The world’s next great golf destination will be….the Missouri Ozarks?

Work progresses at Tiger Woods’ Payne’s Valley course while golfers play at Buffalo Ridge Springs.

HOLLISTER, Missouri – Where do you start in describing all the big new things Johnny Morris has in the works for golfers in the Missouri Ozarks?

For starters, how about a prediction?

This area in the Ozark mountains near the entertainment hub of Branson will – in the not very distant future – become the America’s next great golf destination. That’s what Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops, wants and there’s no reason he can’t achieve this the latest of his ambitious goals.

Pebble Beach in California, Doral in Florida, Pinehurst in North Carolina, Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Kohler in Wisconsin all could justifiably claim to be America’s best now. They’re all special in their own way. But keep your eye on the Missouri Ozarks. That’s where the action is now, and by as soon as 2020 – when the Tiger Woods-designed Payne’s Valley course is up and running at full steam — the established hotspots will have a most worthy challenger.

Reports of what is going on in the Missouri Ozarks have been coming out piecemeal, so the full impact of the projects that are underway hasn’t been felt yet. But it will be — and soon.

Here’s what’s happened in just the last few years:

Top of the Rock, a spectacular nine-hole par-3 course designed by Jack Nicklaus overlooking Table Rock Lake, opened at the PGA Tour Champions’ Legends of Golf event in June of 2014. Along with it came the unveiling of Buffalo Ridge Springs, a redesign effort on an 18-holer known as Branson Creek by both original architect Tom Fazio and Morris himself. The revamped layout includes bison, who roam on its outskirts.

Bison don’t affect play but they’re definitely in view off Buffalo Ridge Springs’ No. 1 fairway.

On Aug. 31, 2017, the Gary Player-designed Mountain Top course opened. It has 13 holes, all of them par-3s. The holes at Top of the Rock and Mountain Top were immediately judged good enough to be used for a tournament on the world’s top senior circuit. No par-3 course had ever received such and endorsement, so that was saying a lot.

Morris, who made his mark catering to the needs of hunters and fishermen, moved into the golf world in a most unusual manner. He built alternative courses first. Where else can you find a par-3 layout like the one Nicklaus created, or a course with an odd 13-hole rotation like the one Player designed to fit into space limitations?

Those two courses are close together, but different. Top of the Rock has forced carries and is for riding golfers only. Mountain Top, which is walking only, has no forced carries and is more family-friendly.

A round at Mountain Top involves walking over long bridges to get from hole to hole.

Steve Friedlander, completing his first year as vice president of golf for Morris’ Big Cedar Lodge — a most upscale wildness resort, can appreciate the value of alternative courses. In his 43 years in the golf business Friedlander held similar leadership positions at Doral; Kohler; Ventana Canyon in Tucson, Ariz.; Grand Traverse in Michigan; and Pelican Hills, in California. Those places had multiple quality courses and Pelican had the best practice facility in California.

“But they didn’t have alternative courses. Here we have alternatives for everything,’’ said Friedlander. “We have courses for people with a time crunch who may not want to challenge themselves on an 18-hole course. For them, nine-hole courses can be more fun. Golf is a lot about just getting people out in nature, and Mountain Top is a great walk, yet both our par-3 courses can also challenge the best players in the world. Plus, you can’t beat the scenery.’’

No question about that. The golf in Morris’ part of the Missouri Ozarks is one big photo op. You can easily see for 15 miles from most spots on the courses. He began buying up property near where he grew up — and still lives – in 1987, and he’s done wonders with it.

This is Ozark National’s par-5 first hole, notable for its buffalo grass and beige bunkers.

Just look what’s coming next:

Sept. 1 is the target opening date for Ozarks National, an 18-holer being put together by the well-respected architectural team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. They’ve built the holes on ridge-tops. Tufted, off-green buffalo grass defines many of the non-playing areas, and the bunkers are the only ones on the Morris courses that aren’t of the sparkling white variety. That makes for a course that will look different from the others here.

Stone House is a halfway house, and also a replica of a home that existed 130 years ago.

Another feature setting Ozarks National apart is Stone House, the replica of a 130-year old home that had once been on the property. Overlooking an irrigation lake, it’ll serve as a halfway house that can service players coming to or from four different holes.

Ozarks National will also have a 15-acre practice facility and a caddie program is in the planning stages. Though cart paths are in place, it won’t be a difficult walking course.

The same can be said for Payne’s Valley, the course that Woods’ design team has been putting together on land below the Mountain Top clubhouse and course that once housed Murder Rock – a course designed by John Daly.

Payne Stewart, who grew up in nearby Springfield, Mo., went on to win two U.S. Opens and one PGA Championship before his death in a 1999 plane crash four months after his second Open victory. So that there is no confusion, Stewart once had a course that had been named in his honor in the area, but it underwent an ownership change and is now called Branson Hills.

Woods is planning a course with very wide fairways that will also be very walkable. It could open sometime in 2019, and it’ll have something none of the others have – a 19th hole. The extra hole will be a 202-yard par-3 from the tips with “Johnny Morris’ The Rock’’ as its backdrop. It’s a 250-foot rock wall and, after players finish with it, they’ll get a cart ride through a cave back to the clubhouse.

“By then we’ll have two more courses capable of holding any kind of championship,’’ said Friedlander. “People will want to come here from all over the world.’’

This premier wilderness resort is a most welcoming place.

An oddity in this most positive scenario is that Buffalo Ridge Springs – widely acknowledged as the best public course in Missouri – will no longer be needed for high-profile tournament play. It’s a spectacular layout with bison roaming its outskirts. The drawback is that Buffalo Ridge Springs would be a difficult walking course, and all of the biggest tournaments are walking only.

Along with the completion of Ozarks National and Payne’s Valley comes the finishing up of the Tom Watson Putting Course beside the Mountain Top clubhouse. Watson had designed a similar putting surface, called the Himalaya, at Top of the Rock. The attraction didn’t last long there. It was destroyed when a sinkhole developed shortly before the first Legends of Golf event was played there.

Morris didn’t view the sinkhole as a tragedy. In fact, he made it an attraction that is being called the Cathedral of Nature. More than 200 yards of additional dirt was removed, as Morris searched for a suspected cave on the property. It’ll eventually be another nature-oriented attraction for visitors and the Top of the Rock Lodge will be built nearby.

It was a tragedy when a sinkhole appeared near the Top of the Rock course just before the Legends of Golf tournament. Now it’s a much photographed attraction called the Cathedral of Nature.

One more thing: the other major American golf destinations don’t have the side attractions that Morris has provided around his courses. The Branson area is about more than its array of shows and other entertainment attractions. Morris, always the passionate naturalist, has built the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum at Top of the Rock and then Dogwood Canyon Nature Park a few miles away.

