Blue #1

The starting hole on Blue plays sharply down hill since the tee is on the crest of a large sand dune. It’s a short par-4 but since the green and approach both slope to the left stopping your second short near the pin can be a challenge. Photo credit: Larry Lambrecht

Before visiting a golf course for the first time I like to be at least somewhat familiar with what may be expected. However, when the trip to the new Streamsong Resort in Florida was scheduled, outside of locating it on the map, I didn’t do any research. My feeling was there had already been a lot of buzz around about the facility’s two courses situated in the wilds of the center part of the state so rather than having a lot of preconceptions, the conscious choice was to make the visit ignorant of what was ahead.

You could say I wanted to see Streamsong golf with fresh eyes.

Going to Streamsong the first thing you must deal with is getting there. It’s just not close to much of anything, a fact that means a substantial daily commute for many of the employees. It is east of the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and south of metro Orlando. Flying into OrlandoInternationalAirport you can figure an hour and a half, at least. Tampa International is closer by 20 minutes or so but from either direction you will pass over two lane county roads for much of the drive. I’m not trying to overemphasize Streamsong’s remoteness but suffice it to say the road hazards include armadillos.

Red #1

The Red’s opening par-4 is an intimidating tee shot and being in the middle avoids the bunker right with water you can’t see beyond if you carry the sand. Even a good drive may require a hybrid for the second shot up the dune to the green which is on the right. Photo credit: Larry Lambrecht

The two layouts opened in December 2012 and they can be characterized as “inland links,” a term most would agree is an oxymoron. Links, by definition, is the area between the land and the sea and since in this case the ocean is a long way off it can only refer to the terrain. True linksland is mostly sand, sparsely grassed dunes and not many–if any–trees.

Steamsong certainly fits that description.

Mosaic Company, the owners, mined phosphate here for more than 60 years, taking out millions of tons to make fertilizer.

The land was left looking like a moonscape with immense mounds, rolling dunes and deep pit lakes. It’s home to a variety of wildlife including rattlesnakes, deer, black otters and some really big alligators. The mined-out terrain was further sculpted over the years by Florida’s abundant rain and virtually constant wind.

All of these features are readily apparent on the 3½ mile drive from the county road which goes past the soon to be opened Streamsong Resort Hotel.

This is a walking facility and a caddy is required. However because Streamsong is in the middle of Florida where it gets really warm and the courses wend their way through the landscape, over dunes and mounds with 100-foot elevation changes, electric carts are available. Even then a forecaddie is required. He hops on the back between holes and besides helping to find your tee shot and reading putts he can show the way to the next tee. Neither course has any cart paths, just trails of crushed rock with a minimum of directional signage. It’s easy to become disorientated driving between the dunes even though the views from the crests are worth a second or third look.

Red #17 at Sunset

The short 17th Red par-4 has perhaps the most receptive green on the second nine. Long drives should avoid the left fairway bunker and because of the mounding you may not have a clear view of the pin location. Photo credit: Larry Lambrecht

To illustrate, while we were walking off the green on the fifth hole of the Blue course a Gator maintenance vehicle came by and the driver said she was trying to get to the eighth hole on the Red course. She had taken a wrong trail and wound up on the opposite side of the layout even though she had been working at Streamsong for three months.

For all intents and purposes there is no rough on either the Red or Blue course and the immense landing areas will make improving your Fairways-In-Regulation stat no problem. But, should you miss the fairway that can be a problem as they are bordered with unspoiled sandy areas, scraggly plants, lots of fairway bunkers plus some water. And speaking of fairway bunkers, don’t look for pristine smooth surfaces. The maintenance staff power rakes them only once a week, however your balllies is part of Streamsong’s charm.

Red and Blue’s superintendent Rusty Mercer’s maintenance philosophy seems to be: Have perfect tees, immaculate fairways and superlative greens. If the balllands anywhere else a golfer will just have to trust his luck. For the record and for those who care, the greens are MiniVerde Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass, a great putting surface for this climate while fairways and tees are 419 Bermuda.

One course, the Blue, was designed by Tom Doak and the other, the Red, by the team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. They had plenty of room to build on Mosaic’s 2,300-acres and the courses received their names early on. As the story goes, when Crenshaw, Coore and Doak were first looking over the site they began marking up a map with colored pens to indicate possible hole routings and you guessed it…Doak happened to be using a blue one and Crenshaw and Coore a red one.

Blue #7

Number 7 on the Blue is not only a wonderful over-water medium length par-3 but this picture shows off Streamsong’s “moonscape,” inland links terrain. The multi-level green is immense. Photo credit: Larry Lambrecht

Doak’s resume is impressive with many top ranked courses to his credit. The list includes Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania and CapeKidnappers in New Zealand plus highly thought of tracks here in the states, Pacific Dunes and Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Ballyneal Golf Club in Colorado. His philosophy of design is minimalist which translates to–let the terrain dictate the holes and move as little dirt as possible to keep the character of the property in tact. His Blue course at Streamsong is a great example.

Crenshaw and Coore are also well thought of in the world of golf course design. Crenshaw first made his reputation as a player and is of course a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. He also is a noted golf historian and golf course design student and the pairing with Coore is a match seemly made in heaven. They have collaberated on, among other projects, the Bandan Trails course at Bandon Dunes, a rejunvinaton of Donald Ross’ iconic Pinehurst No. 2 course plus the new Bandon Preserve course.

Streamsong even has another nice touch. Concluding your round and should the need arise, there is a 100-yard par-19th hole next to the putting green making it ideal for settling halved matches. The 19th is also easily accessible from the bar if for some reason circumstances dictate its play.

Presently guest accomodations are in the 12 rooms on the second floor of the clubhouse with the hotel set for a January 2014 opening. Streamsong will then be a true destination resort offering in additon to the memorable Red Course and Blue Course golf bass fishing in the many lakes, sporting clays shooting, a spa, workout room and pool. There will be three restuarants, one atop the hotel’s tower (called by construction workers the “Beer Can” because of its shape) will be first class and have spectacular sunset views.

The conclusion is easy to make, a visit to Streamsong is a must for those looking to find a unique golf experience.