By Jeffrey R. Orenstein and Virginia Orenstein
Are you interested in a PGA Tour-class golf vacation under the Florida sun? How about one that also has abundant nearby attractions, including the Gulf of Mexico, to delight family members who might not be avid golfers?
If that tempts you, then a few days at Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort in Palm Harbor, a suburb north of St. Petersburg, Fla., should be high on your list.
On the drive from St. Petersburg, you pass through mile after mile of suburbia, replete with strip malls, fast food joints, national chain stores and restaurants. But the environment changes dramatically as soon as you pass through the gates of the resort, not far off the main highway.
Suddenly, you are in a decidedly non-urban setting of 900 acres of rolling hills and lakes and beautiful golf courses surrounded by stands of oak and pine. It looks more like a Carolina plantation than a stereotypical Florida golf course. There are few palm trees and no neo-Spanish architecture. Once you check in to one of the more than 600 guest suites, you can leave the car parked in front of your residence since the entire property is linked by round-the-clock free shuttles that operate on call and usually arrive within five minutes of being summoned.
For the golfers in the family, there are four championship-caliber courses on the property that are highly rated by golf magazines. The Copperhead course is the site of the annual Valspar Championship on the PGA tour in March and is, to say the least, challenging.
For those who like to be pampered, the resort’s Salamander Spa is on a par with the best, offering a full range of spa treatments by appointment for guests. Innisbrook also has four on-site restaurants overlooking the scenic highlights of the property, each offering a different style of cuisine.
But there is more in store for visitors. The resort is a few short miles from Gulf of Mexico beaches and picturesque coastal towns like Tarpon Springs, both of which are linked to Innisbrook by the free shuttle.
If you want more food and shopping than are available at the resort, you are within a short drive to Palm Harbor’s strip malls and chain restaurants and close to Greek food in Tarpon Springs. You are also not very far from Clearwater and St. Pete Beach beaches, restaurants and resorts.
If museums, culture or fine dining are what you are after, the Tampa Bay area is an easy day trip, where such attractions abound and attract throngs of visitors on their own right. Whether you are seeking St. Petersburg’s huge selection of downtown waterfront restaurants or deep sea fishing, watersports or museums, you are in the right place. You can even take a ferry across the bay between the St. Pete waterfront and downtown Tampa and see the sights from the water.
Before You Go, Check Out …
- Innisbrook can be easily reached by highway, air, cruise ship or train.
- The resort is near two major airports. Tampa International (TPA), 25 miles away, is a large international airport with excellent connections. St. Pete-Clearwater (PIE), 17 miles away, has more limited service.
- By train, the Tampa Amtrak station is 27 miles away, offering service to New York, Miami and points in between.
- By car, the resort is just off U.S. 19. I-275 and 1-75 are close by.
- Tampa’s cruise port is about 30 miles away and serves Cuba, Mexico and the Caribbean.
If You’re Only There for a Short Trip
- Play one or more of Innisbrook’s four courses, especially the Copperhead Course, site of the PGA Valspar Open in March.
- Eat lunch or dinner at one of excellent Innisbrook’s on-site restaurants
If You Only Have Two or Three Days
- Visit Tarpon Springs, a Greek-themed seaport with operating sponge docks. It’s just 3 miles away and connected by shuttle to Innisbrook.
- Experience the on-site Salamander Spa.
- Dine at other on-site resort restaurants or in Clearwater or St. Pete Beach
If You Have Several Days:
- Enjoy downtown St. Petersburg’s waterfront and restaurants.
- Check out Tampa’s museums, Ybor City or the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.
- Visit spring training (Phillies, Yankees and Blue Jays), regular-season Tampa Bay Rays baseball, the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NHL’s Lightning games, depending on the season.
- Do a day trip to Gulfport, a kitschy and picturesque town on the bay.
- Go to Busch Gardens in Tampa.
- Experience Sarasota’s cultural attractions (ballet, opera, art, orchestra, etc.), which are about 60 miles away.
- Have fun at Orlando’s theme parks, which are about 100 miles away.
Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing the Simply Smart Travel Way for Innisbrook and Tampa Bay
- Smart-casual is the order of the day. Restaurants at the resort, museums and in downtown St. Pete and Tampa generally do not require a tie or a dressy outfit. If you’re heading for the beach or golf, pack appropriately. Bring sunscreen year-round.
This Destinationat a Glance
Mobility Level: Low, not including serious golf
When to Go: Year-round. Summers are hot and sticky; late fall, winter and early spring are gorgeous.
Where to Stay: At the Innisbrook Resort. Off-site, national hotel chains are in St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
Special Travel Interests: Golf, beaches, spa
Jewish Pinellas County, Florida
The area surrounding Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort in Pinellas County, Fla., has a significant Jewish population, second in the state only to the West Palm Beach to Miami area on the Atlantic coast.
Most permanent Jewish residents have resettled in the Tampa Bay region from the Northeast and the Midwest, and the Jewish population swells in the winter with thousands of part-time resident “snowbird” Jews from the U.S. and Canada who enjoy the sunshine and mild climate.
St. Petersburg and Pinellas County have about 27,000 full-time-resident Jews (2.9 percent of the population) and Tampa and Hillsborough County across the bay are nearly 2 percent Jewish with about 23,500 in the population. Another 8,400 Jews (1.8 percent) live in Pasco County to the north of Pinellas.
Tampa was the early Jewish center in the region. Pinellas/St. Petersburg Jewish settlers in the area date to the early 1900s, and at least one family lived in Tarpon Springs in the first few years of the 20th century. The first Pinellas temple, Conservative Congregation B’nai Israel, was formed in 1923. Five years later, Reform congregation Temple Beth-El was formed. Today, it serves about 600 families and has a religious school.
Pinellas County is home to the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, dating from 1960, a Jewish day school, a Jewish center in Clearwater and the TOP Jewish Foundation. It has 11 Jewish congregations, of which three are Conservative, two are Orthodox, and one is independent.
Pinellas also has at least three grocery stores catering to those who keep kosher, a fairly large Jewish housing complex for the aged, a biweekly Jewish newspaper and the fourth-largest Holocaust museum in the nation, flholocaustmuseum.org, located in downtown St. Petersburg.
Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Fla.