They provide a diversion from golf, if one is needed, but Wonders of Wildlife is the most impressive of Morris’ efforts to promote the beauty of nature. It opened a year ago at the Bass Pro Shops national headquarters in Springfield, barely an hour’s drive from the golf mecca.

A final look at scenes that sum up the unique flavor of the Big Cedar area. (Photos by Joy Sarver)

Louisiana’s Audubon Golf Trail is a winner for more than just golfers

Lots of states have golf trails, and some of them have received more recognition than Louisiana’s Audubon Trail. That’s unfortunate, because the Audubon offers much more than the others if your golf trips take into account non-golf attractions.

Make no mistake, the 15 courses on the Audubon Golf Trail are good. The trail was named for naturalist/artist John James Audubon, who painted many of his bird studies in Louisiana, and many of the courses on the trail are members of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. They undergo rigorous screening to become members.

We covered six of the courses in as many days in 90-degree early-summer heat. They all kept our attention throughout, and each had its unique features.

Best of the lot – but not by much – was Gray Plantation in Lake Charles – the state’s golf hotbed.

Rocky Roquemore, a Georgia-based architect, became prominent in the Chicago area in 1986 when one of hls designs, Pine Meadow in suburban Mundelein, was named America’s Best New Course by Golf Digest. He also did some work on Cog Hill’s famed Dubsdread course in Lemont, Ill., so I had some familiarity with his architectural style.

The bunkering on the par-3 eighth is Gray Plantation’s most memorable hole.

I got another taste of just how good an architect Roquemore was while playing Gray Plantation. It’s a player-friendly layout with its wide fairways, but it has a great mix of holes. Most notable are a double dogleg par-5 at No. 7 and the par-3 at No. 8 with its stunning bunker complex.

Gray Plantation is one of those “semi-private’’ facilities. It has memberships but also accepts public play. An indoor Golf Academy is also being developed. Though there was some debate among my most knowledgeable traveling companions, from my perspective it was the most enjoyable of the Audubon Trail courses.

Understandably the low handicappers might prefer TPC Louisiana, annual site of the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans. It’s a Pete Dye design, and you can never go wrong choosing a Pete Dye course. On our visit the tournament scaffolding was still in evidence, though any comparison between our play and that of the PGA Tour guys was purely coincidental.

The Atchafalaya at Idlewild spotlighted the habitat that lives on the course with its tee markers.

The Atchafalaya at Idlewild, in Patterson, is a fun track designed by Robert von Hagge. It has five lakes and some dramatic elevation changes but its most unique touches are the tee markers – they’re not color-coded, but rather are named after the habitat in the area. The tees, from front to back, are Otter, Owl, Eagle, Bear and Alligator. I hit from the Owls, a wise move on my part.

The 150-yard markers were also unusual. Rather than using the standard stakes, these were marked by Cypress knees. The camouflage-painted golf carts also gave the course a refreshing look.

The Loyola University chapel overlooks the Audubon Park course.

The Wetlands, in Lafayette, is a tricky layout devised by Frank Burandt, who had formerly been with Nicklaus Design. He made use of the many lakes and – obviously as per the name – wetlands areas. Water comes into play on 11 holes and the greens are well-bunkered.

First course on our agenda, The Golf Course at Audubon Park, was planned as a warmup round. It’s the oldest golf course in Louisiana, dating back to 1898 when it had only six holes. Audubon Park underwent a major transformation when Georgia-based architect Dennis Griffiths created the present layout in 2001.

The length – only 4,220 yards from the tips – may give the impression that Audubon Park is not “real’’ golf. Each nine has one par-5, two par-4s and six par-3s, all situated in a park that includes a zoo and has a walking/biking trail within the borders of the course. You also get a nice view of the Loyola University chapel. Personnel from that school as well as those from nearby Tulane University utilize the facilities, which include a plantation-style clubhouse with good dining options and an outdoor venue for social events like weddings and birthday parties. In short, Audubon Park is a most fun place for more than just golfers.

TPC Louisiana is big on alligators. Some of the live ones were even televised during the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

While The Bluffs on Thompson Creek, in St. Francisville, was shaking off some issues related to flooding, the Arnold Palmer designed course had some excellent holes – especially the 17th, a downhill par-3, and the uphill 18th. James Audubon once studied and illustrated the bird life on what is now holes 11 through 13, and 32 of his paintings were made when he resided in the area.

Other courses at the Trail are Black Bear, the Louisiana State Park’s only course in Delhi; the 27-hole Olde Oaks near Shreveport; Cypress Bend Resort in Many; Tamahka Trails at Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville; OakWing, in Alexandria; Carter Plantation, designed by Louisiana native and one-time PGA Championship winner David Toms, in Springfield; and three Baton Rouge area courses — the Robert Trent Jones-designed Santa Maria, links-style Copper Miller and The Island, carved out of a sugar plantation in Plaquemine.

Unlike most of the other golf trails we’ve visited, the Audubon has signage on both the nearby major highways as well as the course entrances. The courses aren’t difficult to find.

George Rodrigue became a popular artist when he put blue dogs with haunting eyes in his paintings.

There are other quality layouts off the trail, most notably Contraband Bayou and neighboring Golden Nugget, both by the L’Auberge Casino Resort, and The National Golf Club of Louisiana. They’re all in the Lake Charles area.

Just as New Orleans is more than just Mardi Gras, Louisiana is more than just golf. But, the golf is good, affordable and – perhaps best of all – accessible to far more attractions than most of the nation’s other golf trails.

While in New Orleans we hung out for a while at the French Quarter where we dined at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau and enjoyed the night life of the Bourbon O Bar at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel.

The historical offerings were outstanding in upscale St. Francisville, particularly a church cemetery that had gravesites dating back to the mid-1800s. We also were backgrounded on the once brutal but now reincarnated Angola Prison.

No. 17 at The Bluffs, an Arnold Palmer design, has a stunning, and most challenging, par-3 at No. 17.

We petted baby alligators while getting a tour of the Bayou Rum distillery in Lacassine. We enjoyed a terrific Cajun style dinner at the Jack Daniels Bar & Grill at L’Auberge Casino’s Jack Daniels Bar & Grill where super chef Lyle Broussard gave us a backgrounder on each offering.

We learned how Tabasco has been made on Avery Island for the last 150 years and we had both a French-style breakfast and spirited musical pre-dinner entertainment at Mouton Plantation Bed and Breakfast in Lafayette. We also enjoyed a scenic boat cruise and another great meal on board at Lake End Park in Morgan City. Obviously there’s plenty to enjoy in Louisiana besides the golf.

