Travel – Streamsong

Travel – Streamsong

Nestled about 75 minutes outside of Tampa Bay, on the site of a once thriving phosphate mining operation, sits a golf wonder of the world. Streamsong Resort is astonishing in almost every way conceivable. From its four courses to its resort amenities and dining, this majestic Florida property must be seen to be believed. The land on which the resort sits was once claimed by ocean, which over millions of years rose and fell, at times revealing thick grassy swampland, forests and sand-capped dunes. Settlers like Hernando DeSoto once camped in the area as they mapped and explored this part of central Florida. 

In the early 1800s, phosphate rock deposits were discovered, making this an invaluable region for the state, with mining in the area taking place over the course of almost a century. The Mosaic Company, which spearheaded the mining in the area for many years after a merger with IMC Global, hatched the idea of a golf resort once the phosphate in the area had been mined to completion. After scouting almost 300,000 acres searching for a great piece of property to develop, a swath of land in Bowling Green was selected, and the process of constructing the resort began. 

Upon opening in 2012 with a pair of courses, the Red and the Blue, this 16,000-acre property was met with fantastic reviews, which have only become more prevalent with the addition of the Black Course in 2018 and their newest attraction, The Chain short course (more on that in a bit), which opened just weeks ago. 

One thing you will hear about Streamsong is its rural location. Many seem to feel it can be a bit tough to get to, but I found that to be completely erroneous. Sure, it’s more than an hour outside of Tampa, but the same can be said for golf resort super-properties like Pinehurst, Whistling Straits, Bandon Dunes or even Hilton Head. Any of the aforementioned require a flight followed by a bit of a drive. The one thing I can tell you is that whatever you think you may need while at Streamsong, be sure to arrive with it, as there isn’t anywhere off property to acquire necessary provisions. For example, if there is a certain kind of allergy medicine you need and you forget to bring it along, you can’t just sprint over to the nearest Walgreens and pick some up. It’s a true half hour or more to the nearest anything. So, if you plan a trip to Streamsong, be aware that you will be on property the whole time, unless you feel like making the hike back to Tampa and its surrounding area.  

Our first stop was the Gil Hanse Black Course. This sand-capped, wind-swept, enchantress is bold in its design, yet subtle in its topography, unlike its sister Red and Blue courses. You’ll be awed by the windmill that sits behind the second green, framed by a sky full of Florida Cumulus clouds that meander and deliver a majestic backdrop to a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity just minutes into your round. 

The Black Course is some of Hanse’s finest work. The natural terrain and dunes offer stunning vistas that are lined with bright green fairways and some of the most mischievous green complexes on the property. No. 4 on Black is a treacherous par 5 with a large swath of dune lining the right side of the fairway and native grassland off to the left. A narrow barranca splits the lower right fairway, and the upper left fairway, which is used for laying up. Challenge the barranca off the tee and a much shorter second shot offers players a chance to get home in two, but take the more conservative route and a layup will be required. Although the first few holes offer a look at the grandeur of some of Hanse’s putting surfaces on the Black, No. 4 is the first true look (but not the last) at just how massive and undulating they can be. Should you be able to find the green in two, an easy birdie isn’t a given, as some putts on this green can be almost completely impossible to two-putt. 

Immediately following this majestic par 5 is one of the most treacherous par 3s on the Black layout. Although it only plays about 170 from the tips, the elevated green, swirling breezes and massive bunker short and right of the putting surface make this hole not only a postcard photo, but an extremely tough par. Miss right and your fate is likely sealed for a bogey or worse, but find the green and a two-putt 3 can be penciled on the card. Although, if honesty is the best policy, there are very few gimme two-putts anywhere at Streamsong. 

Of all the holes scattered across the Red, Blue, Black and The Chain, arguably the most memorable might be the ninth on Hanse’s Black course. This hole can be quite polarizing, as the blind approach and massive punchbowl green present two challenges most players aren’t used to; but one thing is for certain, you will talk about this hole for the remainder of your stay on property and for years afterwards. Whether you love it or hate it, there isn’t another hole like it on the face of the Earth. Hanse created a putting surface that resembles a turfed lunarscape with areas that appear as if a meteor shower shaped the ground prior to the sod-work. Balls positioned just a couple feet from one another can present a completely different line to the hole, making this one of the most interesting greens you will ever put a mark on. 

As you prepare for the inward nine on the Black Course, be sure to make your way to The Tin Can comfort station and fuel up on snacks or a delicious Little Payne Creek Lager, which is a collaboration with Orlando’s Motorworks Brewing and is a clean, crisp sipper with a hint of lime that is absolute perfection as the Florida sun kisses your face and the beauty of the course washes over you. 

