PALM HARBOR, Fla. - Innisbrook is home to 72 holes of golf, all designed by Larry Packard, but it's one of those big golf resorts where one course clearly outshines the others in the public consciousness.
Here, that layout is the Copperhead Course, the longtime host of the PGA Tour's popular Valspar Championship, which will be held March 8-11, 2018.
Copperhead remains the best course on property, but its supporting cast has been steadily improving in recent years.
The Island Course, which many members hold in equal regard to the Copperhead, received a nearly $2 million renovation in 2008, which included brand-new TifEagle greens.
Then, in 2015, the Copperhead Course underwent a complete, $4.5 million renovation that saw the installation of not just new TifEagle Bermuda greens, but reshaped bunkers and new grass in the fairways and roughs, as well as a brand-new drainage system.
And in early 2017, Innisbrook's overseers, Salamander Hotels & Resorts, made the decision to close resort's North Course for five months to install brand-new TifEagle Bermuda grass to the course's greens. This represented the first such conversion in the course's more than 40-year history. In the past, the North Course's original common Bermuda greens needed to be overseeded for winter play in order to present a puttable surface for the majority resort's annual visitors.
But modern Bermuda varieties - commonly called "ultradwarfs" and including TifEagle, Champion and MiniVerde, which now prevail at courses in warm climates - are hardier and stand up to wintertime foot traffic. As a result, the North Course's new greens won't need to be overseeded, meaning more consistent, firmer and faster putting surfaces for guests and time and cost savings for North & South Course superintendent Rob Koehler and his team.
In addition to the brand-new greens, and in response to Hurricane Irma, which knocked down hundreds of trees across the property, a handful of new ones have been planted in strategic locations on North Course's first, fifth and 18th holes.
The North Course is the shortest of Innisbrook's four layouts at just over 6,300 yards from the tips, but because it plays to a par of 70 and many holes feature fairly narrow confines off the tee, it prompts the golfer to hit less than driver on a handful of par-4 and par-5 holes, in the interest of trying to stay in the fairway at all costs. Many greens pitch steeply from back to front, and since the new grass enables them to be maintained at faster speeds than ever before, putts from above certain hole locations can be scary. Due to the elevation changes - substantial for Florida - on many holes, resort officials like to refer to the North Course as "Little Copperhead."
Because the renovation of the North Course's greens has been such a success, Salamander Hotels & Resorts has empowered Koehler and his team to re-grass the South Course's greens with TifEagle next year. Successful completion of this project will mean that all four courses at Innisbrook will have identical-grassed greens, meaning guests playing multiple courses on property won't have to adjust to different putting surfaces on different days.