No. 17 may be the easiest hole at The Wetlands, but it is also the prettiest.

What intrigued us the most was the Blue Dog Café in Lafayette. It’s famous for more than its cuisine. The food is served amidst a collection of artworks by artist George Rodrigue, who became famous after he started including blue dogs with haunting eyes in his creations. This side trip was made even more memorable when we met Jacques Rodrigue, son of the famed artist who passed away in 2013. Jacques gave us an inside look at the work his father had done.

Lafayette was declared “America’s Happiest City’’ by the Wall Street Journal and you get a hint why as soon as you see the city’s welcome sign. The “Y’’ in Lafayette is missing – and for a good reason. The missing letter creates a great photo opp. Stand in the spot of the missing letter in the “Welcome to Lafayette’’ declaration, which is near a fountain in the middle of town, with your arms upraised. That’s where you realize that the “Y’’ stands for “You.’’

You can’t help but smile after learning that tidbit. Indeed, Lafayette might be America’s Happiest City, but everyone we encountered in Louisiana seemed happy with their surroundings, too.

Appreciating the “Welcome to Lafayette” marker requires personal participation.

The plantation-style clubhouse at Audubon Park is the center for all kinds of activities every day.

For Key West course it’s all about location, location, location

The treacherous Mangrove Hole presents an imposing look at Key West’s No. 8 hole.

KEY WEST, Florida – For some vacations you might want to choose a golf destination. For others golf need be no more than an amenity. You can have easy access to the game, but take advantage of other attractions as well.

Key West Golf Club is one of the latter. Its first claim to fame is that it’s the southernmost course in the continental United States. There are no other golf courses in Key West, which is just 90 miles from Cuba, and there are no other championship-style layouts within 100 miles.

Vacationers are attracted to Key West by its beautiful sunsets; the shops, bars and restaurants along Duval Street and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum more than they are to the city’s only golf course. Still, Key West Golf Club has its fan base as well. It also has a rich Chicago connection.

Construction of the course began in 1923 with the Chicago firm of Langford & Moreau in charge. Wiliam Langford was a graduate of both Yale and Columbia who designed over 200 courses prior to his death at age 90 in 1977.

Among his credits are a flock of Illinois private layouts — Barrington Hills, Bloomington Country Club, Bryn Mawr, Butterfield, Glen Oak, LaGrange, Park Ridge, Ruth Lake and Skokie. He also designed the Chicago Park District’s nine-holer at Marquette Park.

His partner, Theodore Moreau, was the construction foreman for the Langford courses. The Key West course owners since 1994 have been Bill and Gwen Smith. Bill is a Chicago real estate attorney. The Smiths also own two Illinois courses — Deer Creek, in University Park, and The Rail, in Springfield — and were long-time owners of Antioch Golf Club. In addition, Doug Carter, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect, is Key West’s general manager and director of golf.

Those connections all played a big part in keeping golf going during some tough times in Key West. The course has shown amazing staying power over the years, and that’s reflected in it being one of 50 layouts included in the Florida Historic Golf Trail. All the Trail courses were established between 1897 and 1949 and are still playable today.

It’s good that iguanas are friendly creatures. They’re everywhere on the Key West course.

Just getting a course in Key West was difficult. The city is an island, just two miles wide and six miles long. Find available space wasn’t easy, but the local Chamber of Commerce was able to do it in 1923 and came up with $150,000 in its budget for a golf course at the entrance to the island.

Langford’s design was innovative at the time. With 200 acres of very flat terrain available, his layout featured 10 doglegs, heavy bunkering and an island green when it opened in 1924. A hurricane did severe damage to the facility two years later, reducing it to nine holes, and another in 1935 put the course’s future in serious jeopardy.

Bright foliage is part of the atmosphere at Key West Golf Club.

A group of local players banded together in the 1950s to restore the facility as an 18-hole course and Rees Jones, the famous course architect, tackled the project in 1983 with co-designer Keith Evans. They built a new course on the property. The Smiths took it over and rebuilt all the greens in 2006 and 2007.

The present layout has an eye-catching signature feature – the infamous Mangrove Hole. It’s No. 8 on the scorecard, a par-3 that plays from 129 to 185 yards with thick mangrove terrain creating a forced carry from the tee box all the way to the green.

Otherwise, the course is on the short side because of its land constraints. It plays at 6,531 yards from the tips and is a par-70. There’s plenty to look at as you work your way around it, as the wildlife and foliage aren’t quite like any of the many Florida courses we’ve visited over the years.

Key West’s ducks aren’t pretty, but they sure are friendly.

For us this adventure started with an iguana slithering across the No. 1 tee box. That struck us as highly unusual – we hadn’t seen any on our many visits to other Florida courses – but it wasn’t. Those interesting-looking, apparently harmless creatures were in evidence on most holes.

The unique-looking ducks were even more golfer-friendly. They would come right up to your cart looking for food. The pastel-colored coastal homes around the course also enhanced the ambience.

Irma, the latest major hurricane to hit Florida, did damage to most every course in the state last September and Key West was one of the harder hit communities. Key West Golf Club, though, suffered only minimal damage. We found a course that – at the end of the tourist season – was still in quite decent shape.

A little pricey, perhaps, but Key West Golf Club is a friendly place with a user-friendly course that blends in nicely with the unique community in which it’s located.

Key West’s cheerful-looking clubhouse sets the tone for a pleasant golf experience.

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Upgrades coming at Bay Hill; PGA sells St. Lucie Trail

Visitors to Bay Hill will notice some major changes to the practice area in a few months.

Here’s more proof that Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge is carrying on since the passing of its legendary owner 16 months ago.

The second Arnold Palmer Invitational, played in March, benefitted from the return of Tiger Woods to draw record crowds and Rory McIlroy’s rousing victory kept the excitement at a fever pitch.

But that’s not all. A week after the tournament ended the Arnold Palmer Design Company announced some major upgrades to the popular facility. An extensive two-acre short game area will be among the improvements made to the driving range, and a new hole is coming to the nine-hole Challenge Course. The Championship layout will also get a new state-of-the-art irrigation system.

Four greens of varying shapes and sizes, as well as a collection of bunkers, will be built as part of the short game facility.

“It’s important for us to design a facility that showcases on-course scenarios not only found at Bay Hill, but other situations players would find when playing at other top clubs around the world,’’ said Brandon Johnson, vice president and architect at Arnold Palmer Design Company. “The new short game area will allow members and guests to get lost in their practice sessions honing basic shots or experimenting with a variety of recovery shots that incorporate flat pitch slopes, nobs, false fronts, backboards and various bunker styles.’’

