Streamsong Resort: An Unexpected Landscape in the Sunshine State
By Greg Midland
ELMSFORD, N.Y. (October 12, 2012) - Golf is a huge part of Florida's economy and identity. No other U.S. state has more courses or benefits more from Met Area golfers wanting to escape the cold during the winter. While the state has a bumper crop of quality resorts, there is one scheduled to open this December that has already created a buzz: Streamsong, whose two 18-hole courses are unlike anything else in Florida.
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I was recently invited to Streamsong for a sneak preview and was among the first few people to play both courses. It was a thrill to play without seeing any previous divots or ball marks, but this pleasure quickly takes a back seat to the surrounding dunescape, which ranks among the most dramatic and visually stimulating anywhere. Best of all, these courses fully embrace the land and embody the game's newest and most admirable trends: firm, fast and fun.
What sets Streamsong apart? Its golf course architects, most importantly. The 7,164-yard, par-72 Blue Course was designed by Stamford, Connecticut native Tom Doak, who started writing about golf courses nearly 30 years ago and now, at 51, is one of the most respected and sought-after architects in the world. The companion Red Course (7,089 yards, par 72) was done by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who designed Friar's Head and East Hampton Golf Club on Long Island, among many others. The amazing thing about Streamsong, however, is that these architecture teams worked largely in tandem to route 36 holes over the roughly 16,000 acres of land they had to choose from. In the highly competitive world of golf course architecture, that kind of collaboration is rare.
"Bill [Coore] and I went down at the same time and put our minds together, instead of drawing a line on a map and saying you stay on one side and I stay on the other," said Doak in an exclusive interview with The Met Golfer. "Bill and I have known each other for a long time, but if it had been two other architects, they might have been more territorial."
It's clear from the first glimpse of the site why the world's best architects were clamoring for this job. Streamsong is roughly 55 miles east/southeast of Tampa — geographically it’s the middle of the state, but feels like the middle of nowhere (in a good way). It sits in an area of rural Polk County dotted with lakes, farms, and infrastructure supporting the region's number-one industry: phosphate mining.
It is these mines, or rather the land that used to serve as mines, that form the basis of Streamsong's existence. The organic remnants of the mining operations resulted in tens of thousands of dunes — “sand piles,” as they’re called here — which for years have shifted with the winds and sprouted grasses and vegetation. The result is a playing environment that, while not “natural” in the traditional sense of the word, is also not an artificial creation of bulldozers and earthmovers.
The resort is being developed by the Mosaic Company, the world's largest producer of agricultural phosphate products. Mosaic's Vice President of Land Development and Management, Tom Sunnarborg, has overseen Streamsong's development into what the company expects will be a world-class destination.
"This project is an example of what we can do with post-mine land," said Sunnarborg. “We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t economically viable, but the bigger strategic value is to demonstrate for the world with what we can do with reclaimed land, and to do better than what is required by law. We’re trying to demonstrate environmental sustainability along with economic sustainability.”
It is the company’s desire to minimize its environmental footprint that, in part, led them to choosing Doak and Coore/Crenshaw for the work.
“Our Executive Vice President, Rich Mack, met with just about every golf course architect imaginable,” explains Sunnarborg. “Doak and Coore/Crenshaw had a vision of gently working the land, and not over-working it, which was very consistent with our vision. Also, to do the courses at the same time required the design teams to be compatible, and the fact that these teams knew each other well and respected each other’s work was very important.”
To Streamsong’s credit, they are waiting until the three-story clubhouse is completed before opening the courses to the public. The structure, which sits on the banks of a large pond and in between two 100-foot-tall dunes, will have accommodations for 16 people and will serve as the property’s focal point until the 228-room lodge opens in late 2013. The plans for the resort also include a spa and activities such as sporting clays and bass fishing. In fact, the lakes in this part of Florida are known as being some of the best fishing holes in the South.
Streamsong, which is managed by Kemper Sports, is also investing time and energy in the smaller touches that make the experience memorable. For the hole markers, they are using remnants of old railroad ties that once transported the phosphate off the property. Greens and tees are very close together and players will be strongly encouraged to walk and utilitize the resort’s caddie program. Near the clubhouse is a short par three over water that can be used as an extra hole to play for fun and is also accessible in the evenings for clubhouse guests. And the lodge, already well under construction, is low-slung and barely visible from just a few holes, adding to the overall vibe of a place where the natural takes precedence over the man-made.
But the unquestionable main draw at Streamsong is the golf. If you are lucky enough, as I was, to start your day on the Blue Course, you will get an immediate jolt of energy for what lies ahead. The first tee of the 338-yard par 4 sits roughly 120 feet up on the property’s highest point, affording 360-degree views of the surrounding dunes. It also demonstrates the signature characteristics of both courses: wide fairways, with fairway stretching from side to side like a carpet and framed by expertly placed bunkers, leading to greens that accept a variety of shots but which you must be precise in order to hit.
Speaking of the links-like quality of the golf, Doak remarks, “If you asked me where I was, Florida would be about the 40th guess.” Indeed, the entire site is sand-based, making for excellent drainage and the kind of playability you typically find only in Great Britain, or perhaps at Oregon’s Bandon Dunes, a resort that Streamsong seems destined to be compared with because of its architectural pedigree and away-from-it-all location.
The courses ebb and flow across the property, with the Blue laid out over much of the middle portion of the land and the Red starting out on the periphery before working its way back in. At various times, holes from both courses are visible, reinforcing the collaboration between the architects. Some of the holes originally sketched by one designer even ended up going on the other course.
“Before we got together, Bill had been on the site and had done a couple 18-hole routings,” explained Doak. “Naturally, he stayed in the middle of the site. So some of the stuff that he had on his earliest plans ended up on the Blue course, but in order to use the far ends of the site we had to do some switching around.”
The result is a seamless experience. Some of the most memorable holes on Blue include the 442-yard 4th, whose green is set on a plateau 40 feet up from the fairway; the photo-ready par-3 7th, where the tee shot requires a carry over a pond to a green tucked between dunes; and the long, exciting par-5 17th hole, where a Sahara-like bunker awaits to catch errant drives. And in addition to the first hole, where big hitters can drive it close to the green, there are risk/reward options on the 406-yard 3rd, which wraps around a lake, and the 300-yard 13th, which is theoretically drivable though guarded like a fortress by deep bunkers.
The Red is a strategic yet somewhat sturdier test, beginning with a knee-knocking carry over water on the brawny opening hole, a 470-yard par 4. The green on the attractive 330-yard 4th hole is shaped like a horseshoe, offering a multitude of hole locations, and the front nine ends with an uphill, 288-yard par 4 where you simply have to try hitting driver at least once. Holes 10-12 on the Red are par fours totaling nearly 1,500 yards and, in keeping with the railroad theme, seem primed to result in a bogey train. The Red then marches toward its dramatic conclusion, capped by the massive sand dune/bunker guarding the lovely par-3 16th hole.
Several airlines operate nonstop flights to Tampa from the Met Area, so it’s possible to fly down in the morning and be on the course by midday. Green fees will be $175 (walking) and $200 (riding) during the peak season, with replay rates and lower off-season rates available. Right now the closest accommodations are in Lakeland, about a 35-minute drive away. But once the lodge opens next year, don’t be surprised if this formerly sleepy pocket of Florida turns into one of the most talked-about destination for golfers.
For more information and for online tee time booking, visit www.streamsongresort.com.