Innisbrooke, Reunion, and Hammock Beach
By TIM BAINES
Good things come in threes, right?
The Salamander Golf Collection, spreading out from the Gulf to the Atlantic coasts of Florida, is three terrific golf resorts you can build a Florida vacation around.
We’re talking about Innisbrook (Tampa area), Reunion (Orlando area) and Hammock Beach on the Palm Coast.
The three resorts feature spacious villas, homes and lavish hotel style accommodations. Numerous family-oriented activities and 162 holes of golf designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Larry Packard are all to be had. Featuring some of the highest-rated courses in Florida, the collection has hosted PGA Tour, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour and Legends Tour championships.
A good place to start is Innisbrook in Palm Harbor (Tampa area), home of four great golf courses — North, South, Island and Copperhead (home of the PGA’s Valspar Championship March 21-24). The tagline on the website says, “Play Where the Pros Play.”
Copperhead gives even professionals all they can handle. Innisbrook national golf sales manager Drew Dosek said, “It offers a test where every club in your bag will be used. It’s a challenge for a long hitter, it’s a challenge for a short hitter. Most pros don’t finish that course under par.”
On a recent trip, we played the Island course, a tough but wonderful test of golf. The Island, as it turns out, is not only a members favourite, it may have been the PGA’s first choice.
Explained Dosek, “The PGA Tour checked out the Island course first. The food and beverage and logistics with spectators wouldn’t have worked. Copperhead was their second option. Copperhead got all the fame, but everybody who’s played here knows that the Island course is really probably our truest and toughest test of golf.”
The North course, called mini-Copperhead by some, is particularly tough.
“A lot of folks who play Copperhead go over to the North course and end up shooting higher,” said Dosek. “It’s the longest short course you’ll play in your life — 6,200 from the tips. You’ve got par 3s over 200 yards, par 4s that snake around trees. There are a lot of risk-reward shots, but if you get caught up in the trees, the strokes will add up pretty quickly.”
The resort can handle more than 1,000 accommodations, scattered through its lodges in the midst of a serene nature setting. You can park your car and be shuttled through the resort with three on-site restaurants, including Packards Steakhouse – so you can also eat where the pros eat! The go too bar for after golf refreshments is the centrally located Osprey Bar!
Not that we had time for a visit to the Spa, play tennis or even visit the pools but they are there for all to enjoy.
“During this time of year, we receive the majority of our visitors from the northeast U.S. and Canada,” said Dosek. “Most are under snow at this time of the year, they’re looking for a place to play – we’re open and we provide four courses of challenging, championship tests.
“I’m biased as a golf sales person, but the biggest plus is the convenience. Once you check in, you don’t have to pick up your clubs again until you leave. Every day all you have to do is show up at the course you’re playing. With four courses, you’ll have a second-to-none golf experience, unparalleled in the state of Florida.”
If you’re spending a few days at Innisbrook, there’s plenty to do in the Tampa area. Close by are the Rays (MLB), Lightning (NHL) and Buccaneers (NFL). The Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training complex in Dunedin is not far away, nor are the beaches.
We then headed over to Orlando and got a chance to stay and play at Reunion Resort, not far from the Disney magic.
It is the only golf complex in the world with courses built by perhaps the great world renowned trifecta of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson.
We played the Watson and the Palmer.
The resort’s accommodations include luxury one-, two- and three- bedroom Villas plus multi-bedroom Vacation Rental Homes. The accommodations include spacious living and dining areas, full kitchens, patios and balconies.
The Lobby Bar has a magnetism to it, drawing you into the comfy seats where you can feat on a great selection of food and drinks including sushi! Do not overlook the clubhouse bar/restaurant for breakfast and lunch – awesome breakfast buffet and lunchtime burger!
Before teeing off, we were told by the starter that the Palmer and Watson are the resort courses, the other one (Nicklaus) is for tournaments, in other words “good players.”
Watson is very good through the opening nine, but takes it up a few scenic notches on the back nine. With rollicking fairways and menacing sand traps, it still manages to combine fair with throwing a big challenge at you.
Palmer has lots of sand — I know, I think I walked in much of it — and it also has a series of complex green routings. There’s plenty of undulation. And there are some spectacular carries over water. When you’re done 18 holes, you’ll have taken some pictures on your phone camera — screen-saver quality.
And you’ll want another extra day or two on the golf course and at the resort.
We didn’t get a chance to play Hammock Beach, with its Ocean and Conservatory courses.
But we heard great things about it.
Maybe next year.