An introduction to Clearwater
In this blog post we’re going to explore some of the finest golf courses in Clearwater. This gorgeous destination is right on the Gulf of Mexico, to the west of the major hub of Tampa.
Due to its location, this is a year-round holiday destination. The winters are mild and the summers never get blisteringly hot. This is probably why this whole stretch of coastline is so popular for golf.
Clearwater is renowned state-wide for having miles upon miles of magnificent beaches.
Foremost amongst these has to be Clearwater Beach and Pier 60. This is the perfect spot to spend an afternoon after playing golf. It also happens to be one of the most popular places to watch the sunset.
One place you have to visit, especially if you’re a fan of craft beer, is the Big Storm Brewing Co. This vast multi-award winning brewery has ample space to accommodate groups with plenty of seating and large TVs showing live sports.
All in all Clearwater is a wonderful location and an incredibly popular tourist destination
The best private golf courses in Clearwater, Florida
1. Belleair Country Club
We kick off this list of best golf courses in Clearwater with Belleair Country Club. A visit to play golf at Belleair is to expose yourself to the history of golf in Florida.
There are two championship golf courses at Belleair; the West and East Courses. It is widely accepted that the West Course, or certainly a previous incarnation of it, was the first golf course in Florida.
Way back in 1897, Belleair Country Club was created as a winter golf resort by Henry Bradley Plant, the founder of the Plant system of railroads. The West Course originally started with just six holes, growing slowly over the following decade. In 1909, it became eighteen holes whilst in 1915, the second eighteen opened.
This was a time when Belleair really took a step up in quality and prestige, having invited the great Donald Ross to design the thirty six holes. Ross’ career was really up and running at this point, some 7 years after having completed the No. 2 course at Pinehurst. So this was a real coup for the club.
What is special here, is that the courses you play today are largely those designed by Ross over 100 years ago. Both are wonderful, benefitting from excellent views over Clearwater Bay.
The West course is without doubt the toughest of the two, not just the fact it is some 859 yards longer, but with a tougher layout to contend with. This is also in part due to the unique topography of the course, which is quite rare in central Florida.
Beautiful oaks are dotted along the fairways and the conditioning is second to none. This is a fine private course and you’ll be in for a treat with a day spent here!
2. Countryside Country Club
North up the peninsula, driving away from Clearwater, you’ll find the splendid Countryside Country Club. You’re looking at about a 20 minute drive from downtown.
Countryside Country Club is a private member’s club, which effectively provides an upscale ‘home away from home’ for families. There are multiple facilities including 14 tennis courts, state-of-the-art fitness center, luxury spa facilities and great dining options.
But to round it all off are 27 holes of golf designed by the great Gary Player. These are called Bayhead, Lake and Pine.
The course originally opened in 1977 and was designed by Larry Packard. And more recently in 2018, it was renovated by Jerry Lemons. But the main design inspiration and modern day look was Players.
All three nines feature beautifully manicured fairways as they weave and wander through a lush and picturesque landscape. Palm trees litter the site, whilst you’ll also find mature oak trees draped in Spanish moss.
There is plenty of water and some tough longer holes. But generally higher handicaps will be able to hold their own as the fairways aren’t too tight.
Expect lush surroundings and premier conditioning.
3. Pelican Golf Club
Pelican Golf Club is a fascinating story and what happens here over the next decade or so will be interesting to keep an eye on.
The original layout on this plot of land, known as Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, had been here for around a century. It was an original Donald Ross layout no less and had opened for play in 1925 in what was a burgeoning golf industry in the area.
Fast forward to today, Pelican Golf Club has been acquired and completely reimagined. The Doyle family who bought the club, had the grand ambition of utterly elevating the club, with a view to hosting top class tournaments and providing a world-class member service.
The first job was to completely overhaul the course, which they did by hiring the impressive Beau Welling Design group. What was at best a tired layout, is now unrecognizable.
It’s widely accepted that the resulting changes are an homage to Augusta. Lush carpet-like fairways, bright white sand bunkers and large undulating greens. There is not a leaf out of place here.
Passionate about growing the women’s game, the Doyle family immediately invited the LPGA to host a tournament. And as of 2021, Pelican Golf Club is firmly part of the LPGA Tour.
The club is ultra-private, so it is unlikely you’ll get a round. So why not head down the next time the LPGA is playing here and soak in both the top class golf and the stunning course.
The best public golf courses in Clearwater, Florida
4. Dunedin Golf Club
Fancy playing a course Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazon, Sam Snead, Walter Hagen, Mark Calcavecchia and John Daly have all played? And that is just the beginning.
Dunedin Golf Club is another step into the past and a club you must visit if in Clearwater. It is steeped with historical references and has a fascinating story.
Let’s start with the designer. Yet another Donald Ross design (he must have liked this part of Florida!), the course first opened for play in 1927.
