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Palm Harbor's Tarpon Woods Golf Club is back among the elite in Tampa golf

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- If you live in the Tampa Bay area, you may have heard Tarpon Woods Golf Club wasn't in the best shape. Do not listen. The course is one of the best in west Tampa, and a great stop on the way to some of the more well known courses that are minutes away.

Formerly known as Brooker Creek, Tarpon Woods is getting better each day, and the greens and fairways are in immaculate shape.

Sometimes it takes awhile for a course to separate itself from negativism, but Tarpon Woods is doing it quickly. Not only are all of the 18 holes on this 6,504-yard layout challenging, but the course has gone through almost a complete redesign since 2009, including all new bunkers, tee boxes and greens.

"We've made changes in the last couple of years, and now we can hold our own with any course in the area," said Head Golf Professional Denny Saunders. "Everything is new, and it is like a new course. It's still getting better."

Tarpon Woods Golf Club is located minutes from several of the local beaches, with plenty of food and lodging within a few miles. Also, it's only about 40 minutes from the airport.

The course is not long, but it is one of the more scenic in the Tampa Bay area. It features an abundance of wildlife including deer, gators, turkey, coyotes, otters and exotic birds, and there is plenty of water to make things interesting.

After two fairly easy opening holes, the third is where Tarpon Woods Golf Club starts to get tough. At 557 yards from the tips, it is the longest and hardest hole on the course. Hitting your drive too far will get you in the creek that runs down the left side, but trying to hit the perfect tee shot is the only chance of getting home in two. There's water on both sides of the approach to the green, so it's a good idea to map out the right strategy. Hit a 3-wood off the tee, lay up and hit a wedge to the green.

It gets tricky on No. 6, which is a severe dogleg left. It might play to only 411 yards, but unless you can hit a solid draw, leave the driver in the bag.

The front nine is longer than the back, but the final nine offers its own set of challenges. No. 13 is a 482-yard par 4 that is another dogleg left. Again, a draw might give you a break off the tee, but the green is fronted by two deep bunkers.

"I heard that the course wasn't in the greatest shape, but we decided to give it a shot," said Tampa native Paul Sherry. "Nothing could be more wrong. It's tough and in great shape. They have done some great work here in the past couple of years, and it is one of my favorite courses in Tampa."

Tarpon Woods Golf Club isn't the toughest golf course in Tampa Bay, but it is tough enough to challenge anyone.

It also has one of the best 19th holes in town. With the course renovations, it added a Beef O'Brady's, a popular chain sports bar/restaurant that has many televisions and some of the best burgers in Florida. It's a great way to cap off a challenging round.

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