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Site Visit: Streamsong Resort, Polk County, FL.

I have a friend in advertising who was recently griping on Facebook about being sent to Tampa on a business trip. While I can’t disagree with him that Don Draper would never have permitted such a turn of events, expecting “Bored to Death” levels of irony from snowbirds and the service industries that cater to them was a bridge too far, indeed. And it entirely ignored my simple rule of thumb about Florida: If you think it’s weird where you are, try driving an hour inland.

This basic hypothesis held water on the Friday afternoon of the PGA Show, when Tom Doak hosted a tour of his new course at Streamsong Resort. This place is in the hinterlands of Polk County, about an hour southeast of Tampa, and the road leading in offers plenty of post-apocalyptic vibes, if you’re into that (I am). At first glance I thought this was the skyline of a city–instead it’s an extra-large facility of unknown industrial provenance.

Streamsong is the initial foray into the golf/hospitality industry by the Mosaic Company, which is one of those vague-yet-pleasant-sounding corporate names that can raise all kinds of paranoid suspicions. Fortunately, Mosaic does NOT manufacture death rays for Ahmadinejad–rather, it is simply the world’s largest supplier of phosphate and potash based crop nutrients.

As one might guess from this, Streamsong’s previous incarnation was as a vast phosphate mine. The company’s goal is to demonstrate the commercial viability of reclaimed industrial land through the development of a “world-class resort.” Per the press release: “Streamsong’s plans include approximately 140 guest rooms. . . five villas. . . more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space, three restaurants and two lounge areas, a full-service spa, and two golf courses designed by renowned architects Tom Doak of Renaissance Golf Design and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw of Coore & Crenshaw.”

Well, as resort sites go, it ain’t exactly The Breakers. But the good news is that this looks like some seriously cool ground for golf. A clarification based on the above: There are, in fact, two courses being constructed simultaneously at Streamsong, with the Renaissance and C&C teams often working more or less side-by-side. Because the layouts are intertwined on one sprawling site rather than separate entities, we had a chance to look at holes from both courses. “Nobody wanted to go to another site,” Doak said, “So Bill [Coore] and I said, let’s see if we can get thirty-six holes to fit on this site. He’d spent some time out here already working on an eighteen hole plan, and at least three or four holes from his plan are now part of my golf course.”

Obviously, a site awash in sand offers the promise of keen playing conditions–always a good sign. But the landforms are what make the site so unusual and compelling. In its prime, Streamsong’s site was clearly bullied by an army of heavy equipment, but that work ended a full forty years ago and nature has since taken its course–as with this re-vegetated dune shown above.

The resulting landscape, with its supersized dunes and sheer ridges and deep-basined ponds, often seems out of scale–like nothing you’d see on a virgin site–but it’s also like nothing a golf architect, even one with an unlimited budget, would ever actually plan. So is it natural or unnatural? Or is this even the right question to ask?

I can say, though, that the architects’ challenge will be more about softening certain features, taming a wild bronco of a site, rather than drawing out interest from subtle natural forms. Indeed, it hardly takes the presence of anything like a finished golf hole for the dramatic nature of this property to be evident. Neither Doak nor Coore & Crenshaw are noted for their water-crossing, do-or-die par-threes, but both courses will feature one–C&C’s is pictured above. The two holes are bisected by the massive dune to the right of the green.

The same body of water, separated by a narrow land bridge, wraps around to provide a driving hazard for the opening hole of the Coore & Crenshaw course. I’ll be curious to see if the big ridge in the foreground of this photo is left in place to obscure the left half of the fairway. In the distance, we could barely make out a green set on the diagonal from back left to front right, suggesting that a big drive down the right-hand side may be the desired line here.

I don’t want to convey too much of the impression that Streamsong is only about forced carries and hundred-foot elevation changes–there are plainer sections of ground that reveal plenty of scraggly character of their own.

All in all, Streamsong’s golf offering looked pretty promising. The chance to take on a Renaissance/C&C tandem at the same resort without having to fly all the way to Bandon is sure to appeal to East Coasters. I’ll be interested to see how Mosaic’s approach to the resort itself pans out, especially since this is not the company’s core competency. Plans for a big, all-purpose resort that can haul in the conference trade might not hit the sweet spot with the kind of clientele accustomed to a highly golf-centric environment. But that’s premature speculation–only time will tell if Streamsong can nail the details as well as the golf architects they hired usually do.

I’ll update this post as additional photos and comments come in.

Discussion

3 comments for “Site Visit: Streamsong Resort, Polk County, FL.”

  1. Great writing and pics! Post apocalyptic golf… next up Massey Energy Mountain Top Removal Country Club.

    Posted by John Dunn | February 18, 2011, 1:47 am
  2. Live approximately 40 miles from there, can’t wait to play both courses!Appreciate more pictures when available.

    Thanks

    Posted by Ray Fort | April 2, 2011, 2:36 pm
  3. I’ve played Bandon’s 4 courses as wellas have officiated the Amateur Public Links there in June. I work at Wildhorse GC in Henderson, Las Vegas and will be out there in Fort Meade this September in high anticipation and hopeful expectations.

    Posted by Tom Khamis | February 17, 2012, 11:57 pm

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