Florida’s Game Changer - Streamsong
With over 1,200 courses, Florida is America’s most rich golf state. The issue for many facilities in The Sunshine State is how to differentiate one’s product from the countless others all looking to remain relevant. Redundancy in design is commonplace in Florida and, given the relatively dead flat nature of the site, the vast number of courses often feature a predictable and pedestrian formula.
Complicating matters was the seismic shocks — still happening today — caused by The Great Recession that occurred from late ‘07 through to early ‘09. Prior to the economic downturn, golf’s growth throughout Florida was fuelled by an over exuberant real estate market centred around an erroneous speculative belief that the pattern would simply continue without end. Developers used golf as a central amenity to spur vast numbers of home construction of all types. When the magnitude of the recession struck, the overall golf market tanked in direct proportion to a free falling real estate market. Even nearly ten years later the shock waves are still being felt as new golf course construction in all of the United States is virtually non-existent, with additional course closings becoming more and more prevalent.
Given these realities, it is hard to imagine how anything “new” could really stand apart in a major way in Florida. Amazingly, that is happening with the mega development Streamsong. Located in Polk County, Streamsong is 60 minutes by car from Tampa and 90 minutes from Orlando. Incredibly, Streamsong’s success comes from neither being next to the Atlantic Ocean nor the Gulf of Mexico. The entire property is landlocked. The 16,000 acres of land is a former phosphate mine land. The Mosaic Company, the owner of the resort, represents the company’s first-ever development project in Florida. Mosaic, a leading global producer of crop nutrients, is Florida’s seventh largest private landowner, with approximately 250,000 acres under direct ownership.
The initial effort on the golf front was to create 36-holes on 300+ acres. The design efforts were split between the Blue Course handled by the talented Tom Doak and the adjoining Red Course carried out by the acclaimed tandem of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore.
Since it’s opening in January 2013, Streamsong has been a magnet in getting core golfers to make the trek to a facility truly isolated from the norm demonstrated by other Florida courses. Part of the manner by which Streamsong has sought to differentiate itself is through an active caddie programme, thereby emphasising the benefits in walking the course. Power carts are available, but their usage is more the exception than the rule. Golfers can also opt to carry their own bags or rent a trolley.
This past September the third layout - the Black Course - joined the fold. Designed by Gil Hanse, the man responsible for the layout used for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil, the Gold only adds to the overall golf product with its flowing elevation changes, with rolls, tumbles and ridges of different shapes and sizes.
Streamsong has clearly opted to go in a far different manner than what past Florida courses have sought to accomplish; the momentum is clearly resonating with core golfers seeking a golf experience that rejects the typical associated housing cluttered layouts that often are the norm when playing in The Sunshine State.
So How Good Is The Golf?
The 7,164-yard par-72 layout is crafted with Doak’s penchant for putting surfaces featuring an array of vexing contours and various movements. The Blue is not the strongest of the three in the teeing areas, as fairway widths are amply wide with far less differentiation - but one’s approach play needs to be spot on as the pin locations require a deft skill in being able to land in the appropriate areas.
Among the more notable examples are at the par-3 5th and the eye-catching 7th respectively. At the former the putting surface moves like a giant wave and the former plays over a water hazard with a green framed in a glorious setting.
Doak provides a constant change of pace with holes that never fall towards predictability. The closing stretch of holes commencing from the short par-4 13th is well done as the land at this part of the course truly becomes more notable. Be sure to have one’s short game in high order because failure will mean a steady diet of three-putts and a “blue” feeling when leaving the final green.
The Crenshaw / Coore design - 7,148-yards and par-72 - is another example of why this duo excels in creating layouts that never cease to be utterly imaginative. The opening hole sets the tone - a long demanding par-4 of 474 yards. The Red, unlike the adjoining Blue Course, provides more defined driving areas and success is based upon getting to the right position.
The Red provides a number of scoring holes early in the round and the player had best take advantage of what Crenshaw and Coore have provided. That changes in a big time manner when you reach the inward set of holes. At this point the challenge becomes more rigorous - the expectations placed on the player become more apparent.
The two best back-to-back holes at Streamsong come with the long uphill par-4 15th at 474 yards and the genius demonstrated at the Biarritz-fashioned 16th at 208 yards. The former is a fair, but demanding hole. Nothing but one’s best will suffice. At the latter, the hole plays over a water hazard to a gloriously shaped green that is nearly 70-yards in length and features a deep dip separating the front and back portions. Truly memorable.
The ending two holes at The Red are somewhat of a letdown, but given the challenges one has faced to that point, it is fair to say Hanse and Wagner has attempted to give the golfer an opportunity to make up for lost ground prior to that point.
The most notable aspect of the new addition to the Streamsong golf portfolio is the immense scale of the property. There is plenty of fairway width, but it pays for the golfer to get to the preferred side, thereby enhancing the approach angle into the devilish targets which can easily sweep a ball away if not executed with care. The par-73 7,331 yard layout occupies roughly 300 acres, and Hanse and his right hand partner Jim Wagner have masterfully tried to provide an American version of the kind of golf found in Australia’s Sunbelt location.
The Black provides plenty of thrills throughout the round but it push back just as hard for any indifferent shots. It pays to avoid the areas of the course that are not maintained. Sandy areas just off the fairway can provide an array of different lies and challenging stances.
Hanse and Wagner brilliantly provide putting surfaces that will simply not concede ordinary dimensions. You see that at the opening par-5 but even more so at the underrated 361-yard 2nd where the putting surface appears larger from the approach area but falls off to the rear for those approaches not gauged appropriately.
The long uphill par-3 5th is one of the best holes at the complex. Be sure to take plenty of club as the green sits on a high promontory. At the par-4 9th you face a blind approach with only a windmill providing a directional beacon. The massive green sits in a massive bowl with a countless number of movements and is wonderfully done and clearly a conversation item after the round concludes.
The inward half of holes is not on the same scale as the outward side, but make no mistake the variety of holes and the clever manner by which it is routed is no less grand.
The concluding trio features a long par-4 at the 16th, a quality par-3 at the 17th and an exclamation point finish with the brilliant par-5 18th that provides a summation hole worthy of the ones that have preceded it.
Streamsong is without question Florida’s must-play destination because the golf design from three top tier architects is heads and tails beyond the vast number of other courses in the State. Keep in mind the lone downside is that while the facility touts “firm and fast” conditions, the grass used - especially on the Blue and Red courses — does not provide the kind of “bounce” that would truly enhance what the respective designs provide. That situation is different at the Black, but getting turf in south central Florida to be comparable to the links of the United Kingdom and Ireland will be a constant challenge.
The other factor to keep in mind is that while the facilities are impressive, and no question state-of-the-art, the isolation of being at Streamsong can be both a plus and a downside. On the plus side, the 216 guestrooms in the main Lodge are well appointed and for those on corporate meetings there is more than 18,000 square feet of conference space. The dining options are varied and the inclusion of a well-appointed spa provides a superb touch - no pun intended. There is also clay shooting, bass fishing lakes, a nature trail, fitness centre and a glorious rooftop terrace.
For those intent on visiting for a 4-5 day period, it is clear Streamsong has all elements that will allow a rejuvenation of both mind and body. Yet, for those who have wanderlust and want other elements, be forewarned Streamsong’s distinctive mark is that it avoids what other Florida locations bombard people with when going there. Streamsong clearly provides beautiful music for those who yearn for a location that will provide memories long after your time there concludes.