Sunday, June 22, 2014

On Location: Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club

You don't find many golf resorts where you can walk out the front door of the hotel to find all sorts of restaurants, shops and museums.

The Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club is situated in a fantastic waterfront location in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida and across the street from a marina. On my visit, I absolutely loved parking my car and never driving it again during my stay.  When I wasn't enjoying  the resort, I simply walked a block or so out the front door of the hotel to Beach Drive and, voila, there were numerous dining and entertainment possibilities. 

Opened in 1925, the massive salmon-colored, Mediterranean Revival style hotel overlooking Tampa Bay is one Florida's historical treasures. With its original glazed, quarry tile floor, stenciled cypress beams and reproductions of 1920s chandeliers, it immerses visitors in a luxurious "Old Florida" ambiance accented with today's high-tech necessities.

Better still, the lobby was refurbished a couple of years ago and it has an elegant atmosphere with modern art pieces, a library with a fireplace, lobby bar, cafe and social gathering areas.


The 6,626 yard, par 71 Vinoy Golf Course weaves through a beautiful, tree-laden residential neighborhood on Snell Isle, a five minute drive from the hotel (complimentary transportation is provided). 

Originally designed by Donald Ross in the 1920s, the course was redesigned and modernized by Lakeland, Florida architect Ron Garl. The meticulously landscaped homes are hardly noticeable as the fairways are framed by mature tree growth and shrubs. Highlights include nine lakes, two double greens and spectacular landscaping and vegetation, including Live Oaks, Pines and more than a dozen varieties of palms from around the world. A certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the course is a haven for a variety of wildlife.

Make no mistake, this is not a course that will have low-handicappers shaking in their golf shoes. However, it's a superb resort course that is thoroughly playable and enjoyable for a wide variety of skill levels.

The toughest holes are seven, eight and nine, then sixteen, seventeen and eighteen, so golfers have the opportunity to score well early on the front and back nines. Garl designed the course so golfers can build confidence early, since they'll need it later.

My favorite hole is the number nine, a 465-yard, par 4. The number one handicap holes, it has two lakes left and five bunkers lining the right side of the fairway. It takes a gutsy approach shot to a 9,000 square foot green that slopes hard toward the lakes. If you birdie this hole, consider yourself very lucky and celebrate with a cool libation at the clubhouse.

The clubhouse is among the most unique I've ever visited. It is an ornate collection of Spanish and Moorish influences with features like minarets, arches and domes.

The staff at Vinoy Golf Course is exceptional.  While they have a strong membership program, they don't treat resort guests as intruders. In fact, resort players are rewarded with the same high level of service every member receives.

For a video view of the Vinoy Golf Club, click here to Golf Travel Guru T.V.


The seven-floor hotel has 347 guest rooms and 14 suites. The rooms are spacious with luxury, Euro-style bedding with down comforters, custom duvets and rich linens, flat-panel televisions, work desk and in-room coffee service.

Major amenities and offerings:

--Large resort swimming pool with waterfall
--On-site marina
--Fitness center
--Day spa and salon
--Valet and self-parking
--Complimentary Wi-Fi throughout lobby area
--Tennis complex
--Multiple dining and lounging choices
--Nearby walking trail
--Coffee shop featuring Illy Coffee
--Large front veranda with comfortable couches and rocking chairs
--Full-service business center
--55,000 square feet of meeting space
--Sailing opportunities

10 Little Things I Like:

1. The view from my room which included the skyline of downtown St. Petersburg and the Vinoy Marina.

2. The expansive front porch were I sat in a rocking chair each morning and checked my emails and social media.

3. The friendly staff at the Golf Club who made you feel extremely welcome as a resort guest while taking care of their members.

4. Walking the North Bay Trail, a walking trail along the bay located across the street from the hotel, which affords great opportunities for sunrise and sunset watching.

5. The "Jumpin' Jameson" (Jameson whiskey and ginger ale on the rocks) I had at the lobby bar.

6. The history wall at the far end of the lobby that highlights the hotel's amazing past through vintage photographs.

7. Sitting under the waterfall at the swimming pool.

8. The frosty glass of Stella Artois I enjoyed one afternoon at at Alfrescos restaurant overlooking the swimming pool.

9.The amazing Scallops and Basil Linguini I had at Vinoy's Marchand's Bar & Grill restaurant one evening.

10. The very helpful Navigator (concierge) that assisted me finding out great things to do in downtown St. Petersburg.


There are six dining and lounge options at Vinoy Renaissance, including:

Alfresco--Casual restaurant where you can dine inside or on a terrace overlooking the pool. There's a Happy Hour daily from 5 to 7 p.m. and the lunch menu has a great selection of wraps, sandwiches, burgers and salads.

