Saddlebrook Resort is a Premier Residential Community

Chances are you haven’t visited Saddlebrook Resort—yet. Chances are you will be considering just such a visit, for Saddlebrook is one exceptional resort—as you will soon discover.

Saddlebrook is located in Wesley Chapel, Florida, just north of Tampa, and few regions in the world can compare with either the Tampa area’s wealth of golf courses that number close to 100 or the temperate climate that keeps those courses open 365 days a year.

Saddlebrook has been one of Florida’s premier residential communities, resorts, and conference centers since 1981 and has been in the vanguard with its world-class amenities in offering luxurious lifestyles and vacations to families, couples, and men’s and women’s groups. The centerpieces of the 480-acre, gated property are two 18-hole Arnold Palmer Signature layouts, 45 tennis courts in every Grand Slam surface, a 500,000 gallon Superpool with hot tubs, a European-style Spa, a state-of-the-art fitness center, scenic walking and jogging and biking trails, and award-winning restaurants.

Saddlebrook has been named one of the “Top 100 Golf Resorts in in North America, The Caribbean and The Atlantic, Ireland and Scotland” by Condé Nast Traveler, has been listed among the “Top 25 Tennis Resorts in the World” by Tennis Resorts Online, and has received 27 Pinnacle Awards from Successful Meetings. In 1992, the Saddlebrook Preparatory School was founded to offer student-athletes a comprehensive educational experience with concurrent enrollment in either the Saddlebrook Tennis Program or the Saddlebrook Golf Academy.

The Outdoor Adventures Within

Saddlebrook is in Pasco County, part of a nine-county outdoor lover’s paradise that is called the “Nature Coast,” and the resort sits within a secure nature preserve that is a certified Florida Green Lodging property. Saddlebrook owner and developer Thomas L. Dempsey envisioned just such a setting for his resort so that guests could experience a side of Florida’s environment that many had never seen before.

Saddlebrook is the private haunt of abundant wildlife that thrives because of the preservation of surrounding bass-filled lakes and woodlands of swaying palms, large oaks, and stately cypress trees. Guests will share their space with such colorful characters as alligators, otters, sandhill cranes, wood storks, great blue herons, and snowy egrets to name a few of the natives. Certainly, such a pristine backdrop would be a welcome relief for New England golfers or any other souls in search of a golf escape from that long November through March stretch.

These wood storks and their babies are only a small part of the harmony that exists between Saddlebrook Resort and the nature preserve throughout it.

In keeping with its emphasis on “natural” surroundings, Saddlebrook is designed around a car-free Walking Village that allows guests to walk easily throughout the resort and the sanctuary. Everything that you need—golf, tennis, pool, restaurants, spa—is just a nearby stroll. You will abandon your car to the valet parkers upon arrival and not need it again until you leave.

On a most positive note, the entire staff at Saddlebrook, from valet to front desk to wait staff to all professional personnel to housekeeping, is as courteous and competent as you will find at any resort anywhere.

The Challenge of the Saddlebrook Course

The two most important parts of all this flourishing Florida countryside to our golf brethren, of course, are the courses themselves. And Saddlebrook has two of Arnold Palmer’s best, both having undergone recent and extensive renovations. These two represent the Palmer magic at work and why almost everyone without exception enjoys his inspirations. It’s nice to be able to remember The King through his efforts.

The Saddlebrook Course wends its way through towering oaks and cypress trees, lagoons, marshes, and preserve. It presents a splendid challenge that would seem to belie the unassuming length from the tips of 6,480 yards. This challenge, however, is easier to understand when you realize that par is 70 and that most of the length comes from the 12 par fours, with only two par fives. The CR of 72.3 and 142 Slope support this challenge. The three other sets of tees—5,869, 5.349, and 4,722 yards—allow you to find the distance just right for your game.

The long carry over the lagoon on the 3rd hole on Saddlebrook makes it a lovely but difficult hole.

What Arnold has created is a shot maker’s delight with his use of water hazards, marshes, and bunkers off the tee and around the green complexes. The greens are rarely flat, and the obvious contours suggest that the ball should remain below the hole. Three of the four par-3’s are over 200 yards (the 12th is a mere 144 yards), and the 3rd hole at 203 yards is superb because the tee shot must carry the lagoon that goes all the way to the green. Arnold’s diversity of par-4’s, many of them doglegs, is visually pleasing, and with six holes near 400 yards or above, two less than 330 yards, and four in the 370 range, you will use every club in the bag on these holes alone. The two par-5’s, one at 544 yards and the other at 500, are not really reachable in two.

he long second shot to the par 4 18th on Saddlebrook must carry a lagoon and avoid the traps surrounding the green.

The signature hole on the Saddlebrook Course is the 429-yard 18th, although the 392-yard dogleg right 9th hole with a difficult second shot over water is a favorite, too. On 18, the drive must finds its way through the chute of trees and avoid the three fairway bunkers. The green is hidden behind and to the right of a large lagoon, and what is not water is greenside bunker with only a small area to run the ball on if your long iron or fairway metal cannot carry the huge, double-tiered green. It is a great finishing hole.

The Finesse on the Palmer Course

The Palmer Course is shorter at 6,273 yards from the tips but is a par 71 with a third par 5 making the difference. It is a test of finesse and a fun layout to attack. The course is more open without the fairway-lined trees, the driving areas are more generous, and the greens tend to be more elevated and undulating. The ball does not always find a level lie in the fairway or around the green complexes as the fairways have been slanted to resemble our own rolling New England courses.