The creation of the short game facility will require a change to the finishing hole on the nine-hole Charge Course. It’ll become a drivable par-4.

Work on both the short game facility and Championship Course will begin in May with the target for completion in October. The Championship Course will remain open for play while the new irrigation system is installed, though periodic hole closures are possible. The plan is for only one hole to be closed at a time, and only for two-three days.

No. 9 at St. Lucie Trail is one of many challenging holes on the Jim Fazio-designed layout.

PGA sells St. Lucie Trail

The PGA of America’s PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., now has three courses instead of four. St. Lucie Trail, located on the opposite side of Interstate 95 from the club’s other courses (Wanamaker, Ryder and Dye), has been acquired by the CBI investment group that also owns The Evergreen Club, a public facility in nearly Palm City.

PGA signage was removed on Friday and St. Lucie Trail opened under its new ownership on Saturday. The transformation is not complete, however. Still in limbo is what will happen to St. Lucie Trail’s tennis courts, swimming pool and clubhouse. The bottom floor, of the clubhouse which includes the pro shop and bar area, is still being operated by the new owners but the rest of the clubhouse may be converted to office space and nearby home owners may want the tennis courts and pool.

St. Lucie Trail, designed by Jim Fazio, opened as St. Lucie West Country Club in 1988 and was owned by the PGA of America before the other three courses were built at the PGA Golf Club resort. The PGA renamed it PGA Country Club and operated it as a private facility for nearly two decades before opting to open it to the public in November of 2014. At that point it was renamed St. Lucie Trail.

The PGA of America, which encompasses 29,000 members, also owns Valhalla in Kentucky. Both the Trail course and the nearby 35-acres PGA Learning Center were put up for sale about a year ago but no buyer has been found yet for the Learning Center. Matt Boyd, head professional at The Evergreen Club, will also serve in that capacity at the Trail.

How the St. Lucie Trail clubhouse will be used since the course’s sale is still to be determined.

New Michael Jordan course is in the works

Michael Jordan, the basketball legend and long-time golf addict, is building his own course on a former citrus grove in Hobe Sound, Fla., about 20 miles south of PGA Golf Club and St. Lucie Trail.

Jordan, who has a restaurant in Jupiter — a few miles to the south of his new course, has hired Bobby Weed as the course architect. The course will be built on 240 acres adjacent to the Hobe Sound Polo Club. The course is expected to open in early 2019.

Erin Hills creates 5-hole option

In an effort to encourage more late-afternoon play the staff at Wisconsin’s Erin Hills – home of last year’s U.S. Open – will offer its visitors a five-hole option. Parts of the first six holes will be used in a five-hole loop with tee box adjustments the key to creating a different playing experience from the standard 18-hole route.

Prep tourney is `boiling’ hot

Myrtle Beach has long hosted what may be the strongest high school tournament in the country. This year’s 20th staging of the Palmetto High School Championships was completed on Saturday with Boiling Springs of South Carolina the champion.

Boiling Springs’ four-man team covered the respected True Blue and Caledonia courses in 2-over-par for the final 36 holes and won the title by 14 strokes. The tourney drew 28 teams from nine states and Boiling Springs’ Trent Phillips was low individual with an 8-under 134. He shot a tournament record 63 in the first round and is headed to the University of Georgia next year.

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Dustin Johnson expands his facility at TPC Myrtle Beach

Dustin Johnson (center) celebrates ground-breaking with Steve Mays, president of Founders Group International, and Allen Terrell, director of coaching at Johnson’s Golf School. (Chris King Photo)

The world’s No. 1-ranked golfer hasn’t forgotten where he came from. Dustin Johnson has put many of his trophies and memorabilia on display at TPC Myrtle Beach, and now he’s upgrading his commitment to that South Carolina facility.

Johnson was featured at the groundbreaking for the state-of-the-art Dustin Johnson Golf Performance Center, a 3,100-square foot building that is expected to be completed by Memorial Day. It’ll become the home of both the Dustin Johnson Golf School and Dustin Johnson Foundation.

“To bring this Performance Center to my hometown and be able to give golfers a competitive edge is exciting,’’ said Johnson. “We haven’t held anything back in the design because we want to give the Golf School students and Foundation scholars the opportunity to learn the game, no matter what level they are when they start here.’’

The Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship has been held at TPC Myrtle Beach the past two years. When completed the Performance Center will have three indoor hitting bays, three covered hitting areas, a fitness center and space for instructional seminars. It’ll also feature TrackMan, AimPoint and MySwing 3D technology.

Ornate bridges and bold pink blossoms are just some of the nice touches at Reynolds Lake Oconee.

REYNOLDS CUP ON TAP: Reynolds Lake Oconee, the long-popular destination between Atlanta and Augusta, Ga., will unveil a new tournament for corporate executives who thrive on the competition and camaraderie.

The Reynolds Cup presented by National Car Rental will be held on the Rees Jones-designed Oconee course Sept. 10-12. The event will match two-person teams from companies throughout the country over 36 holes in a Stableford Best Ball format. Registration is $3,500 per team, which includes three nights and two rooms at The Ritz-Carlton.

SAND VALLEY OPENINGS SET: Mike Keiser’s latest destination, in Rome, Wis., will begin its second season of play on May 1 when the The Sandbox opens for play. It’s a 17-hole par-3 course designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. A fun layout, it offers a wide variety of shot-making opportunities that include the chance to play the entire course using only a putter.

Mammoth Dunes, the resort’s second 18-holer, will open on May 31. It was designed by David McLay Kidd, the Scottish architect who designed the first course at Bandon Dunes, Keiser’s Oregon designation.

THE CRADLE ROCKS: Pinehurst’s new 788-yard par-3 course is already a big hit. There were 30 holes-in-one in the North Carolina course’s first two months of operation, and those getting them ranged in age from 8 to 84. Biggest group to test the course was a 12-some and the biggest daily turnout was 174 players. Fee was $50, which included replay rounds.

Kelly Mitchum, a Pinehurst teaching professional, tackled The Cradle on winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. He got in 26 rounds – 234 holes – and was 12-under-par for the day.

About to enter its 35th year, the Myrtle Beach World Amateur is an event that’s not to be missed.

MORE FROM MYRTLE: Tickets are now on sale for the Hootie & The Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-am. The 24th annual event will be held on the Dye Course at Myrtle Beach’s Barefoot Resort.

Celebrities include basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, hockey legend Grant Fuhr, former PGA Tour winners Woody Austin and Chris DiMarco and Paige Spiranac, a professional golfer who has stimulated golf popularity through her social media outlets. She recently joined the Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday staff.

