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10 reasons for a golf vacation to Florida's Sarasota/Bradenton area

Ed SchmidtBy Ed Schmidt,
Sarasota, Florida
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Beyond golf, the Sarasota/Bradenton boasts great beaches, boutique shopping and al fresco dining, and much more. (Courtesy photo)

Finding a golf course to play in the Sarasota/Bradenton area 45 miles south of Tampa is easy, and when the last putt hits the bottom of the cup for the day there's a lot to do.

World-ranked beaches, European-style boutique shopping and al fresco dining, and a fantastic circus museum are just a few of the choices available for off-the-course entertainment.

Here are 10 reasons to plan a golf vacation to the Sarasota/Bradenton area:

1. Extensive menu of golf courses

There are nearly 50 courses in this golf-crazed region. Utilizing lakes, preserved wetlands, and palm- and palmetto-dotted terrain, designers have fashioned courses that are challenging, scenic and memorable. Your biggest problem -- aside from dropping 12-foot birdie putts -- will be deciding where to tee up with so many great choices.

Heading the list of high-profile options are Bobcat Trail, Heron Creek Golf & Country Club, River Strand Golf & Country Club, River Wilderness Golf & Country Club, Legacy Golf Club, University Park Country Club and TPC Prestancia.

2. Amazing variety of golf in all price categories

One of the area's strong appeals is the golf possibilities at a wide variety of price points. Highlighting the less than $40 greens fee options are Tatum Ridge Golf Links, a Scottish-style links course accented by preserved wetlands and 11 lakes; River Run Golf Links, a popular, palm-dotted municipal layout; Stoneybrook Golf Club at Heritage Harbour, an Arthur Hills design with lots of great risk/reward holes and the IMG Academy Golf Club, a Mark McCumber/Gene Bates design.

3. Exceptional course architects

Highly regarded, Florida-based course architects such as Ted McAnlis, Gordon Lewis, Ron Garl and Jed Azinger (Paul's brother) have designed courses in this region. Among the other notable designers are Arnold Palmer, Bob Tway and Mark McCumber.

4. Great 19th holes

Whether you need a great spot to celebrate a birdiefest or a comfort zone to drown your sorrows, Sarasota/Bradenton has many excellent clubhouse grills and lounges and locally owned pubs. Some of the more popular pubs are MacAllisters Grill & Tavern at Lakewood Ranch, a Scottish-themed restaurant serving favorites such as a lamb burger, Scotch egg and single malt whiskies; Geckos Grill & Pub, home to the bacon-wrapped Bison meatloaf; and Meadows Village Pub, where the fish and chips, lamb chops and pub chips are the magnets.

5. Amazing beaches

Blindingly white sands and turquoise water dominate this area's beautiful and pristine beaches. When you're ready to twinkle your toes in the sand and forget about those errant approach shots, the impressive selection includes Anna Marie Beach, which has spectacular views of Tampa Bay and the Skyway Bridge; Siesta Beach, which has been rated the "No. 1 Beach in the U.S. by Dr. Beach"; and Lido Beach, located a few steps from St. Armand's Circle.

6. Shopping and dining at St. Armand's Circle

For non-golf playing spouses and golfers as well, this luxury shopping and dining area has a wealth of activities. Exuding a European ambiance, the promenade leading from the circle is lined with sidewalk cafes, restaurants, art galleries, jewelry shops and upscale boutique shops. Lush foliage engulfing courtyards and patios and statues contribute to the international flavor of this special place.

7. John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

This expansive estate created by the noted circus impresario encompasses an opulent mansion, a one-of-a-kind museum with circus memorabilia and artifacts, an art museum and Asolo Theater. If you love the circus, the Circus Museum is a great place to visit in between rounds of golf. There are interactive activities where you can walk a wire or squeeze into a clown car and things such as wardrobes, props, parade wagons, art prints and vintage photos.

8. Cultural capital

Sarasota is renowned as the Florida cultural capital with professional symphony, opera and ballet companies, 10 live performance theaters and more than 30 art galleries.

9. Restaurants

From waterside, fried shrimp-in-a-basket places to award-winning gourmet restaurants and everything in between, this area accommodates a wide variety of tastes.

10. Easy access

Sarasota is three miles north and Bradenton is six miles south of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. Tampa International Airport is about a one-hour drive from the area. Sarasota and Bradenton are easily accessible by automobile via Interstate-75, the main north-south arterial in southwest Florida.

More photos

Heron Creek Golf & C.C. - Marsh Course - 8thRiver Strand Golf and C.C. - Sanctuary Course - 3rdSiesta Beach

Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.

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