Bloomingdale Golfers Club. If you're looking for a tough-but-not-too-tough course that's not too far of a drive from your hotel, this is probably the spot for you. Notable for its par-fives, this is a course where you'll be reward for your strategy rather than your ability to shoot straight and far. As you play, keep an eye out for wildlife peeking out from the long patches of wilderness that line much of this course. If you want to brush up on your skills before tee time, there's a 1,000-square-foot putting green as well as a driving range. 4113 Great Golfers Pl., Valrico, FL, 33596. 813/685–4105. www.bloomingdalegolf.com. $60. 18 holes, 7155 yds, par 72.
The Claw at USF. Named for its many dog-legged fairways, this University of South Florida course is one of the most challenging public courses in the area. Live oaks as well as cypress and pine trees line the tight twists and turns of the fairways. This is one of the few places in Tampa Bay where you'll find deer grazing along the fairway (especially early in the morning) and gators sunning themselves next to the course's ponds. You'll also find a driving range and a golf shop. After you play, grab a beer at Rocky's Sports Grill, where you'll be able to catch the game on one of several flat- or plasma-screen TVs. 13801 N. 46th St., North Tampa, Tampa, FL, 33613. 813/632–6893. www.theclawatusfgolf.com. $20–$45. 18 holes, 6863 yards, par 71.
The Club at Eaglebrooke. With six sets of tees on each hole, this links-style, Ron Garl–designed course about 30 miles east of Tampa via Interstate 4 was specially designed with senior golfers, and players of every level, in mind. And while you can choose your level of difficulty here, the elevation varies by some 100 feet throughout the course. The scenic centerpiece here is the 13th hole, which has an "island fairway" connected to the green and other parts of the course by bridge. There's also a golf shop on-site, but the clubhouse is for members only. 1300 Eaglebrooke Blvd., Lakeland, FL, 33813. 863/701–0101. www.eaglebrooke.com. $40–$80. 18 holes, 7030 yards, par 72.
Saddlebrook Golf Club. This expansive complex half an hour northeast of Tampa offers not one but two courses designed by Arnold Palmer. The Palmer Golf Course's hilly terrain contrasts with Tampa Bay's generally flat landscape, and it make you think you're playing on a course somewhere in New England. With its Spanish moss–draped cypress hammocks, the Saddlebrook Golf Course has more of an Old Florida feel to it. As you make your way past this course's green ponds, keep an eye out for turtles—and gators. There's also a golf shop, driving range, on-site pros, and, if you're aching from a grueling day on the course, a luxury spa on the resort property. Saddlebrook Resort, 5700 Saddlebrook Way, Wesley Chapel, FL, 33543. 813/973–1111. www.saddlebrook.com. $50–$145 (varies seasonally). Palmer Course: 18 holes, 6243 yards, par 71; Saddlebrook Course: 18 holes, 6480 yards, par 70.
Tournament Players Club of Tampa Bay. A stop along the PGA Champion's Tour, this public course sits about 15 miles north of Tampa. It was designed by Bobby Weed with consultation from Chi Chi Rodriguez and is laid out along natural wetlands, which means you can spot plenty of local wildlife as you play. The course was designed to be challenging while still giving novices a fair shake. Practice ahead of time at the driving, chipping, or putting range. There's a golf shop on-site as well as the TPC Grille Room, where you can grab a cold one after your game. 5300 W. Lutz Lake Fern Rd., Lutz, FL, 33558. 813/949–0090. www.tpctampabay.com. $85–$165. 18 holes, 6898 yards, par 71.
Westchase Golf Club. Touted for its low price and its beauty, this course gets high marks from locals and visitors alike. It's situated amid an expansive upscale residential development about 10 minutes north of Tampa, but it is still reasonably close to Clearwater. Among this wooded course's more challenging quirks is the 3rd hole, which is a par-3 played over water. Golfers rotate from the back 9 holes to the front 9 here, and you can enjoy food and drink at the massive clubhouse overlooking the 9th and 18th greens. 11602 Westchase Golf Dr., Westchase, Tampa, FL, 33626. 813/854–2331. www.westchasegc.com. $41–$94. 18 holes, 6699 yards, par 72.