Saddlebrook Resort – Home To Two Classic Arnold Palmer Designs


Saddlebrook Resort 1    The Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel is located just off !-4 north of Tampa on Rte. 54. The resort offers luxury accommodations and facilities for corporate events, meetings and conferences, as well as spectacular golf and tennis vacations. In addition to four top-notch dining facilities on the property there is also a European-style spa.

The 540 hotel rooms and suites at Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa Bay offer 800 bedrooms, each providing an inviting blend of luxury, space, and convenience whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure. Over three-quarters of the accommodations at Saddlebrook are suites, each equipped with full kitchens and all the creature comforts vacationers come to expect when planning a Florida vacation. The Deluxe Guest Rooms and one and two bedroom suites feature a Tropical Bahama theme. Comfortable parlors and work areas are complemented by marble bathrooms stocked with a signature line of Tropical Tea bath products.

Saddlebrook is home to tennis star Jennifer Capriati and has seen many great players train at the facility. It wasn’t uncommon to see players such as Pete Sampras, James Blake, Mardy Fish, Martina Hingis or Jim Courier roaming around the complex during their heydays.

Saddlebrook Resort 3During your stay, dinner at Dempsey’s Steakhouse is a must. The food and service rival any top Steakhouse in the Tampa area – and we all know that Tampa has some of the best in the nation.

In addition to being such a great tennis facility, Saddlebrook is home to two Arnold Palmer Signature golf courses: The Palmer and the Saddlebrook. Both courses use a single range, which is better classified as a golf training facility. The range has greens of various lengths to shoot at as well as a separate short game area and a massive putting green. Best to arrive extra early as the practice facility is a five minute cart ride back to either first tee. There is also a practice green adjacent to the first hole on each course.

The Palmer Course
The Palmer Course is an 18-hole Arnold Palmer Signature Course that plays to a par 71 and is always in great shape. From the back tees it plays 6641 yards with a course rating of 72.9 and a slope of 138. Although this may not seem real long by today’s standards, the course requires you to make a lot of accurate tee shots. Not putting the ball where it needs to be off the tee can lead to some pretty high scores on certain holes. In fact most golfers will find that the white tees at 6044 yards (69.7/130) will give them all that they can handle.

For the most part, The Palmer course has generous driving areas, however finding level ground can be somewhat of a challenge. The fairways are firmed and contoured to resemble a rolling New England course. The small, elevated greens are framed by white-faced bunkers, azure ponds and gently swaying palm trees. These Tif-eagle greens were redone in 2004 and are firm, fast and undulating, meaning only a crisply struck shot will hold their surface. Surrounding the green you can count on finding thick, gnarly Bermuda rough which wraps around your club and complicates what would usually be an easy pitch shot. Rolling fairways and well maintained greens make this course quite enjoyable.

Memorable Holes (Yardage Listed is From the Blue Tees)
Number 1: Par 4, 441 yards. From the blue tees, a 441 yard hole is a tough start. The woods on the right can come into play off any set of tees. Failure to keep the ball left often leads to a layup shot just short of the water. A good tee shot down the left side will leave a 150 – 170 yard approach shot over water to a well bunkered green. The green slopes severely from back to front; if you are in the bunker behind the green, good luck getting it close!

Number 4: Par 5, 508 yards. This hole is best played with either a member or someone familiar with the course! Word of warning: the flag you see off to the right over the water is NOT the one you are shooting for (many have made this mistake). A 225 yard shot off the tee will put you in the middle of the fairway and leave a layup shot over water to a landing area heavily treed on the left and a fairway bunker on the right. The average player can expect an approach shot of about 100 yards after a decent layup shot. The two-tiered green is well protected by sand. Par is a good score here.

Saddlebrook Resort 4Number 5: Par 4, 371 yards. Personally, this par 4 is my least favorite hole on the course; it just doesn’t like me. Although the hole is a slight dogleg left, you need to keep the ball right off of the tee. Too far right and you will find yourself in the 4th fairway and having to hit through trees, over water to a fairly small green. Too far left and, if by chance you are not out of bounds, you will have to chip back into the fairway. No matter where you are approaching the green, it’s over water. There is a very small bailout area to the left which still leaves a delicate chip shot onto a flat green.

Number 12: Par 4, 379 yards. Off the tee, left is death! You’ll need to hit your tee shot to the top of the crest in order to have a good look at the green that sits well below the fairway. The green is long and narrow with a lot of undulation. Did I mention it slopes towards the water? It takes some well executed shots to even par this hole.
Number 13: Par 3, 156 yards. With all the water around the green, some players find this par 3 is quite intimidating. Anything short or right finds the water; anything long finds the sand. A shot out of the trap is no bargain either; you are chipping on to a green that runs away from you and leads to water. Good luck.
Number 18: Par 3, 138 yards. Nothing like a short Par 3 over water to end your round. Number 18 can be intimidating, especially with a front pin placement. Just be sure to take enough club to clear the water and you’ll be OK.

