A few years ago, Sheila Jackson and Salamander Resorts wanted to make a big splash in Florida as well as the golf industry. She managed to kill two birds with one stone with the purchase of what at the time were the Ginn Resorts – Reunion Resort in Kissimmee and Hammock Bay in Palm Coast. To further strengthen their position in Florida, Salamander also purchased Innisbrook Golf Resort; a golf resort where all you have to worry about is your golf game.
Although the west coast of Florida is not recognized as one of the state’s top golf destinations, the PGA has certainly paid attention. Each year, the best golfers in the world converge on The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf Resort and from all indications, the pros love it. However, Innisbrook is more than just a golf resort; it’s a family resort, a romantic getaway resort and meeting/conference resort all rolled into one. It’s also pet friendly, so if Fido wants to go with you, for a small deposit, he can.
Innisbrook is massive, sitting on more than 900 acres of land in Palm Harbor, FL, not far from the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches are only a short drive away, but I don’t plan on visiting them, no matter how bad I play. There are 600 guest suites in 28 lodges scattered throughout the property as well as six swimming pools, one of which is the Loch Ness, the resort’s own private water park.
OK, so let’s pretend you were somehow able to leave the wife and kids at home, grab a few friends, and you’re headed over to Innisbrook for a few days of golf. You’ve definitely found Nirvana because this destination my friend, is a true golf resort. In fact, when I pull up to the reception and welcoming building, one of the first things I was asked was “When’s your tee time?” Is there any better way to welcome someone to a golf resort?
At this point the bellmen take your clubs out of the trunk, tag them and then whisks them away. No worries about toting them around the resort, they magically appear at every course well before your assigned tee time. Want to head over to the range and practice some of those shots that were costing you money earlier in the day? No worries, a simple phone call and your clubs will meet you at one of the ranges.
Although I was here strictly for the golf, there are several other amenities on property worth mention , For example, say you want to bulk up after your round because you were hitting some less than stellar drives and had friends mocking your weakness, or you didn’t get enough exercise as you forayed into the woods several times, Innisbrook is equipped with a world class fitness center. It’s part of the Indaba Spa, a 4,800 square-foot facility featuring treadmills, exercise bikes, elliptical machines, and free weight equipment. Daily exercise classes include Zumba, Pilates, Body Sculpting, Yoga, and Aqua Aerobics. Other activities at Innisbrook include jogging and biking trails, tennis courts and racquetball. There is also more than 65,000 square feet of banquet and meeting space and Innisbrook is also a very popular place for weddings.
As far as restaurants go, a good choice for dinner is the Market Salamander Grille which features seasonal American cuisine. Whether you are dining inside or out, their friendly service team will see to it that your meal is both satisfying and enjoyable.
Our group was pampered with several appetizers; among them were the Hoisin Lacquered Pork Drums, braised pork shanks with a hoisin glaze; and the Colossal Onion Rings, dipped in a homemade panko breading and served with a slightly spicy red chili dipping sauce. Both were outstanding.
For entrees, the Cox Farms Prime BBQ Rubbed Sirloin was about as tender as any filet I’ve ever had and the special of the day was incredible; a BBQ glazed amberjack in a blueberry gastrique sauce.
Innisbrook is also home to one of the area’s best steakhouses – Packard’s. Unfortunately, time didn’t allow me to sample their cuisine. But let’s talk about the golf.
Innisbrook Golf Resort offers four championship golf courses – all designed by Larry Packard. The Copperhead Course is the best known – mainly because it hosts the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship. During our stay the course was closed for reseeding so I hope to get back this winter and do a complete review. Look for it in the next couple of months.
The Island Course is considered by many to be equally as challenging as the Copperhead. It features tight fairways, minimal water hazards and lots of sand. The layout of the course is incredible with the 9th and 18 holes creating some memorable Kodak moments. It’s hard to believe that kind of elevation exists in this part of Florida. As (bad) luck would have it, the area had just received about 6 inches of rain a few days before our arrival. The course was cart path only (not my favorite) and very wet. Look for a full course review later this winter.
The North Course is the shortest of the four. At only 6,370 yards from the back tees with a par of 70, it is somewhat reminiscent of Copperhead as far as the terrain goes. The staff at the resort refer to it as Baby Copperhead. Don’t let the length fool you, it will put up a fight.
Last but not least is the South Course, which is more of a resort course. Fairways are more wide open, making it a favorite among guests. Lots of fairway bunkers, waste bunkers and water hazards.
Last Word: Innisbrook was built in 1970 and although several upgrades have been done, some of the rooms are beginning to show their age. My biggest knock on the resort would be that there are no elevators in the lodges. This was a bit inconvenient as our room was on the top (fourth) floor in St. Andrews. Thankfully we didn’t have to deal with our clubs which made it a little easier although I did feel bad for the bellman who helped bring our luggage up when we arrived. I’ll bet he wishes we travelled light! However pity earns bigger tips.
Of the two courses that were dry and playable (North and South), I found the North Course quite challenging. Although shorter than the others, it has some very challenging holes; especially for someone who is playing here for the first time. On one of the par 3s, I saw one of the biggest alligators I’ve ever seen, just laying at the edge of the pond waiting for someone to retrieve their golf ball sitting by his snout. Or maybe they already tried and that’s why he’s so big!
On the North Course, water comes into play on about half the holes and creates some interesting risk/reward opportunities. Poor decisions can lead to longer carries over the wet stuff then you may be accustomed to. Going for the green in two, even on a short par 4 – isn’t always the best idea. Although this is the shortest course on property, it still requires excellent course management skills if you want to score well.
The greens on the North Course range in size from small to smaller compared to the other courses on property. Some are elevated and most are well-bunkered with plenty of other hazards to get in your way too. They can wreak havoc with a good score; undulation is everywhere on these greens and ranges from subtle to insane! Accuracy off the tee is a must and – depending on your tee selection – a couple of greens might even be within range. The “smart golf” holes will have you hitting a hybrid or iron off the tee.
The South Course at Innisbrook tends to be the favored course by patrons not seeking the masochistic challenge of The Copperhead or Island Course. Many holes are wide open and allow the player to swing away off the tee. The front nine is considerably shorter – about 400 yards – but can still be demanding. If (small word, big meaning) you can keep it in the fairway and avoid the bunkers, you can score pretty well.
I highly recommend a visit to Innisbrook; if not for an overnight stay then just to play one or two of the courses. All are meticulously maintained, the staff warm and inviting and the golf courses memorable. There aren’t too many courses that you can play where the tour players play and as I said earlier, the pros really like the Copperhead Course.
For more information on the accommodations or any of the golf courses, visit their website at www.innisbrookgolfresort.com. If you’re ready to book your golf vacation at Innisbrook, be sure to check out the Specials and Packages section first and see if you can’t save a little bit of money. Then you can raise the stakes on your friendly bets and make them a little more memorable too.