Between the years of 1945 and 1962, Dunedin Golf Club was the home of the PGA of America. In that time, it hosted no less than 18 Senior Tour Championships, which is when many of the aforementioned names visited here.
And yes, let’s be honest, it no longer holds major tournaments and is no longer the home of the PGA of America. But it is still 100% a fine test of golf and worthy of spending around $50 for a green fee.
The layout is phenomenal and the condition is always top class. It is also a great challenge, with tough but fair shots.
This is not just one of the best golf courses in Clearwater. It’s part of the fabric of golf in Florida and a place of pilgrimage for any golf enthusiast.
5. Cove Cay Golf Club
On Clearwater’s east coast, overlooking Old Tampa Bay, is Cove Cay Golf Club. This is a superb spot, protected from the Gulf of Mexico yet still occupying prime sea views.
To accompany those stunning views is a verdant setting full of endemic pines and other plantlife. This greenery encourages an abundance of wildlife adding to the overall experience.
So yes, the course is a little on the short side. From the back tees it stretches to just over 6,000 yards, with the front tees measuring 4,200+ yards.
But this makes for a pleasant change from the norm. Rather than rely on brute force, long carries and monstrous yardages, you can strategically plot your way round the course with deft touches and prioritizing positioning.
This also encourages fast play, with a round here rarely lasting more than 4 hours.
The signature holes is the 17th, a sumptuous par 5. On one hand you have the magnificent views over Tampa Bay. Yet on the other hand, you’re desperately trying to avoid all the water on the right side of the hole, whilst the final approach is also over water to a narrow green.
6. East Bay Golf Club
East Bay Golf Club is one of the most popular public golf offerings in Clearwater. Location, quality and value all combine to make this one of the top public golf courses in Clearwater.
The course is located right in the heart of Pinellas County. Granted this is an urban location, as far as it is from the east coast as the west coast of the St Petersburg peninsula.
But the course feels rural. You have the Largo Central Park Nature Preserve running the length of the west side of the course. Dense lines of trees line many of the fairways and wildlife is abundant.
Water is also abundant, featuring on 14 of the 18 holes. No matter your ability, accurate shot-making is essential. From the tee or approaching greens, you need to be on point! This also applies to the handful of multi-tiered greens.
The layout has been around since 1961 and was designed by William Mitchel. Mitchel is responsible for over 150 original designs nationwide.
But he is arguably most well-known for having coined the phrase the ‘Executive Course’. Essentially advocating the creation of shorter courses for the ‘business executive’ to grab a quick round and still be able to get back to work. However, we digress.
East Bay is fun. Challenging but definitely worth the visit. Having been planted with ryegrass, it plays perfectly well in the winter months. Just take plenty of balls.
7. Clearwater Country Club
Clearwater Country Club has a fantastic location. Just minutes from the coast and downtown Clearwater, this is a popular option amongst locals.
The history of the club, similar to a handful of other clubs in Clearwater, stretches right back to the early twentieth century. It was in 1920 that this Herbert Strong designed course opened for play.
The Englishman Strong was a successful golfer, having finished in ninth place in the 1913 US Open. And his foray into golf course architecture was also successful with Ponte Vedra Inn, located in Florida, arguably his most famous design.
Strong was renowned for building natural beauty into every possible feature of play. But where he really differentiated himself was constructing greens, and making them challenging. And for sure, Clearwater has a number of these including multi-tiered greens which separates the boys from the men.
Fairways are generally tight and encourage accurate play. Despite being just 6,200 yards, it plays a darn-side longer!
Fortunately, the setting holds its own and is a pleasure to walk. Dotted around are Spanish moss-covered oaks as well as the serene Stevenson Creek bisecting the site.
8. Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Club
First and foremost, this is a golf course with a difference. Not just a pay and play, profit orientated club. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But Chi Chi Rodriguez is also home to a youth foundation, whose mission is to help educate students in need, in a public-private partnership. The objective is to help these individuals grow self-esteem and improve academic performance using the golf course as a classroom.
Inspiring stuff and something the community is immensely proud of.
The club is located right next to the Countryside Country Club, occupying a vast plot of land in Eagle Estates.
It is a fine golf course albeit a bit shorter than some of the courses we’re all used to playing. A par 69, it measures just under 5,500 yards from the backs.
Perfectly manicured fairways are more often than not generous in width and allow a certain amount of leeway off the tee. In terms of hazards, there are some 70 sandtraps dotted around the course with water coming into play on a number of occasions.
But generally, the Chi Chi Rodriguez golf club is geared towards higher handicaps, or those looking for a quick and fun round of golf.
You can be assured of a nice welcome and a very unpretentious vibe.
What is the best golf course in Clearwater, Florida?
The best golf course in Clearwater, Florida, is the West Course at Belleair Country Club. This fine course was designed by Donald Ross and originally opened for play way back in 1897. The Ross design golfers enjoy today, first came about in 1915.