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Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club has Marilyn Monroe, ghosts galore and tight fairways

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club
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The Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club has excellent greens. (Tim McDOnald/WorldGolf.com)

The Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club is a short, Florida golf course that makes up for its lack of length with near-pristine conditioning, excellent service and a number of engaging holes.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The story of the Vinoy Hotel dates back to 1923 when Walter Hagen, well into a night of hard partying with some rich buddies, claimed that if he could tee off on a friend's pocket watch without breaking the crystal, then surely his deep-pocket friends could build a grand resort on the property, hard by Tampa Bay.

To make a long story short, he did and they did.

The resort has had a long, interesting history since, including hell-raising by Babe Ruth, Marilyn Monroe and Jimmy Stewart, as well as intermittent ghost sightings. It's also the visiting team's hotel for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The golf course, which used to be known as the Sunset Golf and Country Club, now sits about a mile away from the hotel, and its elaborate clubhouse fits in well with the ornate architecture of the old hotel.

You'll get the same kind of attentive service at the golf course as you do at the hotel, including iced, scented towels and ice water waiting for you in your cart.

Noted Florida golf course architect Ron Garl restored Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club and he did an excellent job with the space he had to work with.

The course measures only 6,581 yards from the back, or gold, tees, so Garl tried to make it challenging for the modern golfer by using the nine lakes on the layout, as well as bunkers only slightly smaller than Tampa Bay itself.

Beware courses that call them "beach bunkers." You could hold beach parties in some of these bunkers, which Garl is known for.

"It's short, but it can bite you," said St. Pete resident Marty Schneider.

In addition to all the water and sand, the golf course has some very narrow fairways, including the par-5 ninth hole, whose shortness - 465 yards - is made up for by a fairway that is roughly equivalent in length to a bowling lane.

Space was also saved by the sharing of a couple of greens and tees. You don't find much open land near downtown St. Pete.

The greens may be the best part of this lovely, scenic golf course. They are in near-pristine condition and roll very fast. They have good movement but don't overwhelm you with slope or undulation, except for the par-5 seventh, which is a hard-sloping, two-tiered number.

Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club: The verdict

The Renaissance Vinoy is a very scenic layout, despite the homes that line many of the fairways, the course being in an older, settled part of town. The conditioning is excellent throughout, and the subtle landscaping, with purple, red and yellow flowers, adds to the color.

Despite its shortness, there are a number of holes that can be difficult, like the par-5 seventh, which has a crazy green with bunkers starting about 80 yards out, as well as the par-5 16th, with its island green, and No. 18, another three-shotter.

The par 3s are nice, especially No. 13, a 171-yard shot over a mangrove swamp, and No. 17, a lovely little hole over more water to a contoured green.

St. Petersburg/Clearwater lodging

The Beach Place in Madeira Beach is the place you want to be if you want to gaze at the broad expanse of the Gulf of Mexico after your golf game.

The Beach Place, together with Sandy Shores next door, has individually owned and newly furnished condos, from one bedroom up to three. You can lay in bed, turn your head and see the sun setting over the Gulf - and occasionally watch dolphins feeding close to shore - the condos are that close to the beach. You can also watch as boats head out to the Gulf through the channel a few hundred yards away.

They're located in Johns Pass, a little village that both tourists and locals like to visit, with all the little shops and restaurants. No need for a car here, just walk across the street.

If you're too lazy to walk or drive, you can catch the beach trolley that runs right past the front doors of the condos. The trolley can take you to Pass-A-Grille to the south or up to Sand Key.

Combined, there are 60 condos overlooking both the Gulf and a swimming pool. The condos have private balconies, fully equipped kitchens and wireless Internet access. There is also a sundeck and beachfront picnic area. Your towel is reserved for you.

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Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club - No. 9Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club - No. 18

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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

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