Innisbrook re-opens its South Course, completes its four-course greens renovation

Innisbrook leaders (from left) Dawn Mercer, the director of instruction; managing director Mike Williams and director of golf Bobby Barnes hit the ceremonial first tee shots together to re-open the South Course.

PALM HARBOR, Florida – The golf resort business is highly competitive in Florida, and the managing director of one of the best thinks there may soon be a changing of the guard.

Mike Williams, managing director of Innisbrook Resort, presided over the re-opening of his South Course last week and took an aggressive stance after outlining all the work that has or is being done there.

“This is a great day for Innisbrook,’’ Williams said. “Innisbrook will be – is – the premier golf resort in the Southeast. Our competitive set is PGA National, Streamsong, Doral, TPC Sawgrass. We now have the guest accommodations that not only rival what they have but far surpass their offerings.’’

Those are strong words, but Williams may have a case with the snowbirds starting to return to the Sunshine State.

Innisbrook has four courses – Copperhead, Island, North and South – all designed by Larry Packard who lived on the property until his passing at age 101 in 2014. Copperhead has hosted a PGA Tour event for 29 straight years and the Valspar Championship returns there in March.

The Island course hosted NCAA championships that were won by Phil Mickelson and Lee Janzen and the LPGA, Symetra and Legends tours have all had events on Innisbrook courses at one time or another. The U.S. Golf Association has also held U.S. Open qualifiers there.

Now, though, the resort’s focus is on the recreational visitors. After a six-month long renovation of the South layout, Innisbrook has all four courses with the same TifEagle Bermuda grass on its greens. That’s a big deal as far as the resort is concerned.

“We had a perfect summer for growing grass, and it’s so important to have all four courses with the same putting surface for the people who come down from all over,’’ said Williams. “They don’t want to go from course to course and have a different putting experience. Every year the pros rave about the greens that we have here and how consistent they are.’’

Now the South Course has greens like the other three courses at Innisbrook Resort.

The North Course, dubbed Little Copperhead, got those new greens in 2017. The South was the last to get them.

“We’ve expanded the greens to the original Larry Packard size and we also replaced the grass on three practice greens,’’ said Bobby Barnes, Innisbrook’s director of golf. “That’s extremely beneficial to us because it allows for more foot traffic and helps the greens stay healthier longer. We couldn’t be more excited about that. What we did this summer will pay dividends for years to come.’’

In addition to the greens’ renovation the Innisbrook crew also improved the condition of the bunkers, cleared all storm canals, trimmed trees in the fairways and re-sodded in some areas.

“The South is our newest, and most user-friendly course, and probably my favorite golf course to play,’’ said Barnes. It’s now up to the standards of the other three.

More work is being done, too. The remodeling of all 400 rooms at the resort started in September and is expected to be completed in early 2019. When that work is done it’ll mark the first time in 20 years that Innisbrook could do all the upgrading at one time. In previous upgrades the work was done in phases. The work done is all leading up to the course’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2020.

Innisbrook isn’t the only golf resort in the Salamander portfolio to make a major upgrade. The Jack Nicklaus course at Reunion Resort in Orlando now has a new 12,000 square foot clubhouse. It features an upscale sports bar, named Traditions, and features lots of Nicklaus memorabilia.

Bunkers, especially these on the seventh hole, were a major challenge on the South Course.