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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Make Room on Your Bucket List for Streamsong

Streamsong Red #16
Streamsong has risen to near the top of most golfers' bucket lists, and with good reason. The two courses (soon to be three) are spectacular examples of how the land, not the builder, ultimately creates the golf experience. That's not to take anything away from architects Coore & Crenshaw and Tom Doaks, only to emphasize that they couldn't have created these masterpieces without the bones of fine golf geoforms in the landscape.

As everyone knows by now, the courses were built atop an abandoned phosphate mining property abandoned years ago when the supply of the money-making fertilizer ingredient in the ground was exhausted.  Corporate owners Mosaic Company decided to take a page from the Bandon Dunes playbook and build a top-drawer golf resort in the middle of nowhere in the belief that if they created it, golfers would find it.  With the help of a substantive public relations effort, that assumption was proven correct.

Today, Streamsong Resort is home to a 216-room lodge with all the usual amenities (spa, pool, fine dining) as well as bass fishing and skeet and trap shooting to help fill your hours when not on the golf course.  The lodge is an ultra-modern edifice with overtones of its corporate owner's industrial roots.  Rooms are large and well-designed for comfort, with multiple big-screen TVs, spacious baths, and thoughtful service.  Wood, polished granite, and finished concrete dominate the decorative theme.

What brings the customers to Streamsong, though, is the golf.  Two walking-only courses were built with the discriminating resort golfer in mind.  The Red course was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw while the Blue course is the product of Tom Doaks' creative mind.  The two tracks differ somewhat, but both offer excellent links golf minus the ocean.  Gil Hanse has been tapped to design a third course (to be known as the Black course) adjacent to the existing duo on slightly flatter topography but with the same turf-friendly sandy soil.  The opening of the new course is scheduled for late 2017.

Streamsong Red #6
The Red course offers wide fairways, firm and fast turf, and ego-crushing green complexes.  Nearly every green is protected by massive bunkers and/or chocolate-drop (or elephant dropping) mounds. If you have an unobstructed approach, expect to be forced to navigate a false front or a green that slopes away from you.  Pin positions on the edges can be murderous.  Unless you're a regular at the course, it's highly advised to hire one of the well-versed caddies to suggest the best lines off the tee and warn you about some of the hidden monsters around the greens.

From the tips, the Red course measures 7,148 yards. Most players will wisely attack nothing longer than the black tees, however, which are a more manageable 6,584.  Given the elevation changes and ever-present wind, there's nothing wrong with playing it forward to the silver tees, a more-challenging-than-you-think 6,094.

Regardless of your choice of tee, the Red course has a fascinating mix of holes.  From the black tees, half of the par fours measure less than 400 yards while the par threes range from 119 to 184. The par fives are all basically birdie opportunities at just over 500 yards, but each one plays differently into the wind.  It's a great temptation to try to overpower the short par fours, but if you're even slightly off-line from the tee, you'll wish you'd played more conservatively.

Your short game is more important than anything else on every course, but that's especially true on the Red.  Chipping from the firm, tight fairways is not for the faint of heart and well over half the greens have runoffs to deep collection areas.  Elephants, donkeys, and even a couple of prehistoric megalodons (prehistoric giant sharks endemic to the sea that once covered the site) are buried in the enormous greens.  The putting surfaces gets top dressed every week, which makes them lightning fast by resort standards, so you're probably better off spending more time on the practice green than the range before you tee off.

One of the most challenging holes is the 184-yard sixteenth, a Biarritz that's nearly seventy yards deep.  Your tee shot is all carry over water and a punishing bunker.  Let the wind (or your slice) carry your ball right and it's in two-foot-tall undergrowth. Go the other way with an over-cooked draw and your ball will kick down some thirty feet to a collection area--or maybe into a bunker.  Even if you're on the green in regulation, four-putts aren't unheard of.

Steamsong Blue #7
Tom Doaks Blue course is different from the Red--not harder, not better, just a markedly different golf course that requires a slightly different approach to par.  It's a little longer, playing 7,176 from the tips and 6,698 from the black tees, but the first difference you'll see is in the topography, which has fewer tall dunes but a bit more water.  The Blue course also has less mounding to squeeze approaches to the greens.

At first glance, you'll be delighted by the sweepingly wide fairways. But, like the National Golf Links, you'll soon discover two things: 1.) you need that width to play the wind and 2.) if you're in the wrong place, even on the short grass, you're in trouble.  There are also many more fairway bunkers (including cross bunkers) in play on the Blue course, so it's essential that you choose and hit the right line off the tee.  These are serious bunkers, too, deep and expansive, so recovery isn't assured.

The greens on the Blue course are smaller and even more contoured than on the Red.  The tight turf makes chip shots less than easy and probably eliminates flop shots by anyone except Phil Mickelson--and I'm not sure about him.

If there is a signature hole on the Blue, it's number 7, a geographic neighbor to the Red's sixteenth hole.  The seventh on the Blue plays 188 yards from the black tee, all carry over water.  Even though it's downhill, the hole pretty much plays the distance and under-clubbing leads to nothing but disaster.  The green is small and guarded by an ugly bunker on the front left.  It's also surrounded by hills covered with impossible vegetation.

All told, Streamsong should be on every golfer's must-play list.  Common wisdom says it's in the middle of nowhere, but it's no more difficult to reach than Whistling Straits and much easier than Bandon.  Streamsong is about an hour from Tampa and ninety minutes from Orlando, so you've got easy travel options.  Take advantage of them at your first opportunity.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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