Is Streamsong Florida’s premier golf resort?
By Richard Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee
Having decided to take full advantage of my wife’s newfound enthusiasm for golf we decided to take a trip to the acclaimed Streamsong resort. Streamsong is located in central Florida, to the Southeast of Tampa and the Southwest of Orlando. The resort is accessible from either airport by about an hour or an hour and a half drive.
Streamsong is built on the site of an old phosphorus mine and is truly in the middle of nowhere, so if you plan to stay for any period of time you’ll have to stay at the hotel, which is on site. However, as I will describe later, the hotel itself is magnificent and a wonderful place to stay.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon and we were able to fly from our home in Knoxville, Tennessee directly to Punta Gorda Florida. After we got our rental car it was an easy 1-hour 15-minute drive up to the resort. The hotel is a curved modern design with rooms that face either forward towards the east or back towards the west overlooking a lagoon. The rooms were fantastic, very large and roomy with a king-size bed and nice comfortable sectional couch and two large flat screen TV’s. The bathroom was also spacious with an elegant walk in shower and plenty of counter space. All in all one of the nicest hotel rooms I’ve experienced at a golf resort, really only rivaled by the lodge at Pebble Beach.
There are two courses at Streamsong and they are designed by two of the hottest current names in golf course design. Tom Doak and his team at Rensaissance Golf designed the Blue Course while the renowned team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw built the Red Course. The courses share a common clubhouse and run over much of the same land, crisscrossing in places much like the Old and New Courses at Walton Heath. Straight up I will say that both courses are outstanding and a joy to play. Each has its subtleties that different golfers will appreciate but it would be hard for me to pick a favorite.
Walking is the order of the day at Streamsong, although carts are allowed in the summer and at certain time periods during the day. We went in November and the weather was perfect, running from 50 degrees F at night to over 70 degrees F during the day. The courses are easy to walk, although the Blue has some surprising elevation changes, especially for Florida. My wife and I took a caddy out for our first two rounds on the Blue and Red courses, and then I played the Red again on our last day and carried my bag without any problems. I love walking and it’s wonderful to see courses designed to be walked like the classic courses of old instead of having extended slogs between holes like the plethora of poorly designed courses that popped up in the 80s and 90s, especially in the USA.
Now to the courses.
Our first round was on the Blue course. I am a fan of Tom Doak’s courses and this design didn’t disappoint me at all. The routing flows naturally like many beautiful links and heathland courses of the United Kingdom. In general the fairways are very generous but the holes become more and more difficult the closer you get to the green. The 1st hole is a fairly benign par four, but the second shot demands a precise approach due to the steep right-to-left slope on the green. I loved the dogleg par four 4th hole, where the approach shot is to an elevated green over a huge steep bunker to the right – but there’s plenty of room to carry this bunker and hit the green. The hole reminds me of the fantastic 17th hole at North Berwick West Links, one of my favorite golf courses in the world. Five is a short par three with a benign flat area to the left of the green but brutal bunkers and a sharp run off to the right. The long green offers a huge variety of pin placements and strategic options.
However, at the par three 7th you really know you are somewhere special. The tee is set high atop a spectacular dune and the tee shot crosses over water and sand to a fiendishly sloped green. My laser range finder with slope measured the downhill as playing at -12 yards, which is something I thought I would never see on a Florida course.
The turn shacks at Streamsong are already famous, with the Blue course being known for their tacos. Three small tacos with pork, beef or fish can be enjoyed for $7 which isn’t too bad a deal – I chose the beef and it was fantastic.
The back nine continues with gentle rolling contours and wonderful sloped greens. Doak’s greens are difficult but always fair, there’s certainly more slope to his Blue greens than those on the Red but the severity always seems proportional to the challenge. There are a number of great holes on the back. The short par four 13th is driveable for many golfers, but the massive bunker to the left awaits a wayward shot, and the green is narrow with steep runoffs, demanding precise play – very appropriate for such a short hole. I also enjoyed the par five 14th, which played uphill after a challenging tee shot over an angled hazard that absolutely dared you to bite off as much as you could chew. The finish is very strong with the last three holes (from the back tees) being a 237-yard par three, a 590-yard par five and a 478-yard par four.
I enjoyed the Blue course a great deal. Everything was right in front of you and good shots were rewarded while poor golf was challenged or penalized. My wife enjoyed the course as well – there are no forced or impossible carries for the female golfer and each hole usually had an opening that allowed a shot to run on. The greens were difficult for her, but she adapted as the round went on. I do think the course is a little long for most women, measuring 5,531 yards from the up tees. I think many female golfers are more comfortable at 5,000 yards or less. I love courses like Royal North Devon in the UK, which has forward ladies tees measuring around 4,500 yards. Setting up advanced tees can encourage younger golfers, beginners and females and I think it would lead to more play from these groups.
