enjoyed a high profile scheduling in March ahead of the run-up to The Masters and The Players Championship.

As you’d expect, the Copperhead is immaculate, challenging and inspiring, but it’s also wonderfully atmospheric something to do with all the elevation changes and Spanish moss hanging from the trees.

Hole 5 at Copperhead, Innisbrook Resort, Florida
The 5th hole at Copperhead, Innisbrook Resort copyright Salamander Hotels and Resorts

Of course it’s the finishing three holes known as The Snake Pit that will live longest in my memory. It goes without saying, but there’s real venom in the bite.

The Snake Pit bares its teeth at The Valspar Championship on The PGA Tour

Last up was something a little more laid back, The Pelican Club, Tampa.

The Pelican Club harks back to the ‘Golden Age’ of golf course design and was originally created by Scotland’s Donald Ross and known as the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club.

The Belleview club closed in 2017 and its new owners hired Beau Welling design to restore the course to its new identity as The Pelican Club.

It’s a relaxed, genuinely charming and traditional country club. Its laid back vibe is deceiving because the course is a stiff test of golf.

As you’d expect from a Ross inspired design it’s not all about distance from the tee. You need a good course management head to find the fairways in the right places to allow you approach the Bermuda grass greens with confidence.

The long par four finishing hole tees you up nicely for a cold one and you’ll feel really at home with with the members in the palatial clubhouse bar.

*Mark Harvey played the course in 2017 when it was the Belleview Biltmore. The Pelican Club now operates a policy where guests may only play with a member

Between Innisbrook and The Vinoy Golf Club, there’s more than enough to fill a seven to 10 day golf break in St Pete’s.

If you wanted to play more courses, then this useful guide from St Pete’s tourism will point you towards other golf courses in the Clearwater and Tampa area.

So if you looking to put a fresh twist on a Florida golf trip then check out St Petersburg, Florida – a rich canvas painted lovingly with ‘Golden Age’ golf courses and enlightening cultural venues.

ST PETE’S FACT-FILE

WHERE TO PLAY

Innisbrook Resort

Web: Innisbrook Resorts

36750 U.S. Highway 19 North

Palm Harbour

FL 34684

Tel: 888-794-8627

Innisbrook guarantees the best rates and no-third party risk when you book direct on its own website.

Vinoy Golf Club

Web: Vinoy Golf Club

The private golf club of the exclusive Vinoy hotel, where Mark Harvey stayed. Owned and operated by Marriott Golf.

The Pelican Club

Web: https://pelicangolfclub.com/

Address: 1501 Indian Rocks Rd, Belleair, FL 33756

Tel: +1 727-285-9702

WHERE TO STAY

Vinoy Renaissance Hotel, St Pete’s

An iconic building with views over St Pete’s marina and a sumptuous throwback to the glamour of the roaring twenties in America

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