Myrtle Beach’s biggest annual event, the 35th World Amateur Handicap Championship, started accepting entries in March and early-birds will get a break. Entry is $525 through May 17. That’s a $100 saving off the regular cost. Those who register by April 12 will be eligible for one of 50 random drawing prizes that are collectively valued at $10,000.

The World Am will be contested over 72 holes from Aug 27-31 on 64 courses. With over 3,000 entrants from about 20 countries participating there will be a wide variety of age and handicap divisions and the winners of each on will go an extra round to determine the overall champion.

The 35-acre Learning Center at PGA Golf Club is a cutting-edge place for performance enhancement.


\PGA Golf Club, the PGA of America’s biggest facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., picked up two awards recently that were independent of the destination’s four courses. The 35-acre Learning Center was named among the Top 50 ranges for the 17th consecutive year by the Golf Range Association of America and its Taplow Pub was named the area’s best pub by a local publication.

Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, in Hilton Head, S.C., is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018. All three of its courses — the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront the Arthur Hills and the Fazio — have been named South Carolina’s Golf Course of the Year at one time or another.

Mike Jones, once the head pro at two Chicago area courses – Thunderhawk and Cantigny – is on the move again. Since leaving Chicago Jones was the man in charge at two major destinations – Kapalua in Hawaii and Nemacolin Woodlands in Pennsylvania. He just accepted a director of golf position at Suncadia, in Ellensburg, Wash., and will begin work there in April.

Jan Stephenson, the LPGA Hall of Famer, has entered the golf management side at Tarpon Woods, in Palm Harbor, Fla., and is making plans for a course renovation there.

The Concession Cup, a competition between amateur teams from the U.S. and Europe has undergone a major personnel change. Bob Lewis has withdrawn as captain of the U.S. team due to health concerns and two-time Concession Cup captain Vinny Giles and the event’s founder, Alan Fadel, will serve as co-captains for the U.S. team that will seek to win the event for the third straight time from April 16-21 at the Concession Club in Bradenton, Fla.

Two Chicago courses that are part of the Arcis Golf portfolio of clubs nation-wide were honored with Golden Fork Awards by Golf Inc. magazine. Ruffled Feathers, in Lemont, was named runner-up in the Most Improved public facility category and Eagle Brook, in Geneva, was a top-three finalist among the most improved private clubs.

More names in the news: Jeff Roth, winner of 15 major titles in Michigan golf, has joined the instruction staff at Boyne Golf Academy. Kelly Holmes is now general manager at Michigan’s Harbor Shores, and Steve Kuretsky is director of agronomy at Cantigny.

Here’s my updated resident’s guide to golf in the Sunshine State

OK, maybe I do have an ulterior motive: I’d like to play more golf with my Chicago friends during the cold weather months. That would be possible if more of you would just head to Florida.

The Sunshine State is officially my residence now, though I’ll again be on hand for the heart of the Chicago golf season in a few months. Believe me, though, Florida is the place to be if you want to get a golf fix before the snow melts. I did that for years as a snow-bird. Now I’m the recruiter for Florida golf instead of being the recruited one.

Just to be prepared for my new duties as your trusted golf scout I made five road trips to various parts of Florida after settling in in early September. I liked what I saw – a lot!

Topping the list was a visit to Streamsong, which is near Lakeland. It’s been well-received since its opening in 2013, but this year is different than last in that the Black Course is now available for play. That means you can play 54 holes now, all on fine courses. I consider the Red Course my favorite but none really stands head-and-shoulders above the others. You’ll want to play them all.

Streamsong is on the pricey side, but you won’t likely leave the premises once your stay begins. The golf is exceptional, the chance to play it walking is an extreme rarity in Florida, caddies are available as are push carts (they’re called rickshaws at Streamsong) and the dining and other off-course options in the big lodge will satisfy anybody’s taste.

Next up should be Daytona Beach – a community where its golf courses don’t get the attention they deserve. Admittedly visitors go to Daytona first for its beaches and then for its auto races. Still, the golf is pretty good – especially if you’re adventurous enough to hit the nearby towns of New Smyrna Beach and DeLand.

Within Daytona proper the main option is LPGA International, with its two 18-holers. Neighboring towns, though, can supplement your options. Best of those is Sugar Mill Country Club, in New Smyrna Beach. It’s a 27-hole private facility, but I’m told tee times for the public are available – though limited. Trying to get on this layout is well worth the effort. Sugar Mill is one of the best courses in Florida, and that’s saying a lot. Florida has over 1,300, more than any other state.

DeLand has another memorable layout in Victoria Hills. Few courses anywhere can match its 104 ferocious, big, deep bunkers. You might not like them, but you won’t forget them.

Next up is PGA Golf Club, a place close to my heart since I live within walking distance of three of its courses. The designated winter home of the PGA of America’s 29,000 members, PGA Golf Club has been on a steady upswing the last five years. In December its Ryder Course was re-opened following a renovation. That completed a cycle that include its Wanamaker and Dye courses undergoing such work previously.

The renovations all turned out well, but the evolution of the facility continues. More improvements — probably to the already decent practice facility next — will be made following the sale of the off=the-property St. Lucie Trail course and the spacious PGA Learning Center.

Innisbrook Resort, in Palm Harbor near Tampa, has long been one of my favorite destinations. While its famed Copperhead Course gets the most attention – it hosts the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship in March – the North Course was re-opened this fall after undergoing a renovation. It’s more popularly referred to as Little Copperhead.

Another tried and true stop is World Golf Village, in St. Augustine. It has two courses, one of which – The King & The Bear – is the only layout jointly designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. World Golf Village also offers two other great attractions – the World Golf Hall of Fame and the Caddie Shack Restaurant.

Orlando has its Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios to bring in tourists. It also has Bay Hill, the long-time home of the legendary Palmer who passed away barely a year ago. His memory lives on at Bay Hill.

The first course that Palmer played as a professional back in the 1950s was Miami Springs Country Club. Located just a couple miles from the famed Trump Doral Resort, Miami Springs went public long ago and is part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail. Mixing in course on the Trail is a relatively inexpensive option that will appeal to visiting golfers who have an interest in the roots of the game.

Finally, I’ve uncovered new destinations in an unlikely location that might suit those adventurous ones who are looking for something different. The Florida Panhandle isn’t known for its golf but the game is played in a few spots in this area that is roughly 60 miles from the Alabama and Georgia lines.

Panama City is a hopping place in the Panhandle, and its Bay Point facility has two 18-hole courses. One has a checkered past. When it went by the name of Lagoon Legends it was said to be the most difficult course in Florida if not the entire country. Jack Nicklaus, of all people, was brought in to “soften’’ the course and he did it so well that the layout is now called the Nicklaus Course.

