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Innisbrook's new Island Course
By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
Published November 29, 2007
On July 16, Sheila Crump Johnson and her company, Salamander Innisbrook Securities, bought Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club for nearly $35-million. On July 17, a $1.7-million renovation began at Innisbrook's oldest course, the Island Course.
After close to 90 days of tearing up greens, adding bunkers and clearing land for new tees, the Island reopened in October for the Golf Channel Amateur Tour national finals. The course was lengthened by nearly 350 yards. All 18 greens were lowered slightly and resodded with TifEagle bermuda grass, the same used on the Copperhead Course, home of the PGA's PODS Championship, and new cart paths were put in throughout.
The Island now measures 7,310 yards from the pro tees, just 30 shorter than the Copperhead Course.
"I think it sent a message to our members that (Johnson and company) weren't just going to buy it to buy it," Innisbrook director of membership Doug Schmidt said. "They were going to buy it to make it better."
All of the greens, fairways and rough are currently overseeded, but the grass should be fully grown within the next two weeks. Club officials hope lengthening and improving the course will make it viable for professional and amateur tournaments as well as attractive to those looking for a golf vacation.
Schmidt said the course will host a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Amateur in the summer. In fact, the Island Course almost held the Nationwide Tour's final event of the season on Nov. 1-4 when wildfires threatened to affect the tournament near San Diego.
"We're on a short list of courses that remain tournament ready throughout the year," Schmidt said. "Everyone knows the Copperhead Course. But ask most members here, and they'll say they like the Island just as much."
Completed in 1970, the Island Course is the oldest of Innisbrook's four courses. The Copperhead Course followed, and it originally had 27 holes. Nine holes at Copperhead were used as part of the Highlands North Course. Later, the Highlands South Course was formed. All four were designed by Larry Packard.
In 2000, the Copperhead Course hosted the Tampa Bay Classic. It has been a PGA Tour stop ever since. The Island Course also has hosted its share of tournaments, including the Southern Amateur, NCAA championship (won by Phil Mickleson), four Florida Opens and numerous USGA events.
The Glase Golf Construction Company oversaw the renovation project. It is the same company that originally constructed the course 37 years ago.
The seventh has Packard's fingerprints all over it. A par 5 that is 510 yards from the white tees (570 from the tips), a good drive still leaves a golfer about 250 yards to the green. Lake Innisbrook skirts the right side, and thick trees line the left.
The second shot is uphill and doglegs to the right. The green, of course, is guarded by a bunker, and any shot short of the green could be eaten up by a fairway bunker. It is the No. 1 handicap.
"The signature of a Larry Packard course is the double dogleg," Schmidt said. "No. 7 is that hole. At Copperhead, it's No. 14."
The par-4 fifth hole is actually called Breather on the scorecard. It gives the average golfer a real chance at birdie.
It's a short par 4 (355 yards from the white tees) with a slight dogleg right. A decent drive to the left gives the golfer an open shot to an average-sized green. Two putts and a par shouldn't be that difficult with a shot from the fairway.
Enjoy this hole while you can. Cypress Tunnel, which is a narrow fairway surrounded by cypress trees, and the signature hole await.
Another unique feature of the Island Course: the 10th and 11th holes.
The 10th hole was lengthened to make it even more intimidating. New tees were added for tournament golfers, which makes for a 475-yard uphill par 4. There is a 234-yard carry over water just to reach the fairway. Then it is uphill all the way to the green.
At 74 feet in elevation, the 11th tee is the highest point in Pinellas County. After marveling about that, average golfers have to deal with the 370-yard par 4 that is all downhill with trees on both sides. It is a ridiculous 530 yards from the tips, making it one of the longest par 4s in the country.
These two holes look like none other in Pinellas County. It's easy to imagine being in North Carolina when playing them.
After 17 holes of sideway lies, sand traps and speedy greens, the Island Course has one last treat.
The par-4 340-yard 18th is short, but it's not easy. All it takes is a 5-wood or iron shot to the center of the fairway. Then the hole doglegs to the left and is surrounded by water in front and to the right. The green slopes downward to the water, so a safe approach shot needs to land on the back of the green to let the ball trickle down to the front.
About the only good thing is while your putting out, an Innisbrook employee is cleaning your clubs.
Innisbrook Golf Club
Where: 36750 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor
Courses: Island, Copperhead, Highlands North, Highlands South
Amenities: Lodging, shopping and restaurants available on the premises
Rates: Until Jan. 17, $200 for Copperhead, $180 for Island, $130 for Highlands North and South; increase by $20 at each course on Jan. 18; packages that include 18 holes and breakfast available for $199 per night
Contact: (727) 942-2000 or toll-free 1-800-456-2000.