On our second day we played the Red course. There is a certain familiarity with the Blue course, but this course is unique and offers its own challenges. For starters, the first hole on the Blue is a relatively benign short par four, but the opener on the Red is a tough uphill par four that plays even to a length of 447 yards from the Silver tees (which has a total yardage of 6,094). The hole runs gently uphill and is guarded by bunkers left and right. Something about the hole reminded me of the great first at the Island Golf Club just outside of Dublin.
Things continue to get interesting as the round progresses. The second doesn’t look that intimidating on the card, measuring 508 yards from the Black, or second longest set of tees, but it was playing directly into the wind which made the drive over water rather difficult. The water is angled in such a way that it is very difficult to choose and commit to the correct line. This is a beautiful hole. The short par four 4th is another great hole. A bunker dominates the middle of the fairway forcing the player to choose the path to the green. The green is very narrow from front to back, and is bisected by a huge bunker in the middle with steep back-to-front run offs on either side of the bunker. I played this hole twice, had 50 yards left for my second shot, and made bogey both days with is a testament both to brilliant design and my less than stellar play from 100 yards in. I enjoyed so many of these holes. The greens all were built in such a way that a huge number of pin placements were available, and the hole could play completely different depending on the tee and pin placement. The par five 7th has a huge mounded bunker that sits halfway up the green to the right. With a front pin the bunker has to be avoided, with a back pin the bunker has to be carried. This is simply great design.
The turn shack on the Red is between 8 and 9, and Bar B Q is the theme here. I went with a bison sausage that was out of this world, again for $7 USA, and it was worth every cent.
The back nine on the Red course is really tough. 10 and 11 are good par fours that generally play downwind. However at 12 the course turns into the wind and 12 is a brutally long par four that plays 500 yards from the back tees. Nothing gets really easier as the rest of the back nine through 17 runs into the prevailing wind. 16 is a par three that shares the plateau with the 7th on the Blue. While similar to its sister hole, 16 has it’s own challenges. The green is severely sloped with a hug dip in the middle. Once again this reminded of North Berwick, although it’s the split green at 16 on that course that seems similar. The green is enormous, running over 70 yards from front to back. I hit 6 iron the first day to an up pin and 3 hybrid the second to a back pin. 18 is a relatively benign par five that usually plays downwind giving you a chance to finish your round on a positive note.
The Red course demands more precise driving than the Blue and the greens are less severe, but there are still significant slopes that influence your shot and club selection. After I had played both courses I chose to play the Red on my second time around, but as I viewed many of the holes on the Blue course during my second round I found myself wishing I could have played that course again as well. Both courses are magnificent. My wife enjoyed the Red course, probably more than the Blue. Although longer from all the standard men’s tees, the course played about 5,000 yards from the up tees. The driving lines were tighter than the Blue, but there was still plenty of room for her to play. And, as on the Blue, there was almost always a safe, open option to the green to allow her to play up onto the putting surface without having a forced carry over a bunker or water hazard. These are great design features that use the natural land to create beautiful free flowing golf courses that are challenging and fun to play.
Streamsong has another course that is not yet ready for play. The Black course is designed by Gil Hanse, and has already been built. It will be about a year before the grass has grown in – it looks like Nov. 2017 is the anticipated opening date. The course sits about a mile away from the Red and Blue, which share a common clubhouse and driving range, but much of the Black course is visible from the opening holes of the Red course, Everyone at Streamsong is excited about the Black and the feeling I get is that it will be a little more dramatic and less natural than the Blue and Red. I think the course will probably fit in well and having a third course will make the resort more desirable as a get away destination for longer than a weekend.
The golf at Streamsong is fantastic and only looks to get better with the addition of the Black course. The hotel is beautiful and a wonderful place to stay. The resort has been open less than five years, and there is still some work to do on the service end before the resort can truly claim world-class status. On the food side Sottoterra is an excellent high end Northern Italian option. The other two restaurants, P2O5 and Restaurant fifty-nine, are only average at best and really need to be upgraded in regards to both service and food quality. Overall resort service was only average. Just an example we had to wait over 30 minutes for a one-mile shuttle ride from the clubhouse to the hotel after dinner one night, and it took three requests from different employees to finally get a ride back. That doesn’t happen at top resorts such as Pinehurst, Kohler and The Homestead. I’m sure the management will get things sorted out, and the problems we had would not keep me from returning. In fact I’m planning to return next year after the opening of the Black course and staying for an even longer period of time. Streamsong is a great resort that should continue to improve and become a destination for golfers of all skill levels and interests.Richard Smith