Streamsong's emergence in Florida has in part caused many other resorts to up the ante.  (Courtesy of Larry Lambrecht/Streamsong)

Greens race: Florida resorts competing to entice golfers with golf course reinvestment, millions in upgrades

One concept anyone who even casually follows the business world has learned in recent years is "disruption" — when an individual or company comes along and challenges and sometimes upends the existing general structure and workings of an industry. Disruption is often the end of "business as usual."

Amazon has disrupted the world of e-commerce. Uber has disrupted the taxi industry. AirBnB has disrupted the hotel industry.

Golf's traditional ways have been ripe for disruption, too. The biggest disruptor in the game at the moment is probably TopGolf, which has challenged entrenched notions of what "hitting balls" can be like.

Golf resorts and developers can be disruptors, too. When he built Bandon Dunes, Mike Keiser became a disruptor in the golf travel space, opening countless eyes to ways in which an American golf resort could be different from the norm.

Many latter-day resorts have taken cues from Keiser and Bandon. In Florida, the resort golf disruptor has been Streamsong, which has now grown to three courses on massive beds of sand in the center of the state. With a focus on walkable, wide, firm, fast golf, Streamsong broke the Florida mold, which pushed lush courses with palm trees, thick Bermuda rough and lots of water hazards. Now, traveling golfers with an eye on the Sunshine State have an option they previously couldn't have envisioned, and other golf resorts around the state have taken notice.

Streamsong's two original layouts officially opened in late-January, 2013. Since that time, major Florida golf resorts have plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into their own facilities, striving to stand out from the pack in the hopes of earning not just the adoration of the golf media but the hard-earned dollars of prospective traveling golfers, many of whom are looking to flee the cold winter weather currently gripping much of the world's Northern Hemisphere. Golf course renovations have happened all over, as have multi-million-dollar enhancements to accommodations, on-site restaurants and other resort amenities.

Now, it would be an oversimplification to assert that Streamsong has been the direct cause of this flurry of activity at Florida's golf resorts. Nevertheless, it can fairly be seen as one of many contributing factors, with weather and the passage of time being the main motivators. But when a new kid arrives and starts gaining in popularity, the neighborhood notices.

This week, the PGA Tour is in residence at Innisbrook, one of a number of Florida resorts to make significant upgrades since Streamsong came online. The highest-profile single project in that time? The complete renovation of the Copperhead Course. In 2015, every blade of grass was stripped and replaced, every tee was leveled and every bunker was rebuilt, while some bunkers were added, all in service of architect Larry Packard's vision for the course, which opened in 1972. As a result, the Copperhead, long beloved of Tour players who appreciate its ball-striking demands, enjoys a sterling reputation among the game's strongest players.

Innisbrook Resort Copperhead CourseNew greens, bunkers and a state-of-the-art irrigation system were included in a restoration of the famed Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort. (Courtesy of Salamander Resorts)

Said Salamander Hotels & Resorts Founder and CEO Sheila Johnson when Copperhead reopened, "This restoration respects and protects the vision of Larry Packard and his signature design, and further elevates the golf experience for our guests, members, partners and playing professionals."

Even if this activity has not been directly spurred on by Streamsong's own development, it is clear that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent at other Florida resorts in in order to serve up a better overall customer experience. Innisbrook's own improvements started in 2009, well before Streamsong was on anyone's radar, when the Island Course received some updates, including new TifEagle greens. To build on the momentum from the Copperhead renovation, last year, the resort redid the greens on the sporty North Course with the same strain in use on the Island and Copperhead. The South Course is in line for similar treatment soon.

Also on the horizon for Innisbrook: a renovation of more than half of its 500 available rental units. Funded collectively by the private owners of these accommodations, Innisbrook will be spending upwards of $30,000-40,000 per unit to bring the furnishings in line with guests expectations. This project is expected to unfold throughout this calendar year, so if you're planning on visiting in 2018 or 2019, be sure and ask to be placed in one of the updated rooms.

