Wondering what Central Florida was like long, long before giant Mice and Ducks took over and turned the area from a serene, peaceful, quiet environment into one of the largest tourist destinations in the world?
Want to escape the routine craziness of life and sit outside looking up at the stars on a pitch black night with no lights, no people noise, no traffic -- just the sounds of wild boar, frogs, birds and other critters from the largely vanished Florida wilderness?
Take a drive east of Tampa on Interstate 4. Exit south at County Line Road, where Hillsborough meets up with Polk. Drive east on State Route 60, take a right (south) onto Route 37 where Mulberry begins. Fair warning: Before you leave Mulberry, check the gas tank because there are no places to fill up once you reach State Road 640. After that, you still have about 10 miles to go.
Welcome to Streamsong Resort, a new Florida oasis that reflects the past as well as the future like none other. Getting here might be an adventure for urbanites, but that's part of the attraction.
Streamsong Resort is the creation of Mosaic, a global fertilizer company with Florida headquarters in Lithia (near Brandon) and the top exporter from the Port of Tampa
is Mosaic's first foray into the golf/resort business.
The 2,300-acre resort is situated within 16,500 acres owned by Mosaic
. The 36 holes of golf span hilly sand dunes, roller-coaster style greens, and large altitude drops and climbs, unlike most Florida courses, which are often described as "target golf,'' a derisive term among many golf traditionalists.
"We are remote, but accessible,'' says David Townsend, Mosaic's assistant VP of corporate communications/public affairs. "You can get back to civilization from here. We like to look at our remoteness as an asset. You don't have to stand in lines anywhere and there are a lot of things we don't want around here for now. When you get to Streamsong, you are in a different place in Florida, not anything like anyplace else.''
Destination Streamsong Resort
Streamsong offers everything a golfer could want, plus it's designed as a meeting site for businesses looking to host major conventions that might just add in a little golf along with the serious nature of corporate networking and training.
Start with the hotel, which is scheduled to open around Thanksgiving 2013. It will have 216 rooms that feature the works of Tampa Bay artists and lead clubhouse architect Alberto Alfonso, as well as some of the great literary works of all time in every room. There will be three restaurants, including a steakhouse, and a rooftop bar that overlooks a lake and will allow for a spectacular view of the calm night. Next to the rooftop bar, there is even a stargazing sanctuary called Fragmentary Blue after a Robert Frost poem.
The hotel also offers a spa with eight individual tubs for those who want to relax without a lot of chatter, unparalleled Florida bass fishing, and plenty of nature trails for hikers and bird watchers. Streamsong isn't a Disney-like family vacation, but there will be a large pool and plenty of activities for the kids. Plus, Streamsong is only a 30-minute drive from LEGOLAND Florida
in Winter Haven.
Visitors can start the day of golf at the clubhouse and follow it up with dinner and drinks at Fifty-Nine, which, as golfers know, is the holy grail of the game, a score that breaks 60 and has only been accomplished four times in the history of the PGA Tour. Fifty-Nine also has one of the top selections of wine anywhere in Central Florida.
The clubhouse itself is unassuming and built into the natural landscape. The idea was to create a place that showcases the original Florida environment, is comfortable and approachable. Instead of seeing golf course photos everywhere and the typical Arnie and Jack walking down the 18th at Augusta, there is classic art featuring works by Alberto Alfonso
, vases and non-golf decor. Even the pro shop looks like a modern boutique.
"We were looking for something classy and different in everything we designed here,'' says Tom Sunnarborg, Mosaic's VP of land development and management, who has also worked as a Disney Imagineer. "We wanted a place where businesses can hold a convention without golf being the dominant part of the event.''
Playing For Keeps
Still, the two golf courses are the centerpiece of Streamsong and give off a vibe that will make visitors feel like they're in Europe at St. Andrews
in Scotland. The two courses, which, like many British courses, cross over each other at various times, are the Red Course and the Blue Course. Both play to more than 7,100 yards and usually into winds that can turn a par 3 from a 3-wood off the tee to a 7-iron within a few hours, depending on the wind.
The Red Course was designed by two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw with renowned golf architect Bill Coore. The Blue Course was designed by Tom Doak of Renaissance Golf Design. The world's most prominent golf architects were consulted. "Let's just say just about anyone who is anyone was interested,'' says Townsend.
Why the colorful names?
"The Crenshaw and Coore group used red pens and Doak and his group used blue pens. It was pretty easy from there,'' Sunnarborg says.
There is water on the course, but it rarely comes into play. Instead, sand dunes, huge mounds and large, deep bunkers are everywhere. All sand is playable as a hazard, so there is no relief. Since there are no homes on the site, there is no out-of-bounds.
"If you can find it, you can play it,'' Sunnarborg says.
The dunes and hills are all natural and require little maintenance. What visitors see today is what the folks who searched this barren land for phosphate deposits saw more than a half-century ago. Hills and quarries that were created to mine the phosphate for use as fertilizer now make up the two courses. There is also a hidden tribute to the days of phosphate mining on each hole. The two tee markers at each tee box are railroad ties that were once used to move machinery around the property.
"We wanted to show what we could do by using reclaimed land,'' Sunnarborg says. "We wanted to work with the environment and keeping the land the way it has always been and you can't find that too many places in Florida. It's a lot like when Disney built Walt Disney World in the middle of nowhere. That turned out pretty well.''
Jobs For Resort Workers
Townsend says Streamsong will be a boon to Polk County employment, not to mention that of neighboring Hardee and Hillsborough counties. The property, once the hotel is open, will employ about 300 people, some part-time at first. KemperSports will manage the golf operations and Interstate Hotels & Resorts will run the hotel.
As for the future, Streamsong is using only about 30 percent of the land Mosaic wants to see how the project develops before deciding what's next.
"We have plenty of room for growth, but we want to keep it so that, once you drive into Streamsong, you are entering a whole new world and getting away. When you get here, we want you to feel like you are in a decompression zone,'' Sunnarborg says. "We don't want you to be looking at buildings and other things or preoccupying yourself with anything but the experience of being at Streamsong. Too much development might not be the right thing, but for now, Mosaic wants to see how this does.''
Play has been steady on the course since it opened in December 2012, a light time of the year in golf travel. It's already getting national attention. Golf Digest
has written it up. The Streamsong Red Course was named by Golf Magazine
as "The Best New U.S. Course You Can Play,'' one of the top honors in the golf course design world.
Jeff Berlinicke of Tampa is a freelance writer who has spent much of the last 15 covering professional sports all over the Southeast United States. When not rooting for his favorite teams, he often can be found listening to Bruce Springsteen or teeing up on local golf courses. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.