There are four courses at the world-renowned Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, which are set in 900 pristine acres of Florida’s Palm Harbor. American architect E. Lawrence Packard designed all four layouts and the Copperhead course is his most famous and arguably best achievement.
The golf courses at the Innisbrook Resort were built between 1969 and 1973 although the course formerly known as the Sandpiper is now part of the North and South courses. The second-best layout at the resort is the recently renovated and lengthened Island course that has hosted numerous U.S. Open qualifiers and NCAA Championships but the course everyone wants to play is the championship, tournament course, Copperhead.
“The clubhouse for the course is located on a hill so both the 1st and 10th holes are downhill shots and both the 9th and 18th holes are back up the hill. The entire course is well trapped, with all traps being visible. There is water in play on five holes, but bail out shots can be played on most for the medium and short hitters. The greens are mildly rolling so that straight in putts are not possible. To get birdies, the approach shot must be close to the pin. The 4th hole requires one of the most precise short shots on the course. The hole is demanding, but gorgeous!” Commented Packard on the ASGCA website.
The Copperhead course was the annual site of the JC Penney Mixed Team Championship. It was the final game of the year for the LPGA and the only major tournament where male PGA pros teamed up with their counterparts from the LPGA. The tournament was played according to Dick Chapman’s Pinehurst System, in which each team member drives, then the partner plays the second shot from each other’s drive position. They then decide to play whichever ball is in the best position and finish the hole with that ball alternating shots until the ball is holed. The last JC Penney Classic was hosted in 1999 and was won by John Daly and Laura Davies.
Innisbrook’s Copperhead course didn’t have to wait long for the return of top-flight golf. In 2000, the PGA Tour Tampa Bay Classic was founded and has been hosted under various sponsorship banners ever since – apart from a gap in 2001 due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Some PGA Tour professionals consider the Copperhead to be one of the best courses they play all year. If you’ve played it, we’d love to know what you think of the layout, so perhaps you’d like to write a review?
The Innisbrook resort is about a 40 minute drive west of Tampa. Unlike many resorts, it is very accessible. There are four courses on property and the signature course is Copperhead. One nice feature is the myriad of tees, from over 7000 yards, to 6600 to a more comfortable 6200, 5700 and 4800. Some reviewers have compared the terrain to North Carolina, which surprises me. I will say that it is not as flat as most Florida courses, has more trees and a little less water. To the course:
The first hole is a par 5 downhill. Visually, the four fairway bunkers are highlighted on this dogleg right. Take an extra club on your approach that has a significant back to front tilt. The 2nd a dogleg left with water on the elbow. Tough driving hole, too far left and you are blocked out, baby draw off the tee is the preferred ball flight. The par 4 dogleg right is tighter and longer to a very narrow landing area with water right. Lest I forget at about 150 yards out there is a water hazard on the left! The green is protected by bunkers short left and right and another behind it. A double won the hole!
The 4th looks like a straightforward par 3 on the card. All you have to do is hit a good iron onto the redan green to avoid the 4 bunkers. The 5th is the number one handicap hole and is a long par 5. The first challenge is the 200 yard carry over water off the tee. The second shot is blind. I was told to aim at the lone tree in the fairway and surprisingly that is what I did. The tree then served to block me out. I would suggest being a little bit left of the tree to give yourself the best approach to another well protected green. The 6th is another tough hole, long par 4, slight dogleg right. Meanwhile the fairway slopes left. Just about an impossible combination for my draw. You can exhale going into 7,8,9 and hopefully you can snag a birdie here. On 9 take at least one extra club as there is a false front.
The back nine opens with another downhill tee shot on this straightaway par 4. The 12this an interesting par 4. You do not need driver, but this will force a longer approach. The water hazard left has a brook that bisects the fairway, if you are long, courageous, accurate and good you can bomb a drive and be inside 100 yards. I do not think the risk is warranted. The 13th is a super par 3. Anywhere from 180-200 yards, it is all carry over water with one caveat. The fringe is tightly mowed and slopes back to the water hazard in the front right. The par 5 double dogleg 14th is the signature hole. While it is tempting to cut some corners on the par five there is little upside, follow the contours of the hole to give yourself a chance at birdie. The 15th is a downhill par 3, make sure you take one less club.
The “Snakepit” starts on 16 a long dogleg right with water down the right side. This is usually one of the toughest par 4s on the tour. You must carry some of the hazard to get inside 200 yards on your approach. You should club up and be wary of the bunkers in the sky and the real bunkers left and right. The pa 3 17th is another tough par 3. It has the biggest green on the course but is well protected by bunkers and sharp front slope. The finishing hole is uphill with 10 bunkers. It has a mini-churchpew on the right and somehow they were able to squeeze the green in between two ginormous bunkers.
Overall, a nice track and certainly not your typical Florida fare
When you leave Route 19 and venture onto the grounds of Innisbrook you leave the cluttered and chaotic roadway and all the hustle and bustle behind.
Innisbrook is beyond the level of so much of what calls itself top quality golf in Florida.
The layout is blessed with plenty of rolling terrain -- in Florida terms it's actually mountainous!
The feel, as was described in an earlier comment from Hugh -- is reminiscent of North Carolina. The stately pines protect the fairways and the need to be precise off the tee is paramount. Ditto the approach shots one must play.
Many of the greens are well protected and the course clearly accentuates a very fair but rigorous test of golf.
The ending stretch of holes speak in very clear and distinctive terms. The tagline is the "snake pit" The par-5 14th is a solid three-shot hole, save for the likes of a Dustin Johnson. The two par-3's in the ending series are well done -- the former going downhill and the latter just a demanding hole where par is gladly made by all.
The two par-4's at the 16th and 18th are strong and compelling. At the 16th the usage of the water hazard in the drive zone is especially appropriate. The ending hole plays longer because of the uphill approach and when the pin is cut tight to the left side of the green -- as it is during final rounds of the Vaspar event it takes a superbly played approach to get near enough for a birdie try.
So much of Florida golf often overdoses on the insertion of water to the point of overkill and lacking for any real purpose. The same holds true for the inane clutter of housing that marks so much of golf in The Sunshine State. Not so at Copperhead. Why the course does not get more attention and praise makes me wonder if people really understand quality architecture.
by M. James Ward
Martin, we plan to extend our Florida rankings to a Best In State Top 100 later this year. The analysis task is rather daunting as there are many many courses in the Sunshine State to consider. Southern Hills Plantation is one of a number of good Dye courses in Florida but the two Streamsong courses are in another league and will no doubt debut very highly in our new Florida Best In State rankings when we publish. If anyone has played golf extensively in Florida, please contact us.