Innisbrooks Copperhead course lets you play where the pros love to play


innisbrook copperhead

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – As golfers, it's a special treat to play where the pros play. But to take that one step further and play where the pros love to play? Now that’s rarified air.

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The Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, host of the Transitions Championship, is such a place. Paul Azinger once said, “Copperhead is the best course we play on tour.' Stewart Cink believes “they should play a U.S. Open on this course.”

Playing Copperhead, the best of four superb courses at the resort, is a treat under any circumstances. Playing it the way the pros do, minus the talent of course, enhances the experience all the more.

'You can get an appreciation of what they face in their approaches by playing the green, or even the white tees,' said Doug Schmidt, Innisbrook’s director of marketing, who said he's seen the pros attack the course seven times and played it himself at least 100 times.

No. 2, for example, is a sharp dogleg left. You can either play safe to the right-center or bomb it over the trees that guard the dogleg. Even if you play it safe, you still have the lake to contend with. The closer you get to the water, the better route you'll have to the green.

The pros let the weather dictate what they do here. With a helping wind, many bomb it over the trees with driver. With the wind a hindrance, which it is almost every day when it kicks up from the nearby Gulf of Mexico, it's back to the safety of the 3-wood.

Even though Copperhead is 7,340 yards from the back tees, distance isn't its biggest test.

'To me, it's a thinking man's course,' Schmidt said. 'That's why Jeff Sluman can shoot a 62.'

How did the light-hitting Sluman do it?

'I was unconscious when I started and I never woke up the whole round,' Sluman told reporters after his sizzling first-round 62 in 2004.

In fact, Copperhead was one of the toughest tests on tour this past year, harder even than Augusta National, Pebble Beach or Torrey Pines South, according to PGA Tour statistics.

Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort: The verdict

Copperhead is a golf course of angles and slopes, elevation and execution, risk and reward. The Larry Packard design lies atop the Ocala Sand Ridge, a geological formation that extends across the state to Ocala and terminates in the north in Jacksonville. That elevation can make a two or three-club difference.

Almost every hole has some sort of risk/reward, even if it's not always initially obvious. You have to stay focused the entire round, if not necessarily unconscious. Play wily and stay below the hole.

Of course, even if you're trying to see the layout the way the pros do, you're not playing the same course as they do during the actual tournament. For the pros, officials grow the rough to 4 ¼ inches and have the tour-quality greens rolling between 11 and 12 on the stimpmeter.