Golf, Manatees and the Stories they Tell at Plantation on Crystal River


Joe Cioe on the No. 17, 176-yard par three on his way to a four under par, 68

The Plantation on Crystal River resort sits on Florida’s “Nature Coast,” along the Gulf of Mexico about 70 miles north of Tampa. The area is probably  more famous for reasons that don’t happen on the golf course.

Hang around the 19th Hole Bar & Grill at Plantation on Crystal River for a colorful rundown of the resort’s past and present. Longtime regular, Joe Cioe shares the course record with an 11-under 61, as a junior golfer he remembers gawking at Priscilla Presley as she sunbathed on her golf villa patio. He remembers seeing a black limo come and go daily and he’s certain it was, “the King.” Cioe’s parents still live on the golf course; he’s allegedly played more rounds than anyone in the resort’s history.

Another mainstay Dennis, a retired financial planner recalls seeing another “King,” Arnold Palmer hang out at the Florida resort. “Several of the greats spent time here through the years; Arnie, Tommy Bolt, Tony Lema and Bobby Rosburg. And that Johnny Miller, boy is he a real jerk, he spent a lot of time down here fishing,” said Dennis, he’s allegedly drank more scotch than anyone in the resort’s history.

13781897_10205042496580474_4980852878979340461_nNot all the stories at the 19th Hole were enjoyable however, news of the sudden and unexpected death of local sheriff candidate Phil Royal was hard to swallow for many. Royal, just 47 years old was jogging in North Florida earlier in the day when he had a seizure; he leaves behind a wife and newborn daughter. Some of his supporters were in shock over the news, they sat together wearing “Royal for Sheriff” hats as they tallied the day’s wagers.

“He was in amazing shape, I’ve known him for more than 20 years, I can’t believe it,” Carin the 19th Hole bartender told us. Carin’s been behind the bar on Mondays for almost a decade, she listens to the cast of characters that come through with jokes and political commentary. It’s unlikely Hillary will be getting much support in November from the area.

We fired up the 18Birdies GPS app and went off the first tee from the tips of the resort’s golf course along with two members, the aforementioned Joe Cioe and Kevin. The golf course plays almost 6,500 from the back black tees, but the fairways are soft and fluffy so don’t expect a lot of run-out. The course is in good shape and won’t beat you up – it’s fun to play, which is what most want from a resort golf course.

The superintendent, Glenn Oberlander has been there forever and keeps the fairways, putting surfaces and tee boxes green; not all Florida golf courses can make that claim in the midsummer heat. Moss hangs from 100-year-old oak trees and palms stand tall throughout the layout. This is southern charm and southern hospitality at its finest; the resort trumpets a relaxed experience and it’s certified.

Across the street from the golf course is the main lobby and hotel, Spa Bleu, West 82º Bar and Grill, lagoon style pool and Tiki Bar overlooking Kings Bay. The main lobby with bright white paint and forest green accents looks like something from an Old South memoir. It might remind some of that famous golf club in Augusta, Georgia.

It’s hard to imagine that a golf course isn’t the main attraction at a resort, but the director of golf told us the resort’s water Adventure Center has been more popular for years. That popularity is largely in part attributed to the local manatees that hang out in Crystal River near the resort. After all, it’s a lot easier to sit in a boat and spot manatees than it is to hit the green on the No. 17, 176-yard, par three.

Resorts around the world try to create experiences for the entire family: mom, dad, daughter, son, grandma and grandpa. Resorts spend millions on spas, corporate meeting facilities, tennis facilities, pools and other attractions; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.


Photo: Plantation on Crystal River

We know that only around 10-percent of the population plays golf, but close to 100-percent enjoy cold drinks at tiki bars and 100-percent love manatees.

A lot of resorts claim to offer a “fun for the whole family” experience, but perhaps Plantation on Crystal River is one the few that can honestly make that claim.

They have manatees; who the hell doesn’t love them?


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