PALM HARBOR, Fla. — The golf resort business is highly competitive in Florida these days, and the managing director of a top contender believes there may soon be a changing of the guard.
Mike Williams, managing director of Innisbrook Resort, presided over the reopening of his South Course last week on Nov. 30 and took an aggressive stance after outlining all the work that has or is being done there.
“This is a great day for Innisbrook,” said Williams. “Innisbrook will be — is — the premier golf resort in the Southeast. Our competitive set is PGA National, Streamsong, Doral, TPC Sawgrass. We now have the guest accommodations that not only rival what they have but far surpass their offerings”
Those are strong words, but Williams may have a case with the snowbirds having returned to the Sunshine State.
Innisbrook has four courses — Copperhead, Island, North and South — all designed by Larry Packard who lived on the property until his passing at age 101 in 2014. Copperhead has hosted a PGA Tour event for 29 straight years and the Valspar Championship returns there in March.
The Island course hosted NCAA championships that were won by Phil Mickelson and Lee Janzen and the LPGA, Symetra and Legends tours have all had events on Innisbrook courses at one time or another. The U.S. Golf Association has also held U.S. Open qualifiers at Innisbrook.
Now, though, the resort’s focus is on the recreational visitors. After a six-month long renovation of the South layout, Innisbrook has all four courses with the same TifEagle Bermuda grass on its greens. That’s a big deal as far as the resort is concerned.
“We had a perfect summer for growing grass, and it’s so important to have all four courses with the same putting surface for the people who come down from all over,” said Williams. “They don’t want to go from course to course and have a different putting experience. Every year the pros rave about the greens that we have here and how consistent they are.”
The North Course, dubbed Little Copperhead, received new greens in 2017, so now it was the South’s turn.
“We’ve expanded the greens to the original Larry Packard size and we also replaced the grass on three practice greens,” said Bobby Barnes, Innisbrook’s director of golf. “That’s extremely beneficial to us because it allows for more foot traffic and helps the greens stay healthier longer. We couldn’t be more excited about that. What we did this summer will pay dividends for years to come.”
In addition to the greens’ renovation the Innisbrook crew also improved the condition of the bunkers, cleared all storm canals, trimmed trees in the fairways and re-sodded in some areas.
“The South is our newest, and most user-friendly course, and probably my favorite golf course to play,’’ said Barnes of bringing the course up to the standards of the other three.
The work is not finished, though.
The remodeling of the resort’s 400 rooms started in September and is expected to be completed in the early part of this year. When the work is complete, it will mark the first time in 20 years that Innisbrook, one of six properties in the Salamander Hotels and Resorts portfolio, could do all the upgrading at one time. In previous upgrades the work was done in phases. The work done is all leading up to the course’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2020.
Len Ziehm spent 41 years as the golf columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times before his retirement in 2010. He is now the golf columnist for the Daily Herald chain of Chicago suburban newspapers.