The back nine on this Hanse layout is a rarely seen par 37, with a trio of par 5s and just two par 3s. The first of those par 5s is No. 12. This design plays relatively flat from tee to green but features a pinched fairway with some dramatic mounding in the primary landing zone. Long hitters can reach the green in two. But, as with almost every other hole on the Black Course, the green is a whopper, with plenty of undulations to test even those who excel with the flat stick. 

The pair of par 3s on the Black’s final nine are both vastly different, but also very awe-inspiring. No. 15 is the shortest hole on the golf course, playing at just over 130 yards from the tips. Although most players will swing nothing more than a short iron, the green here is a white-knuckle ride. Anything that comes up short can find a handful of diabolical bunkers or a playful tongue of the green that slithers downhill to the front portion and will leave a putt that will test your touch unlike any putt I have ever stood over. The large portion of the green isn’t much more navigable, with slopes that resemble the letter “H” carving from front to back on both halves and through the middle of the putting surface. Hanse swears the “H” was not on purpose … but I would have to imagine there might be a subtle tip of the cap to his design work on the Black. 

Of the trio of 18-hole courses at Streamsong, I could make the argument that Black has the best back-to-back finishing holes on the property. Beginning with the par-3 17th, which is a dramatic, downhill long iron to a swashbuckling green that runs severely left to right, slingshotting well-crafted shots down toward any right pin placement. In the late afternoon, balls can disappear into the sun and then reappear near the hole minutes later, as players make their way down the hill to the green. 

The final hole on the Black is a jaw-dropping par 5, with a fairway that narrows for the long hitters, but is more forgiving for those who hit tee shots like a mere mortal. Those in the second category will be forced to lay-up, but not without some visual intimidation in the way of a large lagoon cove that guards the green and some of the second landing area. Those who subscribe to the “layups are for basketball” mantra can try for the green in two, but this is really a three-shot hole for almost everyone. A precise wedge third will leave a putt on one of the more manageable greens on the course. 

The Black clubhouse is a standalone, as the Red and Blue share a clubhouse across the property After a long day on the course, be sure to stock up on gear in the pro shop or hit the Bone Valley Tavern. Bone Valley offers tuna nachos, lobster BLTs, sweet & spicy chicken sandos and some of the most mouthwatering fish tacos that will ever pass over your lips. Of course, there is also a fabulous selection of beer, wine and cocktails because, after all, what’s better than a cold beverage and some 360-degree views of the course you just played? I sampled (rather quickly) a Peach Mule, consisting of delicious Tito’s Handmade Vodka, peach, lime and ginger beer. While I could have easily disposed of several more, a shower and dinner were waiting, and the resort room was calling. 

Speaking of those resort rooms, they are some of the most comfortable and cozy I have seen in my travels. There is a nice sofa to lounge on and catch a little TV, as you cool down from your afternoon on the course. A workstation in the room is great to get out the laptop and catch up on some emails, if you feel the need. Or just find some tunes on YouTube to listen to as you get ready for your round or evening dinner and drinks. The beds are adorned with soft linens and great pillows, and the bathroom has a substantial walk-in shower and some of the largest bath towels I have ever seen in a hotel. 

We already paid a visit to the Bone Valley Tavern, but that is far from the only culinary experience at Streamsong. SottoTerra is a great option that is in the main resort hotel. This intimate visit to Italy offers some incredible vittles, from their starters like the octopus carpaccio, to their huge homemade meatball, made with wagyu beef, pork, veal and served in a bright and fresh tomato sauce. Stone oven pizzas are also offered, like the classic Margherita, or a meaty Salsicca, which comes with spicy sausage, cherry pepper and pomodoro. On the entrées and pasta menu, you will find Italian classics like the Chicken Parmesan or Short Rib Bolognese. A filet mignon is also available, but for my money, the grilled New Zealand lamb chops are a winner, with orzo pomodoro and a fresh mint gremolata. 

Over the course of your stay at Streamsong, you seemingly embark on adventure after adventure, despite the fact that the property itself is a significant distance off the beaten path. After an opening day playing Hanse’s Black layout, the Coore-Crenshaw Red Course beckoned. 

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are the brains behind spectacular layouts like Cabot Cliffs, Bandon Trails, Ozarks National, Sand Hills and Trinity Forest, and they also dug into the sand-capped land at Streamsong. The Red Course is vastly different from Hanse’s Black or the Tom Doak-designed Blue, but is arguably the most complete layout on the property with epic dunes, sandy vistas and gorgeous water features. 