Here's what some other big-time Florida golf resorts have been up to lately:

PGA National Resort & Spa

PGA National's Palmer Course Brandon Johnson and his team from the Arnold Palmer Design Company have done a wonderful job renovating The Palmer Course at PGA National. (Tim Gavrich/Golf Advisor)

Another perennial PGA Tour host, PGA National has steadily updated its entire stock of guest-accessible golf courses - its 72 main-campus holes in Palm Beach Gardens - in the last half-dozen years. In the run-up to the 2015 Honda Classic, the resort completely regrassed its flagship Champion Course, growing fresh carpets of premium Celebration Bermuda grass on fairways, tees and green surrounds. In addition, they brought in Jack Nicklaus to redesign the long par-4 14th, moving the green closer to a lagoon and moving the tees back 10 yards.

The project that freshened up the Champion Course was actually the third in a laundry list of projects at the resort. The ball started rolling in 2012 when the resort renamed The Haig Course to The Fazio. The Fazio is a family affair of a course, originally laid out by George Fazio, later reworked by Tom Fazio and most recently tweaked by Tom Fazio II. In the 2012 project, greens were enlarged, Celebration Bermuda replaced the old strains and tee boxes were reshaped to have crisp rectangular shapes.

Also renovated in 2012 along similar lines was The Squire, another Fazio design and the shortest of PGA National's courses.

In 2017, Brandon Johnson of the Arnold Palmer Design Company came to breathe new life into The Palmer by reshaping all of the course's bunkers and recontouring the greens. Like the other courses, The Palmer received new grass as well. As a result, none of the courses require overseeding for winter play anymore, enabling them to play firmer, faster and more fun. Conditions are high on traveling golfers' lists of requirements for any destination, and PGA National, led by director of agronomy Brad Nelson, has stepped up to meet that demand.

The golf courses aren't the only amenity at PGA National updated recently. The last decade has been a busy one - a $100 million renovation of all of the resort's accommodations happened from 2008 through 2012, and in 2015 PGA National turned its focus to amenities like its spa, outdoor terrace, Sports & Racquet Club, tennis pro shop and fitness facilities.

PGA Village

PGA Village's Wanamaker Course PGA Golf Club's Wanamaker Course has rolling fairways and undulating greens amid a landscape of wetlands often seen in south Florida golf. (Courtesy of PGA Golf Club)

About 45 minutes north in Port St. Lucie, PGA Village has gone through similar changes the last three years at its three main-campus courses, led by superintendent Dick Gray. Things kicked off in 2015 with the renovation of the Tom Fazio-designed Wanamaker Course, as well as a $6.5 million project that remade the interior of the clubhouse, which now boasts two nice eateries in the Taplow Pub and the members-only Nineteen Sixteen Bar & Grille and Wanamaker Room, which overlook the 18th green of the Wanamaker Course.

Next up was the Dye Course, a Pete Dye original, which received new grass and expanded green perimeters after being closed for much of the spring and summer of 2016. And last year, Gray and his team delivered the same TLC to PGA Village's other Tom Fazio layout, the Ryder Course. On the issue of grasses, Gray said, "With Celebration [Bermuda] on fairways, Sea Isle Paspalum on tees and TifEagle Bermuda on greens, we have bought ourselves another 15-20 years of use."

TPC Sawgrass

TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course The PLAYERS Stadium Course's new-look 12th, which is now drivable for long hitters, may get some more tweaks before the PLAYERS Championship next March. (Courtesy of the TPC Network)

TPC Sawgrass' Players Stadium Course seems to be in a state of perpetual nipping and tucking, though the changes in 2016 that turned the par-4 12th from a relatively mundane drive-and-pitch two-shotter to a drivable temptress seem to have helped the course find its level...for now, at least. With the tournament moving back to March starting in 2019, it remains to be seen whether the cooler weather conditions will prompt any further work.

Often overshadowed but strong in its own right, TPC Sawgrass' Dye's Valley layout underwent what General Manager Bill Hughes called a "rebirth" in 2014 in preparation for hosting the Tour Championship. Though that tournament has moved a few miles up the coast to Atlantic Beach Country Club, the effects of that reinvestment in Sawgrass' other course have benefited resort visitors and will continue to do so for a number of years.

