By BOB HARIG
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000
PALM HARBOR -- For years, the Copperhead course at Innisbrook has been considered among the best in Florida, if not the entire country. Golf Digest once ranked it among its top 100 courses in America and among its top 75 resort courses. Players who competed in the JCPenney mixed team tournament also gave it high marks.
But never has the North Pinellas layout had a collection of talent playing it at the same time as today, when a 144-player field begins play in the $2.4-million Tampa Bay Classic.
And by most indications, the course will be a big story this week.
"This is as long of a course as I've played all year," Casey Martin said. "It's going to be a great test. Scores will not be low here. If they are, I quit."
"It's in the best shape I've ever seen it," said Clearwater's Greg Kraft, who estimates he has played the Copperhead more than 50 times. "This golf course has all you can ask for: length, demanding tee shots, tight driving holes, long par-3s, short par-3s. It has a little bit of everything."
"I think it's as hard of a golf course as we'll play," said Bill Glasson, a part-time East Lake Woodlands resident. "I always thought that when we played the mixed team. A couple of us were talking, and we thought if you could get to double digits (under par), you'd be doing pretty good. Look at the par-3s, they're monsters. The par-5s are no giveaways. In fact, there are no giveaway holes out there."
When course officials learned they would be getting a full-field PGA Tour event, they decided to give the 28-year-old layout a face lift. All 18 greens were refurbished, tees were added, bunkers were rearranged. And 150 yards were added.
The result is a 7,295-yard, par-71 layout.
"I think it's one of the better ones on tour, no question," said Safety Harbor's John Huston. "I think everyone will really like this course. It's a good driving course. The greens are in great condition. There is plenty of slope, so it will be tough chipping the ball around the greens out of the Bermuda rough. Especially with the speed of the greens. I don't think you'll hear anything bad about it. There's no question it's the best Florida course we play."
Huston admittedly is biased. He grew up in Dunedin and has played the course more than 100 times. "When I was in high school, Innisbrook was like my Augusta," he said. "To play the course was the greatest thing."
Huston's comment: "It's a fairly easy starting hole. But I think the key is the drive. The fairway bunker sticks out, takes up quite a bit of fairway in the hitting area. If you hit it in the fairway, you have a chance to get to the green (in two). If not, it's still a pretty easy hole because it's an easy pitch. It's definitely a good birdie chance to start off."
Huston's comment: "You just want to keep it out of the water and leave yourself about 160 yards into the green. You don't want to mess with driving it up too far. It's a pretty tough green because it's elevated."
Huston's comment: "It's definitely set up by the tee shot. It's a good, tight driving hole with water on the right and a hazard on the left. It's got a fairly generous green."
Huston's comment: "A pretty straightforward par 3. Club selection will be the key here."
Huston's comment: "I don't think there will be many guys who get there (in two) from the back tee. Even the guys who have a chance to get there ... it will be a really difficult shot to put it on the green in two. So I think most of the guys will end up laying up to 100 yards or so and playing it that way."
Huston's comment: "The key is definitely the tee shot. It's a real tight driving hole that goes left to right, but the fairway slopes right to left. So you pretty much have to cut the ball off the tee. It's a tough second shot from a hanging lie."
Huston's comment: "There's a new tee back there, but they've also cleaned out some of the stuff (near the landing area) so instead of it being a layup shot, it's made it into a driver hole. But it's also a bigger hitting area."
Huston's comment: "A good, really long par 3. It's got a big green where you just want to get it on there. It's not a real tough green to putt."
Huston's comment: "The tough part is the shot into the green. You won't be able to see the bottom of the pin. So club selection is tough, and you do want to leave it under the hole because a putt from behind will be very fast coming down that hill."
Huston's comment: "Another good driving hole. It's got an elevated tee so there is a pretty big drop-off. If you get it in the fairway, it won't play that hard. It's got a big sloping green so you want to stay under the hole."
Huston's comment: "It depends on where they put the tee. If it's all the way back, and with the fairways pretty soft, I don't think there will be too many guys getting there (in two). It will still be a good birdie chance, even if you have to lay up. It's a pretty easy green to hit a wedge shot into."
Huston's comment: "It will be some sort of a layup, depending on the wind, either a 3- or a 4-iron to a 3-wood. Then your basic shot into the green. Pretty straightforward."
Huston's comment: "Over water, it'll just be club selection here. It'll be tricky for a lot of the guys to pick the right club because it plays downhill and you don't feel that."
Huston's comment: "With the back tee, I don't see many people getting there in two, as soft as the fairways are right now. Certainly there are always a few guys who will give it a shot. All in all, most guys will be hitting the 100- to 120-yard shot in there. Still a tough lie in the layup area. And it's a tough green, so it's a tougher wedge shot into the hole."
Huston's comment: "A lot of elevation change, so it will play a little shorter than the yardage. It has a generous green."
Huston's comment: "Probably the hardest hole on the course. A good drive, with water on the right, but if you try to stay too far left, you'll go into the trees. Then there is a pretty tough second shot with a green that angles away from you. And if you go over, it can be a difficult pitch from back there."
Huston's comment: "Another good, long par 3. You just want to try to hit the green and leave yourself any kind of a putt for birdie."
Huston's comment: "A pretty good driving hole, but the second shot into the green is the tough part. You can't see the bottom of the pin. Club selection will be tough going into the green. And it's probably the most difficult green to putt. It's got the most undulation."
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From the wire
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