It has been believed that sisters, separated at birth, have a cord that binds them forever. In this case, the sisters are two of Florida’s most highly regarded golf courses separated by hundreds of miles of orange groves, developed residential communities and cities with growing commercial entities. The cord being they are proud members of the Salamander Hotels & Resorts family.
Furthermore, both golf courses were devastated by hurricanes. At Hammock Beach Resorts’ Ocean Course, it was Hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and most recently, Irma. Innisbrook Resorts’ North Course was touched by Hurricane Irma just after a four-month restoration was completed. Happily, for golf enthusiasts, both courses celebrated grand re-openings in early November.
Salamander, founded by Sheila Johnson, an executive committee member of the United States Golf Association, made the commitment to restore the Ocean Course following the storm’s devastation of the Jack Nicklaus-designed course. Together with the Nicklaus team and Hammock Beach Resorts management and its golf professional and maintenance staffs, the course was ready to play in September after 13 months of re-construction and restoration. The scheduled re-opening was suddenly halted when further damage resulted when Hurricane Irma struck the Palm Coast area early that month.Known for the six Atlantic Ocean-hugging holes and closing stretch named “The Bear Claw,” the project included the re-grassing of all fairways, greens and rough with the salt-tolerant Platinum Paspalum, as well as reconstruction of each tee box, bunker and green complex.
Blessed with one mile of oceanside holes, the Ocean Course offers golfers some of the most stunning views on the East Coast. With an ever-present breeze, and at times a stiff wind, the conditions always require a golfer’s full attention to the wind direction making for a challenging stretch.Brad Hauer, Director of Golf, noted that the integrity of Jack Nicklaus’s original design has been retained, although there are new forward tees, making six tees on each hole. The par 72 course can play from a muscular 7201 yards to a tame 4100 yards. “In addition, by replacing Bermuda grass with the salt-tolerant Platinum Paspulum, we now offer golfers one of the purest surfaces in the game.”
Heading west, at Palm Harbor in the Tampa Bay area, Innisbrook’s North Course re-opened just 2 days following the Hammock Beach Ocean Course re-opening. Nicknamed “Little Copperhead,” it was designed by Larry Packard who also created Innisbrook’s “Copperhead” course, site of the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship, and two others at one of Florida’s most popular resorts.
While the North Course does not have quite the bite of the resort’s more celebrated track, golfers will find plenty to tackle. It measures a manageable 6,325 yards and has a distinct characteristic, back-to-back par 3s at Nos. 15 and 16.On a majority of the holes, golfers’ tee shots need to avoid strategically placed trees with overhanging limbs awaiting errant drives. Water surrounds the openings to several greens requiring accurate approach shots and the greens have undergone a total transformation.
In a six-month long renovation, all 18 putting surfaces were planted with TifEagle Bermuda grass – the same putting surface the PGA Tour professionals raved about during the 2017 tournament played on the Copperhead course. Mike Williams, Innisbrook Managing Director, said, “the renovation project included the conditioning of the bunkers, general maintenance, selected pruning and trimming to reduce shading, and the size of many greens were expanded allowing for additional hole locations.”
For golfers willing to make the trek across the state, two outstanding courses await with their own individual character, beauty and timeless layouts. Just as sisters share similarities, each has its own special qualities.