Golfers, gamblers welcome at Tampa Bay Downs
TAMPA - It isnít unusual to drop a few bucks at the golf course. In Tampa, itís easy to drop Ė or win Ė simply by spending $6 for a bucket of golf balls. Tampa Bay Downs, the host of the Florida Derby since 1926, is the oldest horse track on Floridaís West Coast. But about 10 years ago the owners decided to diversify. With 16 acres of land, most of it unused, they investigated other ways to make money while the horse racing industry struggled through some tough days. They built the all-grass Downs golf facility, with a lit and covered driving range, two chipping greens and a large putting green to go with a state-of-the-art pro shop.As a golf facility alone, The Downs received a top 100 rating from the Golf Range Association of America in each of its six years Ė but it has a special perk that has proven popular. With the racetrack within walking distance, the driving range is following a trend developing among driving range owners to offer other options than just hitting golf balls. However, The Downs is unique in offering simulcast betting on horse races from all over the country in the pro shop. The result? Golfers can hit a bucket of balls, go into the pro shop and have a beer, place a few bets, then go out and hit another bucket of balls. The idea to mix horse racing, gambling and golf came about six years ago. Margo Flynn, vice president of marketing, said it was just a matter of using some land that would likely have been developed anyway, while trying to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The Downs golf facility brought in more than 36,000 golfers last year, according to Jon Johnson, manager of The Downs and a PGA professional. The crossover hasnít been great, Flynn said, but the pro shop at the golf driving range usually has about a dozen or so golfers/gamblers there every afternoon, watching the races on the televisions. Besides the chance to gamble on horse racing, The Downs also offers a poker room at the racetrack grandstand that has been a success after racing hours.