The opening hole on the Red offers a glimpse of what is to come as you stare down from an elevated tee to a fairway framed by colossal mounding and bunkering on both sides. Stray farther right or left, and those mounds give way to a pair of pristine lakes that can swallow balls that venture too far offline. The second shot meanders back uphill to a green protected by a pair of bunkers on the right. Favor the left side of the putting surface here as everything will work left to right once on the green. 

No. 4 is a cleverly designed hole that offers players the opportunity to potentially drive the green. Playing just 330 from the tips or 312 from one tee in, this one has a large fairway bunker in the middle of the landing area, bisecting the short grass in two and making it more difficult for those who choose to hit an iron off the tee. Coore-Crenshaw are inviting an aggressive play here, although the green is protected in front by a couple of deep-faced bunkers and behind by an emerald green-grassed dune. 

The seventh at Streamsong Red is low-key one of the best par 5s at Streamsong. The elevated tee offers a stunning view of the property, and tee shots here seemingly never want to start grabbing for Earth. Dynamic bunkering and waste areas that run the length of the hole add intrigue, and water all down the left means a watery ending for any balls that miss over on that side. The green complex is tremendous, with bunkers all along the left and a huge mound to the right which can lead to some interesting up-and-down attempts. 

As you wind your way through the inward nine on the Red, you are continually greeted by more interesting architectural elements, each of which commands your full attention as you navigate the remaining holes. No. 15, for example, is one of the most spectacular par 4s I have ever played. It’s long, demanding, and features a gargantuan bunker on the left that forces players to challenge it as the approach shot is best taken from the left side of the fairway to a green that slopes hard from right to left. It’s a magnificent hole and a perfect representation of what the Red Course is all about. 

The final par 3 on the Red comes your way at No. 16. This par 3 is not for the faint of heart, as it plays over water to a Biarritz green and has a massive mound on the right that is covered in waist-high grass. We were met with the pin cut in the massive swale on the green, which fed everything right to the hole, although our caddy Nigel mentioned that he very rarely sees the hole cut in that spot. Guess we got the VIP pin placement. 

The final hole on the Red is a par 5 that features a large fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway. Avoid it and there is a real chance to end the day with a birdie. A short-right miss of this green is ideal, as long or left present a pair of bunkers that can be tricky to play from. 

Day two came to an end with a great round under our belts on the Red Course, followed by another spectacular meal at Canyon Lake Steakhouse. This elegant, upscale dining experience highlights magnificent ingredients including DeBRAGGA USDA Prime dry-aged beef. The meal was kickstarted with a smoked Old Fashioned which came delivered in a vessel that featured a small door that opens in the front, revealing your cocktail. It’s a nice touch and adds some smoke notes to the drink. From there, after deleting some charcuterie on the outdoor patio, we made our way to the dining room, where we were treated to a true culinary delight. From the house pork belly appetizer to the creamy lobster bisque, each selection was better than the last, all leading up to the main event, which was a selection of their spectacular steaks. This was my first time trying Japanese A5 Wagyu, and let me tell you, it is off-the-charts, melt-in-your-mouth incredible. We also sampled the peppercorn-crusted rack of venison, as well as the massive cowboy bone-in ribeye. And don’t forget to add some silky whipped Yukon gold potatoes, jalapeño goat cheese grits or some Brussels sprouts to round out the meal. 

Our final day at Streamsong began with a round on the Tom Doak Blue Course. Doak is known for his minimalist approach to architecture, and boasts other world-class designs like Pacific Dunes, Sand Valley’s Lido, and Pinehurst’s newest addition, No. 10. At Streamsong, Doak constructed a bold, interesting design that is charming and playable, while still glorifying the spectacular piece of property he was given with which to work. 

The opening hole on the Blue is the single-most spectacular tee shot on the property. This elevated look at the opening hole offers 360-degree panoramic views of the entire resort. Early in the morning, as the fog blankets the fairways below, you simply won’t find a more serene and peaceful spot. You simply have to experience it for yourself. 

Doak really does stick to his architecture guns with the design of the Blue. It is distinct, but subtle with its elements, unlike the very bold Red layout or the quirky Black. No. 3 is a perfect example, as it winds along a native lake doglegging from right to left. There is a large pot-bunker in the middle of the fairway that will need your attention. The turtle-backed green runs off significantly to the front and right, and shots left can end up in a trio of cavernous bunkers. 

The first par 3 of the Doak design comes at No. 5. Although this is just a short iron for most players, the long, winding green can make club selection tricky, depending on wind conditions and where the hole is cut. 

Of the 73 holes at Streamsong, if there is one “signature” hole, it would have to be the absolutely astonishing par-3 seventh. The elevated tee offers a birds-eye view of the green below, which sits nestled in a massive, grass-covered dune, with a gator-filled lake in front and several gnarly bunkers surrounding the green. If there is one spot at Streamsong to capture that spectacular group photo, this is it. It is one of the most beautiful holes on the face of the Earth. 

