A group of golf writers had the opportunity this past January to play the four courses at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Fla. less than an hour from the Tampa Airport and an hour and one half from Orlando. What a joy and what a treat to see how many major improvements have taken place over the years.
Isn’t it great to be able to play where the PGA players play? The Copperhead course is host of the Valspar Championship each March. We were playing it a month from when the pros were there, and it was so much fun watching it on television and remembering your good (forget the bad) shots on this great course.
When the idea to build Innisbrook, now a Salamander Resort , was conceived, the concept was both exciting and unique: a luxurious Florida golf resort with multiple courses and condominium-style accommodations. After it opened in 1970, the Tampa Bay area property quickly vaulted into the echelons of the country’s finest golf resorts, and has remained there ever since thanks to the addition of many more amenities, the staging of a PGA TOUR
event for the past 29 years, and an owner dedicated to quality and service. Its popularity has never been greater.
The resort announced this August that it would completely remodel the interiors of all of its 400 suites to feature an appealing and modern look. Each unit will be completely refreshed to receive all new furniture, furnishings, flooring, stainless-steel appliances, quartz counters, cabinets, lighting, draperies and other décor by the end of 2018. Amenities and public spaces will not be affected, and therefore guest impact during this timeframe will be minimal.
These enhancements follow many other improvements made by Innisbrook Owner Sheila Johnson since she purchased the property and Salamander Hotels & Resorts, the company Johnson founded, began managing it.
The celebrated golf resort’s suites are located in low-rise lodge buildings, which were designed to blend into the property’s 900 wooded acres through the use of a “back-to- nature” style of architecture. Many of the units look out on Copperhead.
Innisbrook’s popular South Course is nearing the end of a five-month renovation and will re-open this fall. All the greens have been planted with TifEagle Bermuda Grass – the same surface used at the resort’s celebrated Copperhead Course. In addition to the replacement of the greens, the project also includes the expansion of the greens to their original size, and re-sodding and improvement of all bunker edging.
The suite makeovers and South Course restoration are just the latest in a series of improvements Salamander Hotels & Resorts have made at Innisbrook. Other recent enhancements include: restoration of the famed Copperhead Golf Course, renovations to
the Island Golf Course, installation of new greens on the North Golf Course and expansion of the Osprey Clubhouse.
Also the addition of the Market Salamander Grille & Bar, opening of the Salamander Spa and Fitness Center, refurbishing of its 65,000 square feet of Conference Space and revamping of the Loch Ness Pool Complex. This is in addition of spending $26 million in 2009 to build the world-class spa.
Tram service is available throughout the property and shuttle service is available from the airport, so renting a car is not mandatory. They have a great many golf groups visit, in fact
the return rate is about 50 percent. Groups of 12 or larger have a golf concierge assigned to handle all aspects of the visit.
Let’s talk about the golf. The Copperhead course is the most famous. It can be a monster, as it plays to over 7,300 yards from the tips. “We have many people who want to play where the pros play, and we let them, but the course is more fun when you play from the tees that best suit your game,” said a person in the pro shop.
One of the unique things about the Copperhead course is the elevation changes. “This is not your typical Florida property, as we have 70-foot elevation changes on some holes,” said our starter. The first hole is a good example, a downhill, winding par 5. The par 5’s are all very challenging, especially the uphill over water 5 th hole that is deserving of it’s number one handicap. One of the most challenging holes is the third, called “narrow neck” that has water
on both sides of the fairway. Number 12 is a fun par 4 that requires a lay-up to the pond off the tee, and then a long carry over the pond to a well-bunkered green.
Our favorite course on the property was the Island Course. Set among tall pines, cypress and live oaks with moss draping towards the ground; it is a scenic wonder with enough wildlife to make a nature walker proud. We saw a bald eagle, all types of birds, and a raccoon during our round.
The front nine plays around Lake Innisbrook. It is narrower than Copperhead, but the shot-making needed on many holes, especially nine and 18 will give you a good test of golf. Number 7 is the signature hole and it is a great par 5. Sixteen might be the toughest.
The North and South courses are both fun, with the North being a little more difficult with water coming into play on 11 holes. The par 3’s are excellent and they play longer than their yardage. The South course is more links-like on the front nine. The houses that frame
the par 5 eighth are exquisite.
Larry Packard designed all four courses. He lived on the property and died at the age of 100. He designed parts of Mt. Desert Island in Bar Harbor, Me., did work at O’Hare Airport and worked on over 250 golf courses, although the four at Innisbrook are his only complete designs.
The service at the property is phenomenal. I dropped my clubs off at the course the first day, and they were waiting for me at the first tee for the next three days. There is a great practice area near the clubhouse for the North and South courses, and they will bring your
clubs there if you wish. “We strive to make the stay at Innisbrook as comfortable and fun as possible,” said the managing director Mike Williams. They have succeeded. It’s pretty difficult to make the golfing experience much better with great courses, excellent accommodations, wonderful staff and great weather. It’s as good as a golf vacation can be.
You can get more information about Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort and their
golf packages at www.innisbrookgolfresort.com or call them at 800-492-6899.
Bruce Vittner is a member of the Golf Writers Assn. of America, the Golf Travel Writers of America and
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.