One of the many great things about golf is the fact no two courses are identical. However, many are fairly nondescript. Even at the premier level, there are certain “looks” that we have come to expect, and I think this is particularly true in the United States. Fortunately, this is starting to change, in part because of the work being done by master architect, Tom Doak. Unlike your average country club course, Doak is creating natural minimalistic masterpieces. One such example is the newly opened Streamsong Resort in Florida.
Fresh off the success of Pacific Dunes in Oregon, Ballyneal in Colorado, Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania and Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, the Streamsong’s Blue Course just adds more depth to his growing list of accomplishments. For those of you keeping score, Tom Doak now has four courses that rank in the in the top 100 in the world, and I would bet Streamsong will not have to wait long to be added to that list.
The Streamsong Resort is located about 60 minutes Southeast of Tampa Bay and roughly 90 minutes Southwest of Orlando. We took the drive down from Orlando, where we were attending the PGA Show, and had no problems finding our way to the resort. Despite the remote location, there are signs as soon as you get near the turnoff and even had I not been equipped with my trusty iPhone it would have been no problem at all to locate the facility.
Once you’re on site it doesn’t take you long to realize you’re definitely not in the city anymore. Streamsong’s remote location gives visitors to the area a unique look at the natural beauty Florida has to offer . . . beaches and condos that rise to the sky are distant memories, and right in the middle of this wild untamed patch of land sits a golfing Mecca for everyone to enjoy.
Arriving at Streamsong you know right away that this is not going to be your typical golf outing. As you travel down the road that leads to the clubhouse, you’ll pass by the newly finished lodge and its distinctive architecture (more on their world class lodge later), and as you continue through the development towards the parking lot the unique clubhouse appears out of nowhere. The beauty of the Streamsong clubhouse, which starts from the moment you see it, continues even more so as you walk through the doors. The place just oozes class and style, from the stunning interior design to the outstanding customer service provided by the employees. Going over the top and providing such excellent service is what I considered the norm for Streamsong and their employees, and they handled it in a way that makes you feel very welcomed and not at all like an outsider.
After checking in and then making our way through the pro shop (ogling everything they had to offer), we headed outside to the immense practice green and putted for a couple of minutes before the shuttle arrived and carted us over to the range to warm up our insanely sweet golf swings *ahem*.
Standing at the range, hitting balls into the wind, and looking over the surreal terrain that was before me was where I first was able to fully take in what Streamsong was about. At least for the time being. Yes, the range was quite majestic and it was wonderful standing on that hillside taking in the natural surroundings, but when we made the walk from the practice green and up the hill to the number 1 tee (the highest point on the property), I was completely beside myself as I looked upon the real Streamsong for the first time.
I hade never been on the first tee of a golf course without feeling nervous about my game, but on this day I was too mesmerized by the layout in front of me . . . and this was just the first hole!
You will immediately notice some of the Doak design features that make Streamsong so unique. The bunkers are utterly endless and seem to be everywhere, mainly because they are. My tee shot had made its way into what appeared to be a fairway desert the likes of the mighty Sahara instead of a measly bunker, but upon further review I actually had a great stance and a shot at the green, which started an entirely new kind of experience.
Personally I love putting on fast, true greens. Getting it on the right line and making a good stroke at it is so much more appealing than having to muscle the ball to the hole on slower greens as you watch it pop, weave and stumble to the hole. The Blue course greens were impeccable and some of the best I have ever putted on, and I’ve putted on some damn good surfaces. I was “Doaked” more than once by his designs and there were some very nerve-racking putts within the three foot range, but overall the greens were a joy to putt on. Throughout the round I saw some of the craziest attempts at holing a putt that I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing.
Doak’s design from day 1 was that the course should be walked, and he took full advantage of the natural elevation changes, dunes and the surrounding wetlands to create a walking paradise for golfers. At no time in my life have I experienced this concept and to say I was captivated is an understatement. The walk from green to tee box is minimal at best, minus a few holes like No. 7 & No. 8 where your legs will get a workout if you’re not used to walking, and yes, those holes had me wishing for a golf cart to traverse some of hillsides. But, when push came to shove I loved the fact I was walking this course and seeing it the way Doak had intended it to be seen.
The 7th hole, which has been labeled “The most photographed hole in Florida”, was easily one of my fondest memories of the day. Taking the short walk from the 6th green to the 7th tee box you’re not prepared for what you’re about to see because the lay of the land is so aggressive. You pretty much have no idea where you’re headed, then as the horizon starts to level off from the incline, the magnificent Par 3 that is hole number 7 sits before you in all its glory. It’s easy to see as you’re standing there overlooking the entire layout of the land and this mesmerizing hole how it is clearly the Blue Course’s signature hole.
Check it out. This hole is sick! The elevated tee box, the carry over the water below, the mind-boggling landscape that surrounds the hole, the wooden bridge that takes you across to the green and back, all included in a very challenging par 3 that once you’re done playing takes everything you have to not go back and play it again!
After hitting our tee shots we took the walk across the wooden bridge that connects the pieces of land. The bridge has a natural feel that just adds to the simplicity of the Streamsong, yet yields a magnificent quality. Taking the stroll across gives you another break from the game as you get to take in the beauty of the surrounding area. Although I was more concerned with a 15 foot Gator seeing my plumpness as a delightful meal rather than thinking about my upcoming shot, the walk across to the green and back to the tee area after we finished really put a stamp on the round and its unique qualities.
The course was incredibly enjoyable from the first tee to the last green . . . it probably helped that I actually played well but I think it was more of the design than my golf skills. The layout of the Blue track is very forgiving. Wide, very wide, fairways are found on nearly every hole. There are a few where if you’re not on point it turns into an adventure, but for the most part the fairways are an intermediate player’s dream come true.
Throughout the day and even after wrapping up the round and driving back to Orlando, there was still something I just couldn’t put my finger on: the names of the two courses, Blue and Red. There I was walking what in my mind was a beyond-expectations golf course and nothing really stood out to me as to why they had named the two courses the way they did. It wasn’t until during some research on Streamsong that I found out that Tom Doak, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore (Coore & Crenshaw) had used Blue and Red pens to sketch out their first renditions of the courses. How basic and simple can you get! Beforehand it might have been perplexing to understand why they chose to go with such an easy naming process, but after playing Streamsong it was easily understandable that the naming of the layouts wasn’t about being fancy or excessively creative – it was merely about simplicity and golf, the way it I think it should be.
Finally, I would be remiss to not mention the new lodge/hotel at Streamsong which is fabulous. While we did not stay the night, we did get a chance to tour the facility. Hint, this is a must for a long weekend getaway. Spa, pool, restaurants, and of course world class golf. Book it Danno!
Visit Streamsong website