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    Designer watches with pride

    Larry Packard enjoys seeing the professionals try to break his course during this weekend's Tampa Bay Classic.

    [Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
    Larry Packard stands above the Copperhead course he designed at Westin Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor.

    By ROBERT FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


    PALM HARBOR -- Few will be watching the leader board at this week's Tampa Bay Classic golf tournament closer than Innisbrook resident Larry Packard.

    Packard has designed nearly 300 golf courses around the world. But never before has a field of some of the world's best male golfers taken aim at one of his creations.

    Until now.

    The Copperhead course at Westin Innisbrook Resort is perhaps Packard's signature course. Like everyone, Packard wants to see some good golf, but he doesn't want to see his course bullied.

    Not that he's worried.

    "I've done enough of the damn things, I feel very assured," Packard said Thursday afternoon. "These guys are not going to chop it up and take it apart."

    So it is with devilish pride that he watches the pros struggle this week.

    Known for designing undulating greens, Packard said he often bets golfers they won't sink a putt unless they're within 10 feet of the hole.

    Overlooking the green on the 18th hole on Thursday afternoon, Packard nodded toward a golfer lining up a 15-foot putt. The putt rolled toward the hole, then slowly drifted left.

    "What'd I tell you," Packard said with a grin.

    Packard is also known for his double-dogleg par five holes. A dogleg is when the route toward the green makes a sharp turn. Packard's double doglegs are designed to negate the advantage of long hitters. He'll be watching those holes with particular attention this weekend.

    Packard got his start as a landscape architect in Chicago in the 1950s, working with Robert Harris and later with Brenton Wadsworth, considered one of the world's premier course builders.

    In the late '60s, Wadsworth and his brother Stanley bought about 1,000 acres on U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor that would become Innisbrook. When Packard was hired to design the courses at Innisbrook, the area was mostly grapefruit orchards and swamp, he said.

    "The idea was to build very fine golf courses that would attract golfers from the North," Packard said.

    Translation: Courses that would not frustrate seasonal golfers on vacation.

    "Northern golfers, when they come down for a week or two, they haven't been playing," Packard said. "They're off their game. They can't do the things the pros can do."

    Packard said his aim has always been to build fun courses. And losing a dozen balls in a round of golf is no fun.

    "I don't want people to go home and be so mad they kick the dog . . . it's a game," he said.

    Packard said he also tries to build courses with variety, and ones that challenge golfers to think about every shot.

    "I want to cause them to have to use every club they've got in their bag," Packard said.

    On Thursday night, the resort named a banquet hall in the newly renovated Highlands Clubhouse after Packard.

    Packard, who turns 88 next month, still plays about four times a week.

    "I still play and I don't have any aches or pains," he boasts.

    So what's his handicap?

    Pause.

    "I'm not a good golfer," he begins.

    ". . . Thirty-five," his wife, Ann, finishes. "He can still hit it 225 yards and he can putt really well. It's the shots in between."

    Packard built the Copperhead course specifically for tournament golf. It has plenty of space for spectators. The course had been the site of the annual JCPenney Classic for years, but the relationship ended last year.

    The course is special to Packard for another reason.

    After Packard's wife of 51 years died, he found himself without a partner for the Sunday Owner's Brunch, a weekly couples golf outing. Packard called up the event organizer and asked if she could set him up with a golf partner. There was Ann on the first tee of the Copperhead course.

    "We had a nice round," Packard said, smiling.

    A founding member of the American Association of Golf Architects, Packard is semiretired now, though he continues to design courses on occasion. He has passed the business on to his son, Roger, who lives in Chicago.

    Most recently, Packard designed two courses in Egypt. Over the course of his career, Packard has designed courses in South Korea, Venezuela and Guatemala in addition to more than 200 in the United States.

    Emerging countries have clearly caught the golf bug, Mrs. Packard said.

    "All around the world, golf is booming," she said.

    Over the years, Packard has noticed something about the warring nations of the world. No golf courses.

    "There's something about golf," he said. "You've got to have leisure time, of course. There's something to be said for it."

    Coincidence? Or is golf the answer to world peace?

    Think about it, he said.

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