Veranda Cafe--Located in the lobby, this convenient cafe has Italian coffee by illy as well as salads, sandwiches, snacks and baked goods.

Marchand's Bar & Grill--This stunning 1920s gourmet room is Vinoy's signature restaurant. It has leaded arched windows that overlook the marina and a menu dotted with specialties like grilled scallops, Florida Lobster and watermelon and arugula salad.

Fred's Steakhouse--Only open for dinner and cocktails on Friday and Saturday evenings, this classic steakhouse has the feel of a plush private club with leather seats and polished hardwood appointments.

Clubhouse Restaurant at the Vinoy Golf Club--Excellent golf course views enhance this restaurant experience at lunch and dinner. Breakfast is served on Saturdays and Sundays.

Promenade Lobby Bar-After a round, this is a great place enjoy a celebratory cocktail or beer. You can sit indoors surrounded by fine art and contemporary furniture or outdoors in comfortable chairs and couches with a fire pit.


There's lots to do in downtown St. Petersburg. Across the street from the hotel is Beach Drive, which is brimming with hip restaurants, pubs and specialty shops.  Beach Drive has a distinct Euro vibe with lots of outdoor dining possibilities and Happy Hours.

Other entertainment options include:

--Attending a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game at Tropicana Field

--Visiting the Salvador Dali Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Chihuly Collection Museum and Florida Holocaust Museum
--Enjoy nearby award winning beaches at Fort De Soto Park and Caladesi State Park
--Walk or run the North Bay Trail starting near the hotel entrance
--Attend a Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer game at Al Lang Stadium


The resort is located in downtown St. Petersburg (501 5th Avenue NE, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701) about 15 minutes from St. Pete Beach and 25 minutes from Tampa International Airport. 


 For information or reservations, call 727-894-1000 or go to the resort's website

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

5 Top Father's Day Golf Travel Gifts

Father's Day is coming soon (Sunday June 15th--the same day as the final round of the U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst Resort) and you can enhance the special day for pops by getting him a great gift this year.

After all, he's most likely the guy who introduced you to golf and golf travel.

The Guru has scoured the websites and catalogues to find 5 fantastic gift possibilities for the golf traveling dadster:

Bluff Works Travel Pants
So, you love to travel, but you just don't like rummaging through the closet in your hotel for an iron. Have I got a great travel pant for you. Bluff Works are the ultimate, wrinkle-free, low maintenance pant that you can wear just about anywhere and look good. Whether its the golf course, a bike ride or a business meeting, these versatile, light-weight pants are super comfortable and fashionable. Machine washable and quick-drying, Bluffs are made of a unique, breathable polyester fabric. When you're on the road, you can wear them multiple times without washing. They're available in light khaki, charcoal, velvet brown and classic gray colors. My favorite feature is the zipped front internal security pocket large enough to hold your passport. $93

Bushnell Neo XS Golf GPS Rangefinder Watch
Pre-loaded with 33,000 courses in more than 30 countries around the word, the Bushnell Neo XS Golf GPS Rangefinder Watch allows you to play three rounds between charges. Top features are hazard/layup distances (up to 4 a hole), a shot distance calculator and no membership or download fee. $199.99

Game Golf Digital Tracking System
If you really want to know where your game stands, this unique technological wonder will provide a wealth of stats to let you know if you're a pretender or contender. Just attach the Game Golf Digital Tracking System to your waist and it'll track your scores, stats and trends. It'll give you accurate information on club distance, fairways hit, greens in regulation, putts per hole and a lot more. Better still, it's compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. $249 

Golf Travel Flask

 For those who desire some swing juice to calm the nerves or a liquid warm up on a frosty day, the 8 oz. Golf Travel Flask will help enhance any round of golf. Top features include an oil tanned leather case, two snap-off brass ball markers, four tee holders and a brass divot repair tool. Single malt scotch is NOT included--you'll have to furnish your own favorite swing juice. $38.59

Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf

I don't care how many baskets of balls you hit, if you don't have the correct fundamentals you're not going to get much better. My favorite golf swing book is a simple 127-page paperback book written by Ben Hogan with Herbert Warren Wind. If your dad only reads one book on the golf swing, make it this timeless classic. Packed with drawings and logical, easy-to-read instruction, the book starts with descriptions on the grip followed by stance and posture, the first part of the swing, the second part of the swing and a summary and review. Best of all, Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf  will cost you less than a large bucket of balls. $7.91