Streamsong: Mining for golf gold

The 7th hole on Streamsong's Blue course.

STREAMSONG, Fla. -- Only time will tell whether Streamsong Resort, easily the most ambitious domestic golf development of 2013, will be a financial and critical success. It’s still an open question as to whether thousands of golfers will flock to a reclaimed mining site in a remote part of central Florida. It will be difficult to gauge the resort’s long-term prospects until Streamsong starts taking bookings for the 216-room lodge that is scheduled to open in late November. And it’s not yet clear whether Streamsong’s two courses, which opened Dec. 21, will find their way onto the short bucket lists of avid golfers, though early reviews have been favorable.

But this much can be said with certainty: The people who conceived and built Streamsong aren’t downplaying expectations.

“This can be the Sand Hills; this can be a Bandon Dunes equivalent; this would have a lot of the characteristics of a lot of the great golf courses on Long Island,” said Rich Mack, executive vice president and general counsel of The Mosaic Co., the Plymouth, Minn.-based mining firm that built Streamsong.

In the mid-2000s, Mack, who played college golf at Minnesota State University Moorhead, oversaw Mosaic’s 250,000-plus acres of land holdings in Florida. He wanted to push back against the perception that mining firms exhaust the land, then move on. To do so, he needed to find a site that could be a model for reclamation, and also hopefully provide a financial return. Getting Mosaic executives on board with the project, he recalled, required plenty of “persuasive talk.”

When he first hatched the idea, Florida real estate “was on fire,” he said. By the time work began, the market was in free-fall. But Mosaic, which produces and markets phosphate and potash fertilizers, is in a particularly strong financial position; in fiscal 2012, it had net income of $1.9 billion, $3.8 billion in cash and cash equivalents, and was projecting strong results for the current fiscal year.

So the company pushed forward.

“How better could we demonstrate what we can do on land that was formerly mined than to build a destination where people come to it, visit it, and enjoy it and celebrate it?” Mack said. “Rather than talking about what a great ability we have to reclaim property, now we can point to it.”

Mack’s team identified a 16,000-acre tract where more than 100 million tons of phosphate rock had been mined over the past century, then narrowed that to 2,300 acres for the resort. The site near Fort Meade, Fla., had several appealing characteristics. It was isolated – not unlike Bandon Dunes in Oregon or Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska – but still only 60 minutes from Tampa and 90 minutes from Orlando. It had some elevation changes not typically found in Florida. And it had 15 million cubic yards of sand that had been blowing around, creating an appealing playing surface with interesting land forms. The rest was up to Tom Doak, who designed Streamsong’s Blue Course, and the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, which built the Red Course.

“We get questions like, ‘Does Florida need two more golf courses?’ ” said Tom Sunnarborg, Mosaic’s vice president of land development and management. “And the answer is, ‘No,’ from a macro point of view. But I think the market can definitely absorb, and there is always opportunity for, something really special.”

The job of making sure guests have that special experience falls to Mike Speicher, the resort’s general manager. KemperSports, which manages Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and The Prairie Club in Nebraska, is managing the golf operations.

Speicher spent the past five years opening and managing the Westin Imagine near Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center. But before that, Speicher spent seven years at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, Fla., heading operations and later sales and marketing.

There are similarities between the two properties. Sandestin, like a ski village, is a self-contained resort; once guests arrive, they never have to leave. Four courses are onsite, and the beach, restaurants and shops are located within walking distance of the lodging.

Streamsong won’t have a retail operation the size of Sandestin’s, but its 200-plus employees will have to keep stay-and-play guests entertained in the remote, industrial location about 20 miles south of Lakeland. (Golfers do not have to stay at the resort to play.)

“We’ve got to work on programming the 24-hour clock,” Speicher said.

When the lodge opens in late 2013, it will have three restaurants, including a rooftop bar, spa, fitness center and meeting space. Guests also can fish or use the shooting range, which will be on a site away from the lodge and golf courses. The lodge itself is more than a mile from the courses so that it doesn’t impinge on the golf experience.

For now, guests can book one of 12 rooms on the second floor of the clubhouse, which also has a steakhouse that will be open all day.

The clubhouse rooms are sold out for nearly 70 nights, according to Speicher.

When the lodge and other amenities come online, Mosaic anticipates Streamsong will attract substantial corporate business from the Tampa and Orlando markets, in addition to avid golfers from around the U.S. and even internationally. The amenities – and the consumer-tested name Streamsong – are intended to make the resort appealing to women and men. But until the lodge opens, Speicher expects the typical guest will be an “alpha golfer.”

“These people aren’t bringing their families; they’re not trying to shop; they’re not trying to hit the beach,” he said. “These folks are coming for one purpose, and that’s golf.”

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