April 12, 2018 By: Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY Sports, BOWLING GREEN, Fla. – There’s a certain charm to driving off the beaten path, where one leaves the hustle and bustle in the rearview as the countryside, two-lane roads, railroad tracks and an assortment of livestock, agriculture plots and industrial plants become your companions.
This is true when one journeys to Streamsong Golf Resort and Spa, which some believe is in the middle of nowhere but in fact rests a 60-minute drive east of Tampa and 90 minutes southwest of Orlando.
Here, one will find the handiwork of the Mosaic Company, a leading global producer of crop nutrients. Phosphate is a main ingredient used in fertilizer, and the company mined the land for more than five decades, leaving behind tons of surplus dispatched soil.
With the help of Mother Nature over the years, the 16,000-acre site became a windswept and sun-burned home to towering sand dunes and sand-based contours; natural bunkers; elevation changes even in the Sunshine State; 100-foot deep water ponds; and abundant native vegetation.
A perfect canvas for golf architects, if you will.
Thus, emerging from the land is Streamsong, a bucket list entrant featuring three A-list golf courses, a top-flight spa that’s worth the journey alone, a lakeside lodge, many other amenities and enough peace and quiet to obliterate any tension and angst.
“Only the occasional train comes by,” said Scott Wilson, director of golf at Streamsong. “You get away from everything here.”
Except golf – and the occasional deer, gator, bobcat and a plentiful array of birds you’ll come across.
Opened in 2014, the resort featured two courses designed by heralded architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who teamed to design and build the Red Course, and Tom Doak, who crafted the Blue Course.
Each play to a par of 72, with the Red tipping out at 7,050 yards and the Blue at 7,250. There also is the 37th hole, a 150-yard bye hole designed by Doak that’s nestled against a large dune and is used to settle bets.
The links-style courses have few forced carries and generous fairways with no rough to fear, especially around the greens where players have plenty of options when it comes to chipping, putting and pitching the ball.
The Blue has larger bunkers and more devilish, contoured greens, while the Red has softer, yet equally fast, putting surfaces. Located in the lower portion of the dunes, more vegetation comes into play on the Red.
“This can’t be Florida,” Matt Jordan, the head professional of the two courses when the resort opened, remembered thinking. “It looked like a place in New Zealand or Australia. … Streamsong is a unique destination especially for Florida. People are typically faced with golf courses that have bunkers, trees, and a lake on one side and houses on the other in Florida. Here, you see nothing. It’s a vastness of sand and grass, interesting topography, few trees.
“You have some privacy here. There are no housing developments.”
Playing the courses
Jordan is now the head pro at the Black Course, the newest addition to the resort and a perfect companion to the Red and Blue. Opened in September 2017, it was designed and built by Gil Hanse, a prominent architect who also was the man behind the course used in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
The Black is a big ballpark, with large ridges and meadows, fairways full of bumps and humps, sizeable bunkers and enormous tiered greens. No hole looks alike and forced carries are rare. Tipping out at 7,331 yards and playing to a par of 73, the course features natural elevation changes and has five par 5s and four sets of tees on each hole.
The Black plays to any skill level and the trek from the first tee to the 18th hole is abundantly entertaining and rarely interrupted by a long search for the golf ball after an errant shot.
“It’s creative, it’s fun, it’s challenging,” Hanse said. “There is anticipation on every hole. The word I keep hearing is fun. I think we’ve got it there.
“The owners wanted a golf course that was similar in the quality of the Red and Blue but different in how it plays. A course that can host a tournament. And we really wanted something to play fun and play big, with wide fairways and big greens where players can use the ground.”
When the property was burned to see what type of topography was available, numerous dunes in one section of the eventual course resembled a glove. Thus, holes 12-18 are known as the Glove, a stretch that features more trees.
Two standouts in the Glove are the two closing holes – the par-3 17th that has a backdrop of towering white-topped sand dunes, and the par-5 18th, a classic risk-reward hole that is home to the course’s only water hazard, a pond that guards the green – joined by deep bunkers and large hills – and makes players think twice about going for the green in two.
The course’s most remarkable hole – and most memorable – is the par-4 ninth, which plays from 317 to 450 yards. Just as the drive to Streamsong has its charm, so, too, does the walk up the hill toward the ninth green, with a windmill behind the green as the guiding light.
While the greens are the course’s defense, the ninth’s putting surface is on a level of its own. The blind approach shot is key – that’s where the caddie is of utmost importance – and the anticipation increases with each step until you reach the top of the mounding that towers over the epic, punchbowl green.
Eight to 10 feet below the golfer is an enormous putting green that is basically five greens in one. The inner child emerges, the days of putting contests taking over your imagination. Full of slope, the only straight putt seems to be a tap-in. You could face a 100-foot putt or chip with four different breaks in it. Putts where you aim 30 to 40 feet to the right or left of the hole are abundant.
“We love punchbowls,” Hanse said. “The mystery of walking over the hill to see where your ball wound up, that could provide euphoria or disappointment, is something. I have spent hours watching people play that green.
“And I never tired of it.”