Innisbrook Resort in Tampa ready to show off restored Copperhead Course for Valspar Championship

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort has always been a favorite among PGA Tour pros who play in the Valspar Championship. So when the 1972 Larry Packard design got a facelift in the summer of 2015, Innisbrook officials were understandably curious as to what the Tour players would think of the course now.

They'll find out soon enough, when the PGA Tour rolls into town March 7-13.

There shouldn't be too much mystery, though. After all, it's a restoration not a renovation; so save a few bunker changes, Packard's design remains intact.

"How do you make a golf course that PGA Tour players, members and returning guests love better?" Innisbrook Director of Golf Bobby Barns asked rhetorically. "You don't. You take a 45-year-old course, and you can make it brand new."

Barnes said all the work was done in the infrastructure of the course, which included drainage and irrigation improvements, bunker work and restoring tee boxes and greens.

Barnes got his first glimpse, perhaps, of what the tour players' reactions might be during a recent media day for the Valspar Championship. Among those in attendance was former tour player and TV announcer Gary Koch.

"It was interesting driving the course with him on media day," Barnes said. "I was literally getting ready to point out a few things to him, and he pointed them out to me before I even got a chance. He was really happy with the course, and when you get somebody like that who gives you a thumbs up, it made us all feel really good."

Copperhead is one of the Salamander Resort's four layouts, all designed by Packard, who died last year at the age of 101. An architect of more than 600 courses, Packard lived at Innisbrook for more than 40 years, and the resort's steakhouse even bears his name. Innisbrook's three other Packard-designed courses -- the Island Course, North Course and South Course -- also provide championship alternatives for its members, groups and guests.

As part of the plan to faithfully restore the intent and characteristics of Packard's original design, Wadsworth Golf Construction Company -- which was the original course builder -- was engaged to oversee the project work. Each green was rebuilt to United States Golf Association specifications with TifEagle Bermuda grass, several were restored to their original size to allow for additional pin placements and new drainage systems were installed underneath the green complexes.

Fairways were replaced with Celebration Bermuda grass to yield a more consistent hitting surface, and a number of viewing areas around the greens were modified to allow for larger tournament galleries in the future.

The restorative project also included the reshaping and rebuilding of Copperhead's bunkers, plus the addition of a set of staircase traps on the uphill 18th hole. At the practice facility, an additional tier was added to the driving range, and a new practice green was added for chipping, pitching and bunker shots.

"We are excited about the impact of the design enhancements and agronomic improvements, which undoubtedly will further solidify the Copperhead Course's reputation as a favorite among our players," said Andy Pazder, COO for the PGA Tour. "While the integrity of the original green designs has been maintained -- and, in some instances, actually restored -- work in and around a number of the greens has given us the flexibility of utilizing new hole locations, in conjunction with expanded areas or reduced severity of some slopes. Other key enhancements include repositioning fairway bunkers on some holes to more strategic locations and significantly improving the practice areas. Between Salamander's investment to make these improvements and the continued strong commitment by Valspar as title sponsor, the Valspar Championship is very well positioned for the future."

All tee boxes were rebuilt and laser-leveled, while several were expanded. Fifteen new forward tees were also added to enhance the experience for players of all skill levels. The length of the par-72 course for pros, however, remains 7,340 yards.

In the spirit of recent sustainability initiatives by the USGA and the PGA of America, the course's irrigation system was improved to include 500 new sprinkler heads and also save 11 million gallons of water per year -- enough to fill 1,100 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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