Streamsong Red course and Streamsong Blue course were ranked No. 1 and 3 among all Florida public courses by Golf Digest in 2015. (Courtesy Streamsong)
Between Orlando and Tampa—pretty much in the middle of nowhere—lies a golf resort like you've never seen before.
"If you parachuted me into Streamsong, and you gave me 75 guesses as to where I'm at in the world, my 73rd guess might be somewhere in Florida," golf course architect Tom Doak famously said.
Streamsong Resort's 216-room hotel, two signature golf courses and clubhouse are tucked into dramatic dunes and scenic lakes surrounded by 360,000 acres of wetlands, woodlands and pasture. Talk about a golf getaway—you don't see anything else for miles and miles and even cell phone signals are spotty.
The resort was built on a phosphate mining site owned by Mosaic, a global fertilizer company based in Minnesota. The particular location in Central Florida, once covered in water, has been nicknamed "Bone Valley" for the sheer number of fossils found on site, leaving the land rich in phosphate.
"When mining occurs, the ore body containing sand, clay and phosphate is extracted from below the surface," explained Tom Sunnarborg, Mosaic's vice president of land development and management and a former Disney Imagineer and a developer of Celebration. "A separation process known as beneficiation liberates the phosphate from the sand and clay with the latter components being returned to the mined-out areas and utilized for reclamation. The dramatic shapes of the dune formations are a result of the way the sand was pumped back to the site and combined with years of nature-led sculpting."
According to federal reclamation laws, all mining sites must be converted back to how the land was before or made better. Other mining sites in the U.S. have been converted back to their natural landscape or made into public parks. But in 2010, Mosaic had a different vision for its Polk County site.
"What made this site unique was the sand; the best golf courses in the world are built on sand," said Sunnarborg. "Mosaic’s land portfolio is a very big 'sandbox' with enough land to potentially execute on some big ideas."
Mosaic called on some of the world's best golf course designers—Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw—to help them develop what at first must have seemed like a crazy idea. The site isn't exactly easy to get to and there were already 1,400 golf courses in the state of Florida. But once they saw the unique topography and the vastness of the property, they were sold.
With the blank canvas, they were able to create many distinctive and surprising elements, from tee boxes perched on tall sand dunes to wide greens, plenty of water hazards and links-style fairways. Golfers hailing from New York to Fort Lauderdale playing one Friday in August all said the same thing: the greens are fast, true and spectacular.
The courses weren't designed for a novice golfer. The greens are long, course maps are not well publicized, tee boxes are sometimes difficult to find, and carts are only allowed at certain times of day. A caddie is highly recommended for walkers and required for riders.
Since the opening of Doak's Streamsong Blue course and Coore and Crenshaw's Streamsong Red course in 2013, Streamsong Resort has raked in awards from Golf Magazine, Golf Digest, Golf Week and USA Today as well as lured avid golfers and celebrities. They've been so successful, in fact, they've recruited Gil Hanse, who just designed The Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, to develop the Streamsong Black course. The black course will open in the fall of 2017, and rumor has it plans for a white course are in the works. Approximately 16,000 acres of Mosaic's land have been set aside for Streamsong so far. Some land is still being mined today while other acres have been set aside for mining reserves. And still much more land has great potential for future growth.
The Lodge at Streamsong
Streamsong's golf clubhouse and hotel were designed by Alfonso Architects in Tampa. Think a modern twist on Frank Lloyd Wright with flat roof lines, floor-to-ceiling windows and light-filled rooms that are nestled into the landscape. The golf course and lodge are several miles apart, and it was designed that way to give golfers and guests an immense sense of space and solitude.
You'll see a few Disneyesque touches around the property as well, thanks to Sunnarborg, who learned the art of storytelling and the importance of details from his work at Disney. The name of the main lobby restaurant is P2O5, the chemical formula for phosphate. Another tribute to the area's history is a giant shark's mouth in the lobby filled with teeth found at the site. The clubhouse restaurant is named Fifty-Nine for golf's best score, although that will soon have to change to Fifty-Eight following Jim Furyk's record-setting outing this summer. The hotel takes on a literary feel as well. The 360-degree rooftop bar, Fragmentary Blue, was named for the Robert Frost poem. In the room, bookshelves were precisely cut to fit carefully chosen classics. Perhaps this is why authors like Dan Brown and Gillian Flynn have made the trip to Streamsong on more than one occasion.
Food is made from scratch on site, whether it's the barbecue smoked on the red course's eighth hole or the creamy vanilla ice cream and thick slabs of bacon served in the clubhouse. In fact, you can get a taste of both the homemade vanilla ice cream with the bacon together on a killer sundae topped with caramel sauce. In addition to Fragmentary Blue and P2O5, SottoTerra is the lodge's finest dining option. Guests will find a menu of charcuterie boards and gourmet pizzas as well as crispy roasted whole fish and filet mignon with wild mushroom demi-glaze.
For the Non-Golfers
If not everyone in your party golfs, not to worry. Streamsong Resort offers several outdoor activities, a full-service spa and an infinity pool. The spa, AcquaPietra, is tucked into the bottom floor of the hotel with columns designed to look like the roots of a tree. Nine pools offer nine different temperatures, whether for relaxing in a hot tub or taking a plunge in 45-degree water. The quiet room is open to all hotel guests for a complimentary hour in the evenings and day passes are sold for $15.
The infinity pool with complimentary private cabanas is another place to relax and take in the nature that surrounds. A poolside bar provides tropical drinks with house-made juices. Nearby, a 1.7-mile walking trail wraps around the lake, and a dock with bass boats services the anglers. Other on-site activities include clay shooting (or sporting clays), archery, ping pong and a fitness center. Children are welcome at the resort, although activities and amenities are limited.