POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- The long upheld knock against the Florida golf scene is that entirely too many courses resemble each other: largely flat with cookie cutter designs from the 1980s with an accompanying residential component. Golf course architect Tom Doak summed it up in his brash (and now out-of-print book), The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, published in 1996:
“I’ll take Seminole,' he wrote. 'You can have the other 999 [courses in Florida].”
This stigma, unfair as it is, is what makes the new Streamsong Resort such a big deal in the golf world. At last, one of the country's most golf-saturated states has a 36-hole facility suitable to the new era of throwback golf design with unique, bold designs from Doak and Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw (actually, it's 37 holes if you count the 'settle-your-bets,' bonus par 3 next to the clubhouse).
Streamsong is the creation of Mosaic, a fertilizer company that mines all over Florida for phosphate. At their 16,000-acre property just south of Lakeland, they created a canvas unlike anything else in Florida: a massive sandbox, where machines tossed earth around for years and, unintentionally, left behind a terrain of humps and wetlands that rendered itself ideal for an extraordinary golf stage. Virtually no development can be seen for miles around, just the frame of the future lodge and a few distant mines.
Sandy dunes tower high enough to resemble that of Ireland. One such formation near the clubhouse is the centerpiece for the two most remarkable par 3s at Streamsong. On its left slope is the 16th hole of Coore-Crenshaw's Red Course: a brutish, 200-plus-yard shot played over water to a green over 50 yards long. On the other side is the 7th on Doak's Blue Course, which features a green tucked well below the dunes' shadow beside water:
Side-by-side par 3s on the Red and Blue course (Photos by Brandon Tucker)
This isn't the first time Doak and Coore-Crenshaw have built side-by-side designs. Each hit their respective Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails at Bandon Dunes Resort designs out of the park. They also have tandem courses at Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm on Australia's island of Tasmania.
At Streamsong, each firm's design philosophies are relatively similar to the eye on the first loop around: wide fairways with rippling contours, plus greens of all shapes and sizes. It's inevitable every golfer who tees it up here will find themselves in sand, whether its a small green-side pot bunker or the waste areas that surround fairways. Neither course employs much of any rough: either you're in the fairway or bunkers or waste areas. On a few occasions, holes tip-toe along lakes, like the Red's gorgeous par-5 7th:
The par-5 7th hole on the Red Course hugs water on the left from tee-to-green (photo by Larry Lambrecht)
The layouts were built to walk, ideally with a caddie (there isn't much signage out here and it can easy to lose your sense of direction), though carts are offered as well. But not everything about Streamsong exudes the British Isles. Secondly, it's too hot in Florida to successfully grow fescue turf. Instead, the Red and Blue will rely on wide fairways seeded with Bermuda 419 and large, rolling greens with MiniVerde, while daily maintenance practice will strive for firm-and-fast.
Also, just because the sandy dunes may remind you of Ireland, don't get overzealous ball-hocking in the lakes; there's gators in these waters.
Streamsong Resort: The details
An artist rendering of the main lodge at Streamsong, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013.
The clubhouse, which includes a restaurant and 12-room lodge will open on December 21st along with both golf courses. The 216-room hotel will open in late 2013 and include a spa, multiple dining venues, conference space and off-course recreation like skeet shooting, tennis, birding and fishing.
Streamsong Resort is located about 25 miles south of Lakeland near Fort Meade in Polk County. From Orlando, it's a 90 minute drive and 60 minutes from Tampa International Airport.