Speaking of the resort, the nearby Sawgrass Marriott, under new ownership since 2014, recently spent $25 million to bring the resort, which was once in bankruptcy, up to the standards of the two golf courses its guests come to play with the highest of expectations. Room interiors received a makeover, a concierge-level wing of the resort was sectioned off for high-roller guests and other amenities were reimagined or introduced altogether. An example of the latter: a Surfstream® Wave Machine that allows guests to hang ten without going into an Atlantic Ocean that seldom supplies premier surfing.

Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate

ChampionsGate International Course The International Course at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate reopened with new greens, surrounds and bunkers. (Mike Bailey/Golf Advisor)

Back in the golf hotbed of Orlando, this resort, open under the Omni flag since 2004, finished renovating its Greg Norman-designed International and National courses over the last two years (read my thoughts on the National Course here). Off the course, the resort has added 100,000 more square feet of conference space, enlarged the pool facilities and built a host of multi-bedroom accommodations of the sort in increasing demand for golfers, among other projects. The price tag for these and the golf course renovations: $40 million.

Hammock Beach Resort

Hammock Beach Ocean Course The par-3 17th is one of six holes on the Ocean Course at Hammock Beach Resort. (Mike Bailey/Golf Advisor)

Another Salamander property, Hammock Beach's recent golf course renovations - a 13-month project at its Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course - were necessitated more by weather than pressure to stay current. Hurricane Matthew hit the Palm Coast area very hard in October 2016, rendering the Ocean Course unplayable. As a result, the resort seized the opportunity to perform some extensive work on the course. The entire playing field was converted to Platinum Paspalum, which tolerates coastal conditions - particularly salty air and water - better than Bermuda. In addition, the resort added more than a dozen forward tee boxes aimed at promoting course playability. One pleasant benefit of the fury the hurricane brought: vegetation along the Ocean Course's half-dozen seaside holes was thinned out, enhancing views of the Atlantic. Unchanged at this point is Hammock Beach's Tom Watson-designed Conservatory Course. That's fine - it's been a strong course throughout its dozen years of life so far.

Also of note, Hammock Beach recently renovated its lobby area as well as 75 of its guest rooms and suites. As at Innisbrook, keep this in mind as you make arrangements for your next visit.

Trump National Doral Miami

Trump Doral Blue Monster The 18th green of the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral Miami. (Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor)

After buying it for $150 million in 2012, the resort's current patron pumped more than $250 million into the facilities at this long-tenured Miami resort, bringing in architect Gil Hanse to renovate its Blue Monster, Golden Palm and Red Tiger courses in 2013 and 2014. Doral's fourth layout, the Silver Fox was reworked a few years earlier. This project also saw the updating of all guest rooms and common areas, as well as the spa and meeting facilities.

Streamsong Resort

Streamsong Black Course The par-4 ninth at Streamsong Black has a punch bowl green and a blind approach. (Mike Bailey/Golf Advisor)

Finally, there's the resort that helped underpin this movement. The Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw-designed Red Course and Tom Doak-designed Blue Course are maturing nicely, but the resort's owners were too savvy to rest on those two laurels, and too eager to build a large golfing mecca to stop at just two courses (the Mosaic Corporation, which owns the resort, has thousands of acres at its disposal, after all). So they brought in Gil Hanse to build the new Black Course, whose late-2017 opening took an already popular destination for golf purists to new heights. Early reports from the Black focus on the wild, challenging but ultimately crazy-fun greens as the course's main defense and main draw. Though the Black course is still in its infancy, speculation is rampant that a fourth course will be built on property before too long.

With all these recent renovations at Florida's biggest golf resorts, it may be the best time ever to tote your clubs to the Sunshine State. The only drawback: it's harder than ever to narrow down your choices.

Mar 05, 2018

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JOEL GOODMAN wrote at 2018-03-08 02:07:36+00:00:


Charlie Johansen's avatar
Charlie Johansen wrote at 2018-03-15 18:03:06+00:00:

$256 to play there next week. That'll be a hard pass from me. Way to make golf accessible to the people.

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Tim Gavrich

Senior Writer

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.