Through the course of time the list of great golf course architects is long. On this list you have to include the likes of Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast, Alistair Mackenzie, Stanley Thompson, and Robert Trent Jones Sr. Yes there are plenty of others but this article is about a design by the latter.
Just south of Tampa, Florida sits Apollo Beach. The area is home to a lovely nature preserve full of fishing opportunities, a nice beach (with some amenities) and last but certainly not least the Manatee Viewing Center presented by TECO (Tampa Electric company). Also in Apollo Beach is a golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr that bears the name of the community in its title. Apollo Beach Golf Club was built in 1968 and is dubbed as a “Robert Trent Jones Sr Signature Golf Course”. From the tips the course features a course and slope rating of 73.9/127. Facilities at Apollo Beach includes a driving range, short game practice area, putting green, restaurant and snack bar. Of course there is the obligatory Pro Shop.
In Florida, many golf courses wrap around some sort of community and for the most part Apollo Beach Golf Club does not fall into this grouping. On the front nine houses line the first fairway only as far as the mangrove/canal) goes and then you don’t see houses again until around the 5th hole but even then the houses in the area don’t really encroach on the golf course itself. There is a true sense of being out-of-doors amongst nature.
Apollo Beach Golf Club features a beautiful layout with well-bunkered green complexes where many of the putting surfaces are slightly elevated when compared to the fairways. The putting surfaces themselves (Tifdwarf) are better than average size and if approach shots aren’t close you’ll be rewarded (or penalized depending on your view) with long two putts. Apollo Beach Golf Club was one of the first courses in Florida to use Paspalum grass which is a special strain that thrives in saltwater areas.
Having dispensed with the need to knows here are my experiences based on what I found at Apollo Beach Golf Club. I feel that this review really needs to start from the curb. Much can be said about the way something looks from the street… think of “curb appeal” when purchasing a house. While the clubhouse seems adequate enough I actually had an issue with the state of the flags flying in front of the clubhouse. In particular the POW flag was tattered and torn. I appreciate the military (past, present and future) and the ownership would be well-served to do them the service and respect of flying colors that are in a better state or repair. Walking into the clubhouse I was met by an empty dining room but in fairness the weather was cold for Florida (64*F) and the parking lot (also empty) was proof as such. The staff inside was friendly enough based on my brief encounter with them (only for payment). But off to the course I went.
Like I mentioned the first fairway doesn’t have houses lining it the entire length and the fairway itself was very forgiving for a first tee shot of the day. There was room to miss and a miss wouldn’t be severely punished whether you missed left or right. On the course there is a fair amount of water and bunkers in play. Always remember… don’t focus on the hazards, Really poor shots could find water (some of which are mangrove-like) but all in all the hazards to add to the beauty of the golf course. There is a lot of beauty to be seen in the layout at Apollo Beach Golf Club but this is a course that requires a fair amount of TLC. Regardless of the rains the previous day there were no signs of the bunkers being maintained as even the edges looked shabby and unkempt. Perhaps I caught Apollo Beach Golf Club at a bad time but it had me wondering what kind of course maintenance budget the course Superintendent had. My recommendation is if they don’t have the budget to maintain bunkers… fill some in. Often recreational golfers have no clue how much it costs to maintain bunkers. I’m basing this fact on my history as a Director of Golf.
I realize that in the northern hemisphere it is currently winter and that means that grasses go dormant. Regardless, I thought that the course was in relatively poor condition and I find it concerning when there isn’t a ball washer to be seen. There are finished cart paths that go around the entire golf course but many of these are also in need of care. When paying greens fees I care about two things in particular. How are the tee areas and the greens? The tees and greens were average and the greens did roll okay. Speaking of the green fees. I thought that this course (a walk up rate at 4 p.m) at $25 USD (with cart) for 9 holes was too much for what you were getting in return. It’s minor but at that price I do expect a windshield on my golf cart. If there isn’t a windshield on a cart… take it out of the rotation especially when it’s quiet.
Honestly, I’ve wanted to play this golf course for six years and I think it will be another six years before I would look at it again. Some things need to happen to this Robert Trent Jones Sr design and one of those things is that it needs an influx of money somehow or perhaps new ownership. Charging golfers a price like they did at a time of the day like that is no way for a course to make money. I truly wish Apollo Beach Golf Club a healthy turnaround. I would have loved to see this golf course 15 to 20 years ago.
Until The Next Tee!!