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Tough draw: Curving your shots helps at challenging East Bay Golf Club near St. Petersburg, Florida

Jeff BerlinickeBy Jeff Berlinicke,
East Bay Golf Club - 18th
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The closing hole at East Bay Golf Club has very little room for error. (Jeff Berlinicke/TravelGolf)

LARGO, Fla. -- The 6,451-yard layout at East Bay Golf Club might not seem daunting at first, but don't let the size fool you.

Most holes make you keep the driver in the bag, and, if you can't curve you tee shots, you're in for a long day. There is water on 14 holes, and it comes into play on each of them. The greens are tight and usually fronted by deep bunkers. Almost all of the holes are dogleg left or right, and most of them require the player to decide how much water to cut off on the drive.

It helps to come to East Bay knowing how to play a draw since most of the doglegs go right to left.

Safety comes first at East Bay, starting on the third hole, a 339-yard par 4 with a 90-degree dogleg left. A bomber could conceivably go for it, but bunkers are on the left and right of the green, and the water goes all the way down the left side to the pin. No. 3 is like many of the holes at East Bay. The key is to keep the driver in the bag and leave a mid- to short-iron to the green. Strategy, not strength, is the secret to East Bay.

"It's challenging but fair," said Ken Bladen, a staff member at East Bay. "You don't need to crush it, so playing it safe makes it a little easier, but it really can play tough."

East Bay Golf Club: Tough play ahead

East Bay is also a course that gets tougher as the round goes on. After an easy par-4 fourth, East Bay starts to show its teeth. At 533 yards, No. 5 is the longest hole in the course -- a long dogleg left that requires a three iron, at most, off the tee. But if you want to get close, try a precise long iron.

No. 8 plays as the toughest hole at East Bay. Once again, it is a dogleg left with water down the right. It goes 454 yards with a tight landing area and a small green.

The back nine starts off easy until No. 16, a 435-yard par 4 that is the hardest on the side. Another dogleg left, a drive down the right side will end up in the sand. A careful approach is a must since water runs behind the green and to the right. The closing hole is a 521-yard par 5 with water on both sides running down the fairway and the tightest landing area on the course.

East Bay is a favorite of local golfers. Located just outside of St. Petersburg, it has a loyal following and gets plenty of visitors to the St. Pete-Clearwater area. It's also got a reputation for being one of the best-maintained courses in all of Tampa Bay.

"We are always in great shape, and we take good care of it," Bladen said, "even during the summer."

Summers in Florida can make it difficult to maintain a golf course, since it is usually baking under the sun or soaked with Florida's daily thunderstorms. A recent round at East Bay was rained out with standing water everywhere, but the following morning it was as if the storm never happened.

"I've been playing here for a long time, and it's always in good shape," said Clearwater's Donald Martino, hanging out in the pro shop during the storm. "They do a great job, and if we get rained out today, it will be fine tomorrow. It's a fun course."

His wife, Hannah, said they get used to not setting up afternoon tee times when they play, because that's when the rain usually hits, but she and her husband still give it a shot whenever they can.

East Bay offers a driving range and two putting greens, as well as a Pro Shot GPS system, which, amazingly, isn't offered at all of Florida's upscale golf courses. Architect William Mitchell designed the course in 1961, making it one of the older courses in the Tampa Bay area, but it held up well for more than 50 years.

East Bay Golf Club: The verdict

Even at its short length, East Bay Golf Club plays as tough as any club in the Tampa Bay area.

While many courses can't handle the Florida heat and rain during the summer, East Bay recovers quickly from anything Mother Nature throws at it. It's a true test for anyone who can't play a decent draw, so practice the mid-irons before heading out, and it's also one of the best bargains in the Tampa Bay area.

It's only minutes from the St. Pete beaches, so there's plenty to do after the end of the round.

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East Bay Golf Club - 8thEast Bay Golf Club - 14th

Jeff Berlinicke is a golf writer based in Tampa, Fla. He writes for multiple publications including the Tampa Tribune, Golf Fitness Magazine, and the Associated Press. He has also received multiple honors from the Florida Press Association.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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