The town of Carrabelle is a two-hour drive from Bay Point, and it’s not nearly as hopping a place as Panama City. Carrabelle, though, is a mecca for fishermen in search of tarpon. If they want to enjoy a diversionary round of golf there is one course in the town – St. James Bay. It was purchased last year by a Chicago investment group.

No matter where you go in Florida you’ll find a golf course that fits your needs as well as your price point. If you come for a visit you might turn out like me – a happily transplanted Floridian.

Ryder re-opening is a milestone well worth celebrating at PGA Golf Club

The Ryder Course has the most impressive first tee displays of all the PGA Golf Club courses.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida – December’s re-opening of the Ryder Course merited a celebration at PGA Golf Club – the winter home of the PGA of America’s 29,000 members.

The first course to open at the premier resort on Florida’s east coast was the last of its three 18-holers to get a facelift during a hectic five-year period. General manager Jimmy Terry re-opened the Ryder for public play on Dec. 1 and formally celebrated the event two weeks later with a media contingent that was quick to recognize the magnitude of the work that had been done.

“We started five years ago, and this is a joyful occasion for us to wrap it up,’’ said Terry. “Honestly, there has never been a better time to be a part of PGA Golf Club.’’

The sometimes frantic five-year period began with the hiring of Terry and highly-decorated director of agronomy Dick Gray, whose leadership in the renovation of the three courses led to his being honored as the Turfnet Superintendent of the Year in 2016. There’s no higher award in his industry than that one, but Gray downplayed the work on the Ryder layout. He called it “basically a grass job,’’ but those who had played the course before the renovation quickly realized it was much more than that.

The par-5 fourth hole became the Ryder’s most visually stunning hole after its recent renovation.

A little historical perspective is in order.

The PGA Golf Club opened its doors on Jan. 1, 1996, and the first tee shot was struck on what was then called the North Course. The second, called the South, was opened four months later. Both were Tom Fazio designs.

Ten years later those courses were renamed, the North becoming the Ryder in honor of Samuel Ryder – founder and namesake of the Ryder Cup – and the South becoming the Wanamaker, in honor of Rodman Wanamaker, whose name graces the trophy given annual to the winner of the PGA Championship. The Ryder features a colorful history display at the No. 1 tee and each hole has markers recounting big moments in the history of the match play competitions between the U.S. and European teams.

PGA Golf Club also has a third course, named in honor of its designer Pete Dye, that opened in 2000.

“The Dye is different just by its look,’’ said Gray. “The Ryder and Wanamaker, from being designed by Fazio, have a lot of commonality but they’re grassed a little differently.’’

The most memorable Ryder Cup at Medinah in 2012 is in the spotlight at the No. 18 tee of the Ryder Course. Click on photo for a better view.

Playing-wise, the Ryder has always been the most player-friendly of the PGA Golf Club courses.

“On the Ryder you don’t have to carry a tee shot over anything,’’ said Gray. “On the Wanamaker you’ve got to play over something (hazards), and that’s a big difference.’’

The Ryder still has its wide fairways and 11 lakes and ponds, but it also now has the same Celebration grass on its fairways and Tif-green putting surfaces that the Wanamaker and Dye layouts have.

“It’s now the same grass, the same quality of turf, on all three courses,’’ said Gray. “It should be consistent from green to green, hole to hole and course to course.’’

The change in grass, though, does create a new look from the old version of the Ryder.

“We reframed some of the holes, and that should change the look of the place and the way it plays,’’ said Gray. “Our players can read the hole from the tees better just because of the re-framing.’’

The hole that looks the most different on the Ryder since the renovation is No. 4, a par-5 that plays 484 yards from the tips. Water runs down the right side of the fairway and now comes into play more around the green as well. It’s the most visually stunning hole on the new course, but the new white sand bunkers are attractive throughout.

Course yardage is listed as an even 7,000 from the Medal, or back, tees. The first of the six tee placements is at 5,038 yards.

Big, white sand bunkers were a consistent challenge after the Ryder Course renovation.

The Ryder renovation was not in the original sequence planned for the five-year resort-wide renovation. It was to be done immediately after the Wanamaker redo, but the plan was altered by the scheduling of a series of big events in the 2017 season. The second course to be renovated turned out to be the Dye, as the club staff feared that the Ryder might not be ready in time for this year’s big events. The Dye was re-opened in November of 2016.

Now all that decision-making is over, several golf publications have honored the work done, club membership is up to nearly 1,000 and its finances are, in Terry’s words, “much improved. All is well for PGA Golf Club and its nearly 250 work families.

“We’re charged with delivering an exceptional product,’’ said Terry. “We came on board with a five-year plan to re-establish the PGA Golf Club to a level commensurate with the reputation of the PGA brand. There’s an expectation that comes with that, and we’re not scared of those expectations. We spent over $15 million in renovations and capital projects to re-establish this place.’’

So what’s next?

“We’re not done. There’a few other things to finish,’’ said Terry. “We’re at the next stage.’’

Sale of the fourth course, St. Lucie Trail, and the 35-acre PGA Learning Center will likely impact the timetable for when those “other things’’ will be addressed. Terry said there have been offers made on those properties but completion of the sales is not imminent.

Between the 11 lakes and ponds and striking bunkers the Ryder Courses offers lots of good views.

Rich in history, Miami Springs has maintained its connections with the past

Miami Springs will always have a prominent place in history books — and not just for golf.

MIAMI SPRINGS, Florida – The first thing you notice are the trees. The Miami Springs Golf & Country Club has lots of great big ones, and there’s a reason.

Trees played a big part in the design of this, arguably the most historic 18 holes in Florida – a state with over 1,300 courses, more than any other in the nation.

Unlike many of the old courses, both in Florida and elsewhere, many of the original trees were allowed to grow at Miami Springs. Over 70 were lost during Hurricane Irma in September, but not the controversial one blocking the green at the par-3 twelfth hole. Many of the course’s regular players were hoping that tree would have blown down, but it’s still standing.

Miami Springs is located beside the Miami International Airport and is just two miles from the famed Trump National Doral Miami resort and spa. Much to the credit of its operators, Miami Springs’ layout wasn’t seriously altered over the years. It still plays at 6,755 yards from the back tees, just like it did during its 30 years as the home of the Miami Open and the 34 years it hosted the North & South tourney – the largest minority-sponsored golf competition in the United States. Miami Springs was the first Florida course to admit minorities, in 1949.

Those were just the biggest of many big events held at Miami Springs. If only those trees could talk, they would have some interesting stories to tell. As it is, the operators of the course have thankfully embraced the course’s rich history. Its well documented on the course’s website.

Massive tree like these are the trademark at Miami Springs. Many are over 90 years old.