As you make the turn on Blue, don’t forget to knock back a couple of brisket tacos at their comfort station. They are as flavorful as the Doak layout presented before you. The inward nine on the Blue is as fun as golf gets. Every hole is playable and fun, without being as penal as some of the Black or Red layouts. No. 11 is a fine example, as this big par 4 plays a muscular 487 from the tips, but plays relatively flat from tee to green. Avoid one bunker in the middle of the fairway to set yourself up for success. 

Blue’s two final-nine par 5s are both spectacular. The first will test the driver to the max, as there is a significant carry over water, and the more aggressive you choose to be, the more water you are forced to carry. Chewing off too much could lead to a big number, but playing a conservative line makes it a three-shot par 5. It’s a simple, but great design. 

The other par 5 on the back comes at No. 17 and might be my favorite par 5 at Streamsong. This behemoth is a whopping 690 yards from the back tees, meaning this one will play as a three-shot hole unless you are PGA TOUR long. Massive bunkering on the right can wreak havoc off the tee, and another collection of cross bunkers must be avoided on your second shot. As you play this hole, all you can see is sand. It’s everywhere and makes this one a visually stimulating (and intimidating) final par 5. 

After finishing up your round, there are a couple options for your potential lunch or beverages. Pub 59 is right in the clubhouse of the Red and Blue and has all the bar-food staples you love post-round. From beer-battered onion rings, to nachos, dogs, chicken sandwiches or a meaty pastrami Reuben, you will definitely find something you’ll love. Should you want to head back to the main hotel, then might I suggest Rooftop 360 for your post-round lunch. This bar offers a view of the whole resort, with tapas-style plates and a great selection of beers, wine and craft cocktails. The cold buffalo chicken dip is a great accompaniment to your beverage, or order some of their bourbon bacon for the table. 

Of all the great things about Streamsong, our main reason for the visit was to see their spectacular newest additions. The Bucket putting course and The Chain short course. The Bucket is nothing short of turbo-fun, with 36 holes that will really test your putter and get some cash exchanging hands among your group. It also features a massive drag-bucket as a centerpiece, which tips the scales at 22,000 pounds and at one time would move almost seven dump truck loads of earth at a time when the property was still an active mining operation. 

The Chain is another Coore-Crenshaw design and features 19 holes, none of which have a par or tee markers. The idea is that the person who won the previous hole and has honors selects where the group tees. There are massive pieces of chain that mark the “suggested” teeing area, which means hole yardages can vary a fairly significant amount. Over 19 holes, you are winding in and out of an oak grove with more sand-capped dunes and small lakes and ponds to navigate. The shortest hole on The Chain can play around 50 yards, and the eighth hole, which is the longest, can stretch close to 300. Coore-Crenshaw took strength and length out of the equation when designing The Chain, making this a tremendous addition to Streamsong’s arsenal of great golf. 

Some of the highlights of The Chain include No. 4, which can play as long as 140 yards from the back chain, which forces a carry over the corner of a pond. But move up to the forward chain and the hole changes dramatically, to the point where you could even use a putter to run the ball up on the green. There is also a tree in the teeing area, so players could choose to play from near it, forcing a low-flighted shot or shaped shot. 

No. 11 is also a sight to behold, with a 150-yard carry over water to a punchbowl green, which is set so deeply into the Earth, it requires a 14-foot pin flag so players can see it from the teeing area. It’s a wild hole, but super interesting and fun. 

The recent trend in constructing short and putting courses at resorts just adds another element and activity to enjoy on your golf adventure. Streamsong’s addition of The Bucket and The Chain are no different, as they add some more fun and frivolity to an already spectacular resort experience. You will absolutely love them both. 

Streamsong is THE place for your next guys’ trip. Sure, they have all the amenities you would want for a family trip, too … spa, pool, dining, etc. … but it is a simply incredible spot for a few days with buddies. You can also knock out three of Golf Digest’s top 100 public courses in one spot, with the Red coming in at No. 21, the Blue at No. 24 and the Black at No. 29. There aren’t a lot of places that can boast three in the top 30 on the same property. The addition of The Chain and The Bucket only adds to the overall fun factor, and I must report that Streamsong, despite being a pretty good bit off the grid, has the best resort food I have ever eaten. Over three days, every single thing we tried was incredible. Forget the golf, I would go back just for the food. 

The property isn’t done either, as there are talks of building even more courses in the coming years, and believe me, there is plenty of room to do so, as there are thousands of untouched acres on which to build. I can’t wait to see what this property will look like a decade from now, but right now, it is amazing. I cannot recommend it enough for your next golf romp.