Saddlebrook Resort 2Last Word: If you are playing the course for the first time, it may be wise to play it with someone that knows the course. For example, the fourth hole is a par 5 with a huge dogleg to the left. Since you cannot see the green from the tee, many people playing for the first time will assume that the fifth green (which is well guarded by water I might add) is the green to hit at. People have actually driven the 5th green from the 4th tee thinking they are lining up a double eagle putt, only to find out they are on the wrong green!
Several holes require length off the tee in order to leave a manageable iron into the green. Good drives on the par 5 holes set up a risk/reward second shot. The par 3 holes are medium length and can easily make or break an otherwise good round.

All in all, the Palmer Course at Saddlebrook is a good time. Choosing the right set of tees to play will go a long way in determining how much fun you have. The plan is to play the course in about four hours however like most resort courses in Florida, this can be hard to do during the winter.

The Saddlebrook Course
The Saddlebrook Course is Arnold Palmer’s signature at the resort. This 18-hole championship layout plays, 6564 yards from the back tees, with a par of 70, a course rating of 72.6 and a slope of 137. Don’t let the length fool you; this little gem will give you all you can handle.

In 2006, the Saddlebrook Course underwent some major renovations. The greens were redone and the course was also made much tighter and flatter, with narrow tree-lined fairways and water on most holes. The course is more of a shot makers course as opposed to grip-it-and-rip-it. On many of the holes, hitting your shot too far can easily put you in the sand, woods, or water.

If you choose your tees based on your handicap, you won’t find any holes overwhelming or unmanageable. The par 5 number 14 is reachable in two, if you hit a great tee shot and know where to land it up by the green. Both (par 70 – there are only two) offer a certain amount of risk reward with the water on the right side on your second shot. The par 4, 18th hole is the number 1 handicap and is a lot of fun. You’ll need your best drive off the day to have a chance to get on in regulation. Flirt with the right side too much and your ball will likely find a watery grave.

Memorable Holes (All Yardage Stated is From the Blue Tees)
Number 6: Par 4, 310 yards. Although one of the shorter holes on the course, this hole is a big dogleg left. Too far straight off the tee and you will likely find sand; or worse. Anything short of the dogleg or left makes the hole considerably more difficult. If you can hit a nice draw off the tee, this would be a good time to do it. A tee that goes 220 yards or more will leave about a 100 yard pitch to a green that is fairly flat. This is a good chance for birdie.

Number 9: Par 4, 392 yards. This is a good finish to the outward nine. Water haunts the right side of the fairway and guards the green as well. Hit a good tee shot down the middle and there is a chance that you will find the water any way. your tee shot only needs to be about 225 – 250 yards, depending on the tees you are playing. A well placed – and findable – tee shot will leave a relatively short approach shot over water to a green that slopes back down to the water and is guarded front and left by sand. Par is a good score here.

Number 10: Par 4, 352 yards. This is where knowing the course (or playing with someone that does) is extremely helpful. Your first thought is that it would probably be best to hit a 3 wood or hybrid off the tee and leave yourself about a 150 yard approach shot. Spend a little more time studying this shot and you might get the idea that by teeing the ball up on the far right side of the tee box, a nice soft draw, into the fairway will leave less than 100 yards to the pin. I believe they refer to this as risk/reward. It’s about a 250 yard carry to get over the water and the creek that meanders down the right side, becomes a very large pond in the landing area. For me it’s too much risk, too little reward.

Saddlebrook Resort 5Number 16: Par 4, 389 yards. This hole is reminiscent of number 9 and plays about the same length. You are faced with a somewhat blind tee shot of the tee which needs to be kept a bit left of center. Too far left and you are in either the woods or some sever moguls. Anything to the right blocks your approach shot to the green. A good drive will leave an approach shot of around 130 yards to a green that is surrounded by water. If you’re in doubt about your approach shot, there is some room on the left to bail out and avoid the water. From there, a good up and down will still salvage a par.

Number 18: Par 4, 429 yards. This is a great finishing hole and the number 1 handicap on the course. A creek meanders all the way down the right side and leads to a large pond that comes half way across the fairway and guards the green. The average player who hits a good drive can expect an approach shot of around 180 – 220 yards. The green slopes severely from back to front which makes it especially interesting with the pin up front.

Last Word
The Saddlebrook course requires a lot more ingenuity and shot making in order to score well. Shots need to be a little more precise and thought out. The first three holes are as good as any opening trio of holes as any course in Florida and may very well determine how well your day is going to be. Number 3 is the #1 handicapped hole on the course and when you play it, you will understand why. All of the greens roll well and are very puttable.
Both courses are well maintained and the groundskeepers pay great attention to detail. The bunkers are well manicured and the courses have a lot of character. The staff at Saddlebrook is there to ensure that you have an enjoyable time. Everyone for the valet who takes the clubs out of the trunk to the pro shop staff and cart girls is pleasant and determined to make your visit memorable.
For more information or to book a tee time, call the pro shop at (813) 973-1111 or visit them online at

David Theoret

David Theoret has been in the golf and golf travel industry for over 12 years, primarily selling online advertising. For the past seven years, he has also been a golf writer, reviewing golf courses, resorts, destinations, equipment, golf apparel, and training aids – the latter of which never seems to help. What started as a dream years ago, by God’s grace, became a reality in 2015 when The Golfin’ Guy editorial marketing company was founded. Working together with golf course designer Ron Garl; David’s articles and reviews have been posted on many golf travel, equipment, and apparel websites.

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