Ever wonder what is it like to experience a championship course right after witnessing an exciting breakthrough victory by a PGA TOUR professional? Golf Writer Andy Reistetter, along with Merri Daniel, played the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook right after Kevin Streelman’s meaningful victory at the Tampa Bay Championship presented by Everbank. With some time to reflect on their golfing experience, Streelman’s victory and their exploration of the resort, join Merri & Andy as they survive the Snake Pit and live to tell their tales and share a few “WOW” moments at Innisbrook.
With a Duke degree in sociology in his mind, Streelman had been close to winning before with twenty Top 10s in 152 starts on the PGA TOUR. Remember Streelman was the strongman from the mini tours who rocketed to the PGA TOUR in 2008 via Q-School bypassing the proving grounds of the Web.com Tour. To date his claim to fame, in the minds of many, was capturing a season-long mishmash of the most photogenic holes on the PGA TOUR. Holes like the par-3 13th on Copperhead, beautiful to the eye, yet challenging and dangerous to the golfer.
With five solid seasons on tour, but without what Tiger Woods calls the “W,” Streelman came to the 13th tee on Sunday afternoon not knowing for sure if this would be his day. Seeing the hole located in the far right portion of the green and well protected by water, he knew this was no ordinary test of mind or golf. Taking his 200-yard club, a 5-iron, hitting into a slightly hurting wind, he hit a cut shot that was nearly perfect. With that birdie and another at the par-3 17th Streelman strolled to a two-stroke victory in his first PGA TOUR win.
Some say us amateur golfers can never duplicate the experience of a professional golfer winning a tournament down the stretch. Having played many other host courses, I would say Innisbrook and the 1974 Larry Packard designed Copperhead Course comes pretty darn close. The golf course is there for all to see and to play. But what makes it memorable and special is the way Packard routes you along the nontraditional Florida hilly terrain. In an almost swirl-like motion, circling outside to inside the course climaxes at the uphill par-4 18th after many favorite interludes along the way.
One begins with a scenic view off the first tee with a gentle downhill par-5. Then we go left, then right, before we encounter the first straight hole, the par-3 4th. Be careful, as Merri found out with your play, and that of others, in your “fore-some” on this hole. The par-5 fifth is a little more difficult than the first, going up-and-over a hill but no less scenic with a lake to carry and a bunker framing the tee shot. The blind second shot hides the impact of a lone tree in the fairway on the third shot and makes reaching the well bunkered green difficult for the long bombers or quinquagenarians playing it forward like me.
The intervening holes to Streelman’s heroic 13th with names like Hidden Gem, Hide Away and O’s Alley bring more excitement and fun in the course of playing at Innisbrook. The 12th has lots of water and a bridge that is impassable for your golf ball so toughen up, play smart and take enough club to carry the green. Don’t miss the view of the signature 17th from the 12th fairway with the shrubbed “Copperhead” encompassing the tee.
Packard’s double dogleg par-5 14th is my favorite. Once conquered in as few of strokes as possible, the green feels like a mountaintop refuge and the view back of the shrubbed “Innisbrook” brings a sense of achievement. The round ends in a flurry with a mix of par-3s, the 15th downhill and the 17th uphill amidst two solid par-4s. The Snake Pit begins with the 16th, with water right and a narrowing fairway, it is one of the toughest holes on the golf course. The 18th is a majestic uphill hole that between the wind and the sand can bring a terminating tear to yours or Merri’s eyes.
Enough of one golf course, there are three others- the North, the South and the Island; all Packard designs. The Island which we enjoyed playing, hosts the Legends Tour, the official Senior Tour of the LPGA. While couples golf was fun there are many more activities to enjoy at Innisbrook whether you have a day, week or even years to explore and enjoy. Maybe that is why Larry Packard lives on site, enjoys life and recently celebrated his 100th birthday!
Innisbrook is part of a Floridian diamond necklace assembled by Shelia Johnson, founder of Salamader Hospitality. Like her amphibian namesake, she possesses strength, courage and fortitude bringing Hammock Beach, an oceanfront resort on the east coast, Reunion in Orlando, home to Annika’s Academy and Innisbrook together during challenging economic times. Affectionately becoming known as the “Lady Trump of Golf” she is opening up a new resort in August in the equestrian and wine country of Virginia.
As an amateur golfer, don’t let it take 153 tour events to experience the magic of Packard’s Copperhead and the Innisbrook Resort. Bring along non-golfer friends and lovers as they will surely have an enchanted time too.
Merri’s Marvelous Moments
1. I loved the accommodations. Innisbrook is unique with 28 lodge buildings interspersed among the 800-acre resort. They are named after other famous golf courses and arranged alphabetically from Augusta to Turnberry. We stayed in Baltusrol on the east side of the property. Recently updated, one feels at home, secluded in a natural way, amongst the trees and hills.
2. Okay, so here is what Andy alluded to with our “fore-some” on the 4th hole. As I waited to hit on the forward tee I leaned back on the windshield of our golf cart to bask in the sun for a moment. Our playing partner Joe hit an errant shot that awoke me from my sunny slumber and struck me in the chest. Thankfully, only a glancing blow and a reminder as to where to position yourself early in the round when unsure of the abilities of new playing partner.
3. While Packard’s steakhouse is great, don’t miss a casual dinner at Market Salamander Grille. We shared a delicious strawberry, arugula and goat cheese salad. Andy had the Pressed Tampa Cuban and I had the Ahi Tuna. Of course we shared that too and savored not only the food eaten but the friendly dining experience.
4. Well this moment is not so marvelous either. A reminder to check the wind direction prior to playing a bunker shot. Greenside, on the last hole, I did not and got a mouth and eye full. It was a tearful end to a great round.
5. To end on a good note- the spa, the spa, the spa is named Indaba which translates to a gathering or meeting place. Where else can one have an outdoor massage in the center of a meditation labyrinth? Perhaps that is what I liked most about Innisbrook- I felt a strong connection with myself, others and nature during our visit.
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer and a broadcast assistant for the various golf networks. He spends time on all four major American golf tours- the PGA TOUR, Champions, Web.com and LPGA. Reistetter resides within two miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and the home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach. A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. Friend Andy Reistetter on Facebook or touch base with him by e-mail at AndyReistetter@gmail.com