Golf Life: Salamander completes upgrades at Innisbrook, Reunion

Mar 13, 2016; Palm Harbor, FL, USA; Graham Delaet walks across a bridge on the 12th hole during the final round of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort - Copperhead Course. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Golf Life: Salamander completes upgrades at Innisbrook, Reunion

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Golf Life: Salamander completes upgrades at Innisbrook, Reunion

PALM HARBOR, Fla – Bobby Barnes knew what the question would be even before it had been asked. He started nodding his head, smiling.

A few minutes earlier, Barnes, director of golf at Innisbrook Resort, had declared that the resort’s South Course is “my favorite course to play.”

“That raised some eyebrows,” Barnes said as he stood on the South’s first tee.

Understand, Innisbrook is home to the Copperhead Course, a longtime PGA Tour venue that looks as if it was transported from the Sandhills of North Carolina. Many regard Innisbrook’s Island Course as an even better test. Phil Mickelson won his second NCAA championship on the Island in 1990.

Given the pedigree of those two courses, Innisbrook’s South and North courses tend to get overlooked. Not by Barnes, however.

“The Copperhead is relentless. The Island is relentless,” Barnes said. “Even the North, when you see 6,200, 6,300 (yards) from the back tees, you think it’s a short course and then you get out there and it kicks your butt. The South Course is the one course with open holes, lots of opportunities to make birdies. I always joke that if I want to get beat up, I’ll go play the Copperhead. And if I want to have a nice, fun afternoon and make some birdies, I’ll come out and play the South.”

The South Course reopened Nov. 30 after a six-month renovation during which the greens were re-grassed with TifEagle Bermuda, the same grass used on the greens of Innisbrook’s other three courses.

The work also included reclaiming the periphery of greens that had been lost over the years. Barnes said some of the greens, such as on Nos. 5 and 13, doubled in size during the renovation.

This has been a transformational year for the 48-year-old Gulf Coast resort, which is owned by Salamander Hotels & Resorts. The reopening of the South Course marked the end of a multi-year renovation of Innisbrook’s 72 holes.

The resort also is close to completing the remodeling of all its rooms. That includes new furniture, appliances, countertops and cabinets. The remodeling project has been protracted because Innisbrook’s suites are individually owned and part of a rental pool, so Salamander has had to secure the owners’ support.

Innisbrook’s formula always has been solid lodging, a golf experience unlike what is typically found in Florida and a big steak in the evenings. It’s the sort of comfortable place where repeat visitors might end up on a first-name basis with the longtime servers at Packard’s. The restaurant’s namesake is the late architect Larry Packard, who used to live on property and designed all four courses. It has always had a comfortable, homespun appeal.

Plenty of new golfers discovered Innisbrook this year because of the exposure it received during the Valspar Championship in March. Thanks to Tiger Woods’ surprising T-2 finish, the final round drew one of the biggest television audiences of the year.

That has the Innisbrook staff hoping and dreaming of Woods returning in March. Valspar tournament director Tracy West missed the South Course reopening because she was on a recruiting trip at Woods’ Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

Barnes’ pitch to Woods is simple: Copperhead suits his game.

“That course fits him,” Barnes said. “He doesn’t have to hit driver, the winners are always around 10, 11, 12 under. He would compete and be in the top 5 of that on a bad week. Hopefully someone says that to him.”

Reunion opens Nicklaus clubhouse

About 80 miles to the northeast, up Interstate-4, Salamander also opened a new clubhouse at Reunion Resort’s Nicklaus Course in late November. The 12,000-square-foot clubhouse has been a long time coming.

The Nicklaus Course, which opened in 2006, was the third course built at the 54-hole resort. The course lately has become the cornerstone of a new residential neighborhood called the Bear’s Den. Much of Reunion’s resort traffic tends to congregate at the main hotel and clubhouse overlooking the Palmer and Watson courses. The Nicklaus clubhouse provides a quieter enclave where members can gather.

The centerpiece of the clubhouse is Traditions, a sports bar with an open kitchen and a terrace overlooking the 18th green. The clubhouse also houses the sales center for the Bear’s Den. Gwk

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