Tough Bermuda rough will tangle the club on full shots and chips, so hitting fairways and greens is the optimal plan. Palmer has still utilized the palm trees, the bunkers, the lagoons, and marshes to make shot planning the primary factor in scoring low. The CR of 72.5 and Slope of 136 proves that the Palmer Course is not a push over.

Looking back from the fifth green on the Palmer to the demanding second shot. Mr. Dempsey’s house is to the right of the fairway.

Mr. Dempsey lives just to the left of the fifth hole. He has a grand view of one of the best par 4’s on the course. At 361 yards, the hole requires a drive somewhere dry and in play and then an accurate iron over a large lagoon to a smaller, well-trapped green. I also like the par-5 eighth, a sharp dogleg right that can be reached in two if a power fade gets you well around the corner. Water comes into play on the third shot to an elevated, undulating green.

The backside is noteworthy for the back-to-back 12th and 13th holes. The former is a dogleg left at only 379 yards. The drive is hit up an inclined fairway that slopes hard right and could bring the lagoon into play with a wayward roller. The second shot is severely downhill to a narrow, well-trapped green that has that lagoon still protecting the right side of the hole.

The view from from the 12th green to the 13th hole shows the formidable tee shot that needs to be negotiated.

The 13th is a lovely par 3 of only 156 yards, but that tee shot is all carry over that same pernicious lagoon to another elevated, undulating green. Miss short or right and you’re wet; miss left and you’re in one of two bunkers. The Tif-eagle greens are fast and true on the Palmer Course, and once you play the layout, you’ll want to go back for more.

Thanks, Arnold, for these two gems, and we sure do miss you.

Using the Golf Training Center and Range

In addition to the 36 holes, the golf experience at Saddlebrook Resort includes the 16-acre Golf Training Center and Range, an outstanding practice and instructional facility. An enormous driving range with multiple target greens allows you to warm up prior to the round or just to work on your full swing. For your short game, a putting green, a chipping green, and a wedge green from 20-100 yards are also at your beck and call.

Lessons can be arranged with the PGA professionals on staff. The Lesson Tee is a stand alone area strictly for lessons. It includes uphill and downhill lies if those stances are something that need improvement, and the lessons can also utilize the latest in technology. TrackMan provides data about your moment of impact; SAM [Science and Motion] BalanceLab measures the motion and weight transfer in your swing; SAM PuttLab measures all relevant putting aspects.

Deluxe Hotel Rooms for When the Day Ends

The day begins and ends in one of Saddlebrook’s 540 recently refurbished deluxe hotel rooms that are located in low-rise buildings in and around the Walking Village, the golf courses, the tennis courts, and the preserve. More than 75% of all accommodations are either one- or two-bedroom suites but all lodging contains a private patio or balcony.

The luxury lodging in the low rise buildings is just one of the amenities that makes Saddlebrook a world-class resort.

The single Guest Room is a spacious bedroom with two double beds, a marble bath, HDTV and WiFi. The suites offer expanded comfort and space with a living room, a separate dining area, a fully-equipped kitchen and serving bar, and two HDTV’s. The one bedroom has two double beds, and the two bedroom has one king and one queen and two marble baths.

Myriad Dining Options Abound

Saddlebrook Resort offers some of the finest dining in the Tampa Bay area. In between rising and resting, a variety of restaurants—from Superpool-side casual to resort elegant—will provide for all your gustatory needs, each one with its own distinctive ambiance and menu. Also, room Service is available 24/7.

The Coffee Bar is a great place to start the day with a latte and a breakfast sandwich. Just steps from the lobby is Tropics Restaurant (indoors) and Terrace (outdoors) that overlooks the 18th green and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Tropics Lounge is a peaceful venue with an eclectic food menu served until midnight and with entertainment and dancing nightly. Dempsey’s Too, next to Tropics, also provides indoor and outdoor seating and fine food throughout the day.

The Superpool is in the center of the Walking Village and is also a center of attention for the guests.

The Poolside Café is located beside the Superpool and is a favorite dining spot for the sun worshippers to get their breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. The grilled hot dogs are scrumptious as is the rest of the Café’s “Floribbean” cuisine. The Pool Bar is the meeting place for those with tropical drinks on their minds.

With its relaxed, informal setting, Dempsey’s Steak House is well known for its prime, aged beef, fresh seafood dishes, table-side Caesar, and extensive wine list. Another option is to watch professional and college games on the ubiquitous TV’s at TD’s Sports Bar, contiguous to Dempsey’s, while enjoying beer, cocktails, hearty snacks, and the full Steak House menu after six pm.

Getting There

Saddlebrook Resort is conveniently located one mile east of I-75 at Exit 279, which is 30 minutes north of Tampa International Airport. Non-stop transportation services to/from Tampa International Airport can be booked by Saddlebrook’s Transportation Concierge. Saddlebrook is 90 minutes from Orlando, 50 minutes from the Gulf Beaches, and 20 minutes from Busch Gardens and other area attractions.

For more information about Saddlebrook, to learn about golf packages, or to book reservations, access the website at www.saddlebrook.com.

(Superpool photo courtesy of Saddlebrook. All other photos by Vicky MacKay.)