(August 2009) As the story of the Vinoy Hotel goes, in 1923 legendary golf “bad boy” Walter Hagen made a bet with several of his more affluent friends that he could hit a golf ball off of his friend’s pocket watch without breaking the crystal. If successful then his wealthy friends would build a grand resort on the property on Tampa Bay. Needless to say, he was successful and the Vinoy Hotel was born.
The original Vinoy Club course was designed by Donald Ross and, in 1992 redesigned by Ron Garl. The course plays only 6590 yards from the back tees (land is scarce in downtown St. Petersburg), so Mr. Garl had his work cut out for him.
At the Vinoy Club, you will find pine valleys, narrow fairways, beach bunkers (a Garl specialty), nine lakes, two double greens and an island green on the signature hole. You will find that Mr. Garl has created a beautifully manicured and mentally stimulating course – one that challenges the skills of the most accomplished golfer. Six sets of tees make the Vinoy Club manageable for golfers of all skill levels. From the back tees, the course plays 6590 yards for a par of 72. The course rating is 71.7 with a slope of 130. Amenities abound at the Vinoy Club. Aside from the standard driving range and practice putting green, you can expect iced, scented towels and ice water waiting for you in your cart.
Number 1: Par 4, 320 yards. You will probably be best served to leave driver in the bag on this hole. Forget that this hole is short; it will still provide quite a challenge. The fairway is narrow and the preferred landing area is not real easy to hit. Water flanks both sides of the fairway as well as a fairway bunker on the left off the tee. Should you successfully navigate your tee shot to safety, you will have a somewhat short approach shot to the green which has water on both sides, and bunkers behind the green. The green is fairly large with not a whole lot of undulation.
Number 7: Par 5, 525 yards. This hole offers a great view of downtown St. Petersburg. The best line off the tee is toward the long fairway bunker on the right side. Be careful not to hit over the bunker or you are likely to find the water. From there the hole opens up; long ball hitters stand a good chance of getting home in two. For the rest of us a mid-iron layup shot will leave a little more than a 100 yard pitch shot. Be sure to keep it right as a massive bunker guards the left side; there is a small bunker on the right as well. The green is very elevated and features two tiers; separated by about 5 feet of vertical drop (or rise depending upon your situation). If your approach shot is not on the correct tier, you are most likely staring at a three putt.
Number 9: Par 5, 465 yards. If you are playing from the longest tees (bronze), this hole is a long par 4. From anything BUT the back tees), then it’s a short par 5. The only chance you have at getting on the green in two is to hit down the right side of the fairway; anything on the left will be blocked out by trees and force a lay up shot. The tee shot in itself is a daunting task as you are playing down a chute that is no wider than a shopping store aisle. Should you be fortunate to put your tee shot in the correct position, you will be faced with a long approach shot to a large green that slopes back to front. Oh, did I mention the large lake that guards the left side and the deep bunkers on the back and right side of the green? Be happy with a par.
Number 16: Par 5, 568 yards. For most, this is a three-shot par 5. Keep your drive out to the right so as to take the trees on the left out of play. Nowhere is the emphasis on accuracy more so than on this hole. Water flanks both sides almost from tee to green. Club selection is the key to the layup shot as well as the approach shot. Number 16 features an island green that is fairly small and has a large bunker front left. Par is ideal here.
Number 17: Par 3, 145 yards. This is another hole where club selection is the key off the tee. Water guards the left side of the hole as you shoot over a mangrove swamp. A large bunker fronts this slightly elevated green that features modest undulations.
Number 18: Par 5, 525 yards. Your tee shot is critical on number 18 as well as the line off the tee. You will need to decide how much of the lake you want to cut off from the tee box but be careful in making your decision. Err on the conservative side and you will likely drive through the fairway and out of bounds; choose an overly aggressive path and your tee shot will meet a watery death. Your layup shot will have a narrow landing area between the water and the out of bounds on the left; you will also need to avoid the single fairway bunker on the right side of the fairway. Any wild shots left will find two bunkers that really shouldn’t come into play. From there, you will have a short approach shot to a large green fronted on the right by bunkers and water. Take your par and run.
Despite the fact that homes line many of the fairways, the Renaissance Vinoy is still a very classy layout, in a very classy part of town. The greens may be the best part of the course. They are in near-perfect condition and play very fast. Breaks are subtle and don’t overwhelm you with slope except for the seventh hole. All in all the Vinoy Club poses an enjoyable experience for golfers of all skill levels. Immerse yourself in the lap of luxury in downtown St. Petersburg. For more information, visit their website at www.vinoyclub.com/golf or give them a call at (727) 896-8000.