The present ownership, the City of Miami Springs, has a friendly staff and that adds to the good vibes you get when you visit the place. It starts with the waitress in the small but neat dining room and the starter at the first tee, who is quick to extol the course’s charm, and it extends all the way to the guy greeting us in the parking lot after our round. He wanted to sell us clubs and was reluctant to take no for an answer, but he eventually did with a smile on his face.

We were paired with a caddie from Doral and a young local who was well versed on the public courses in the area. Miami Springs is one of their favorites. It’s not just the course, either. Miami Springs also has the only lighted grass driving range within 25 miles.

From a historical perspective, Miami Springs isn’t the first course in the area. There was a six-hole layout at the Royal Palm Hotel in 1897 and Henry Flagler opened nine holes at the Miami Country Club in 1898. Miami Springs developed from the enthusiasm of a group called the Miami Coconuts, a group of businessmen who loved golf but had no place to play.

This massive banyan is the most memorable of the trees adorning Miami Springs.

Tubby Smith, the leader of the Coconuts, was editor of The Southern Golfer. Some historical accounts claim that he designed the course in 1922. The more widely held belief is that a respected Chicago architectural firm, William Langford and Theodore Moreland, did the work. At any rate, the course — built for $101,000 – opened as Dade County’s first municipal course in 1923 under the name of Miami Hialeah Golf Club.

It was originally owned by the City of Miami, which kicked in $3,000 for prize money to create the first Miami Open in January, 1925. The event drew all the great players of the era. Cyril Walker, the reigning U.S. Open champion, was there along with Walter Hagen, Long Jim Barnes, Jock Hutchison, Tommy Armour and Gene Sarazen. The reigning British Open titlist, Abe Mitchell, led wire-to-wire in winning the $600 first prize, however.

For the next 29 years the Miami Open was a sports highlight in south Florida. Sam Snead won it six times, including the last staging in 1955 when rain shortened the event from 72 to 54 holes. On the champions wall in the clubhouse he’s even listed as “Sammy Snead’’ in the early references.

There are plenty of famous names among the Miami Open champions

The Miami Open became an official PGA event in 1945 and was held in January as the traditional kickoff to the circuit’s winter season. In 1955 it was shifted to December dates with a $12,500 prize fund and still drew 25,000 spectators.

That, though, turned out the end of a great run. The PGA required a $15,000 purse the next year, and the City of Miami refused to pay it. Not only that, but the governmental body deemed the Miami Springs clubhouse an unsafe structure and burned it down in a fire drill.

Looking back at the Miami Open years, the tourney became a milestone when Arnold Palmer made it his first professional event in 1955, a year after winning the U.S. Amateur. He shot 78-74 and missed the cut by six strokes but Palmer returned to tie for eighth in the tourney’s last staging a year later.

While the Miami Open was the main event, Miami Springs also hosted a second PGA event during those years. The Miami Four Ball was part of Byron Nelson’s record 11 straight victories during the 1945 season.

Modern tee markers contrast with Miami Springs’ rich past.

With the PGA gone Miami Springs hosted the Major League Baseball Players outing from 1956-67 along with the North and South event. Those events brought such luminaries as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Nat `King’ Cole, Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis to Miami Springs.

Seven years after the last Miami Open the PGA Tour established another longstanding tournament in Miami. Doral, with its Blue Monster course, hosted tournaments for 55 straight years until sponsorship problems led to the circuit putting a tournament in Mexico in its place on the 2017 schedule.

So now Miami is without a PGA Tour event? That doesn’t sound right. Doral, with its four 18-holers, will likely host big tournaments again. Miami Springs, most likely not.

Still, it was at Miami Springs where Florida’s rich golf history really got its start. That’s why it deserves such a prominent place among the 53 courses listed on the Florida Historic Golf Trail.

Two months later remnants of Hurricane Irma were still present at Miami Springs.

A year later, and the Arnold Palmer spirit still lives on at Bay Hill

ORLANDO, Florida – It’s not unusual for a golf destination to lose its owner or – in Florida, at least – to be hit by a hurricane. That’s just part of life.

When the owner, though, is the legendary Arnold Palmer and the hurricane is one of the most devastating in the history of the state, that changes things. Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge has coped with both challenging developments and – we found out first hand – is now dealing with another.

We visited Bay Hill to see how the club has adapted to life without Palmer, whose consistent on-site presence made the club like no other, and the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which battered all of Florida and neighboring states in September.

All was well after the first night of our visit. The next day, though, we woke up to the sound of fire alarms. A water main burst caused damage to several rooms in the 70-room Bay Hill Lodge, a dilemma with the tourist season fast approaching but nothing that will have a long-lasting impact.

Palmer died on Sept. 25, 2016, while awaiting heart surgery near his long-time home in Latrobe, Pa. He was 87, and his passing triggered tributes worldwide. The man known by all as “the King’’ or simply “Arnie’’ did a lot more good things besides just winning golf tournaments. He was one of the most beloved sports figures of all time, and six months after his passing a statue in Palmer’s honor was erected at Bay Hill. It was completed in time for the annual Arnold Palmer Invitational – an annual stop on the PGA Tour.

Now, eight months and a hurricane after that tournament, we found Bay Hill still a vibrant place. Palmer is gone, but certainly hasn’t been forgotten. The memories of his good old days in tournament golf were always reflected in the décor at the lodge and more classic photos and memorabilia have been added in the past few months.

Given its history, this recent addition to Bay Hill may be the club’s most interesting piece of artwork.

The most interesting is a piece of artwork in the member’s lounge. (It’s important to note that everyone lodging at Bay Hill is a “member’’ during their stay and is treated as such).

Two Bay Hill members, John and Shirley Horn, commissioned the artwork, which was created by artist Bill Mack. You have to know the history of the piece to fully appreciate it; a casual glance won’t do.

Mack purchased the iconic metal sign that was built in 1923 to welcome visitors to Hollywood. It was located at Mount Lee in Los Angeles before Mack acquired it in 2007. He used the metal from it as a façade to paint portraits of illustrious movie stars, but included Palmer among his subjects. In Mack’s judgment, the 80-year old metal material “gives each painting a heartbeat, a sense of time and place.’’

The Bay Hill Lodge is the perfect place to showcase this unique artwork of Palmer. He’s been the subject of many other forms of art over the years, including the statue that has been a feature at Bay Hill since last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The Arnold Palmer statue has found a permanent home among the flowers of Bay Hill.

That statue was moved after the PGA Tour event and is now located behind, instead of in front of, a flower garden. Its present location is better than its former one, though there were some fears that the statue was vulnerable when Hurricane Irma visited. Those walloping winds couldn’t take down “Arnie,’’ however, and Bay Hill – unlike many courses in the area — escaped pretty much unscathed as well. The course was closed only five days for cleanup.

