Florida offers dozens of professional golf tournaments that are open to public spectators. If you’ve always wanted see your golf heroes up close or you just want to see how your average golf shot compares to that of a Tour pro, plan to attend one of these events.
Every year, the Champions PGA Tour (the senior players) holds the Tampa Bay Pro-Am at TPC Tampa Bay on the north side of Tampa. Even though it’s supposed to be a serious golf tournament, everyone has so much fun that a celebration of beautiful Florida weather, tremendous golf, mouth-watering food and ample cool drinks create a festival atmosphere that you’ll not only greatly enjoy, but remember for many years.
Packed with Hall of Fame golfers like Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price, Larry Nelson and Tom Kite, the event is a place to see plenty of your golfing heroes from the past decades. Lots of Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and British Open winners in this group. Add in a few fun guys like Fuzzy Zoeller, Craig Stadler (yes, he really is a funny guy), and the ever-smiling Mark O’Meara and you’ve got yourself a recipe for some entertaining golf. You’ll even spy a celebrity or two.
Check out some of the folks who made up the amateur ranks:
- Actor and comedian George Lopez – star of ABC TV show George Lopez and not a bad golfer.
- Jerry Rice – all time leader in every major category for NFL wide receivers. Also you may remember that Jerry is a pretty good dancer from his time on Dancing with the Stars television show.
- Vince Gill – member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and winner of the Grammy in 2008 for Best Country Album. Married to singer Amy Grant, Vince is a very good golfer and a strong driver of the ball.
- Derrick Brooks – the tough outside linebacker for the local Tampa Bay Buccaneers and part of the Super Bowl winning team in 2002.
- Actor and star of the TV show Coach, Craig T. Nelson. You might also remember him in the scary Poltergeist movie.
- And finally, if I were playing, she would be my favorite Pro-Am partner, Nancy Lopez. How do you get so lucky as to have a World Golf Hall of Famer as your “amateur” partner? Well, ask Tom Kite. Even though Tom didn’t have his best tournament he still had a great time playing with one of the finest and nicest woman golfers to ever play the game.
How’s that for a group of celebrities to make your day of golf watching more exciting?
George Lopez was teamed up with Fuzzy Zoeller and the one-liners were flying all day. George spent plenty of time talking and joking with the crowd. On one hole, after requesting a drink, he proceeded to climb into the hospitality stands to sit down with the fans as his partner, Fuzzy, was putting.
With great shots being struck by Nancy Lopez, booming drives by Vince Gill, fancy chip-ins by Dale Jarrett and some fine golf played by Derrick Brooks, all you had to do was find a place to stop in for a cold drink or something to eat at the multiple restaurants set up in tents around the course grounds.
I got a chance to talk with a few of the players as they practiced their games. I asked them what they liked best about Florida golf.
Three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin said that he loved the weather and the challenge on windy days on layouts with the many lakes and ponds that are so prevalent on Florida courses. Two-time PGA Championship winner and U.S. Open champ Larry Nelson concurred.
Though Larry Nelson won the 1987 PGA Championship on another terrific Florida course – PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, both of these top players picked TPC Tampa Bay as one of their favorite Florida courses.
In years past, this event was held in February or March and sometimes you may have had to deal with our spring wind and cooler temperatures.
In 2010, the tournament date moved back to April, the winds were soft and balmy, the temperatures were in the low 80’s, the sky was a breathtaking blue and all was right with the world.
They say that great players play well on great courses. This only confirms the status of TPC Tampa Bay.
No other sport allows regular folks to compete and play on the same grounds. But you can play the same layout as a professional Tour player. TPC Tampa Bay is open to everyone for play. For starting times and more information, visit www.tpctampabay.com or call 866-PLAY-TPC..
The party is set again for 2011, so make your plans to come visit us in Lutz. And bring your appetite.
If you can’t make it to the Tampa Bay Pro-Am (though I strongly recommend you do), there are many other wonderful, exciting professional golf events held in Florida each year. A few of my favorites are:
- Honda Classic at PGA National Resort & Spa - Palm Beach Gardens (held in early March)
- Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club - Orlando (held in mid to late March)
- The ACE Group Classic (a Champions Tour event) at TwinEagles – Naples (held in mid February)