Otherwise, the most notable change at Bay Hill isn’t all that notable. There’s just some new signage on the club’s 27 holes, but the Champion, Challenger and Charger nines were as pristine as ever – even a few days after over-seeding and other maintenance procedures were performed.

Palmer’s love affair with Bay Hill started that day in 1965 when he won a charity exhibition event there that also included Jack Nicklaus and Don Cherry. Palmer immediately told his wife Winnie that he wanted to own the place. In 1970 he took out a five-year lease and became the owner officially in 1975.

The Charger nine isn’t used in the Arnold Palmer Invitational but it has more picturesque holes.

Groundbreaking for Bay Hill actually came in 1960 and architect Dick Wilson designed the original 18 holes, which opened a year later. Palmer’s influence, of course, took the place to new heights. In addition to the golf it now includes three restaurants, three lounges, six tennis courts, a full-service spa, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a marina and seven guest cottages.

Palmer’s presence, as much as the facilities, made Bay Hill the special place it has become. In our first visit, in 2014, he dined and socialized with his visitors. No other golf destination could provide that. It’s not the same with him gone, of course, but the aura continues with his daughter, Amy Palmer Saunders, and her husband Roy overseeing the operation. The spirit of Arnie lives on, as you can see from the scenes below, taken on and off the course.

`Little Copperhead’ upgrade bolsters Packard influence at Innisbrook

Eleven holes on Little Copperhead have water hazards but No. 14 looks different than the others.

PALM HARBOR, Florida – Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Hotels & Resorts company, had an extraordinary two days last week.

On Thursday Salamander re-opened its Jack Nicklaus-designed Hammock Beach course in Palm Coast, Fla. It had been closed for a 13-month restoration. The next day Salamander put on a festive celebration to mark the re-opening of the North Course at Innisbrook Resort, located in Palm Harbor – part of the Tampa Bay area.

Innisbrook’s North Course is frequently referred to as “Little Copperhead’’ because of its connection to the PGA Tour layout that’s also on the premises. The big Copperhead is more famous as the site of the Valspar Championship in March.

The renovation at Little Copperhead took about half as long (six months) as the one at Hammock Beach but it may go down as more impactful. Little Copperhead is part of one of Florida’s busiest resorts and it’s going to draw plenty of raves once the tourist season kicks into high gear in the next few weeks.

The work done at Little Copperhead centered on the putting surfaces.

Director of golf Bobby Barnes envisioned an update of the North Course for two years before it became a reality.

“We replaced all 18 greens, and it was a project that was tremendously successful,’’ said Mike Williams, Innisbrook’s managing director. “We finished on time, under budget and have a project well done.’’

Williams has been in his current job only eight months, but he had worked at Innisbrook previously when Hilton was the resort’s manager. Williams spent 25 years working at various locations for Hilton, then was executive vice president for Crescent Hotels for five years before deciding to “retire’’ at Innisbrook. Williams and his wife will soon move into a house they are having built near the No. 10 green of Innisbrook’s Island Course.

His eight months on the job, though, haven’t been the life of a retiree. In addition to dealing with the uncertainly of Hurricane Irma’s October visit that wreaked havoc with the entire state Williams worked immediately to gain approval for the Little Copperhead renovation. That delighted Rob Koehler, superintendent of the North and South courses at the resort, and Bobby Barnes, the director of golf. Koehler and Barnes had dreamed of doing the North Course renovation for two years.

“The greens were over 40 years old,’’ explained Barnes. “We switched to TIFEagle Bermuda, the same as at Copperhead and the Island Course, and we re-sodded all the bunker collars.’’

The new greens on Little Copperhead played like they’d been there for years at the Grand Opening..

Those new greens played during the grand opening round as if they had been there for years. Those who have visited the course in the past will also note three new trees on the first hole, two more on the right side of the No. 18 fairway and three palms that now outline the island green at No. 5. Koehler managed virtually the entire project.

That’s particularly noteworthy, in that no new architect was deemed needed. The original layout designed by the legendary Larry Packard is still very much in evidence. The sizes of the greens were expanded where shrinkage had occurred over the years, and that will allow for additional pin placements now. That’s always a good thing.

Packard designed all four courses at Innisbrook, and Little Copperhead merits a special place in the resort’s history. Nine of its holes were once part of the Copperhead course, which opened in 1972. Packard designed the two Copperheads nine holes at a time and the back nine of the North Course was once part of the premier layout.

The biggest difference between the “big’’ and “little’’ Copperhead is length. Little Copperhead – the North Course – measures only 6,325 yards from the back tees. It has an unusual quirk with back-to-back par-3s at Nos. 15 and 16 and plays to a par of 70. Big Copperhead is 7,209 yards and a par 71.

Though already hosting a professional tournament for 25 consecutive years, both the U.S. Golf Association and PGA Tour have toyed with the idea of bringing a major championship to that layout. It hasn’t happened yet but, down the road, who knows?

No. 18 received two new trees to enhance another of designer Larry Packard’s trademark doglegs.

Packard finished his storied career – he designed over 600 courses — at Innisbrook. Before moving there in 1984 he worked on the courses with his son Roger. Though not achieving the notoriety of his father Roger was a successful course architect as well. He started working with his father in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale and, teaming with two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North, designed two of Illinois’ best courses — Cantigny, which has 27 holes in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, and The General, at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena. Roger created three 18-holers at Eagle Ridge.

The first course the Packards worked on together, though, was at Innisbrook. They joined forces on the Island Course, which opened in 1970 as Innisbrook’s first 18-holer. Recently lengthened and renovated, it has hosted U.S. Open qualifiers, the Ladies PGA Legends Tour and the NCAA Championships. The Packards worked on courses together for about 15 years before Roger eventually went out on his own.

In addition to his work in Illinois, Roger designed Sweetwater – a course located on what was then the Ladies PGA Tour headquarters in Sugar Land, Tex. The LPGA later moved from that area to its present location in Daytona Beach.

Larry Packard also created the South Course, which contrasts with the others at Innisbrook in that it is more links-style with 10 water hazards. Larry was an Innisbrook resident until his death in 2014 at the age of 101.

Roger was on hand at Innisbrook to celebrate the 2015 re-opening of the Copperhead course following a major renovation. He had done most of his work in China in recent years before being stricken with esophageal cancer. Roger moved back to Palm Harbor to seek the aid of the same care-giver that his father had in the final months of his life. Roger died on Oct. 14 in Palm Harbor. He was 70.

The island green at No. 5 has been enhanced with the addition of some new trees.