By Stephen Hennessey
This is the extended interview of the Q&A that appeared in the Feb. 12, 2014 issue of Golf Digest Stix.
Streamsong's Blue Course, pictured above, photographed by Stephen Szurlej.
Richard Mack oversees Streamsong Resort, the 36-hole Florida facility
that opened to acclaim in 2013. As executive VP for Streamsong-owner
Mosaic, he is in charge of all Florida holdings for the land-development
firm. He had the vision of creating a golf resort in Florida. He
answered five questions from Golf Digest's Stephen Hennessey.
Golf Digest Stix: What was your role in Streamsong?
Richard Mack: I'm the person who had the crazy idea of developing a
memorable golf resort in lieu of reclaiming property we owned and mined
for about 100 years. [Mosiac] produces phosphate fertilizers. Typically
you reclaim that property back to its original form. So rather than
doing that, which we have been doing for about 100 years now, it was my
view that we could do something unique and produce a special place.
Instead, a golf resort was my focus. That was the inspiration behind
how Streamsong originated, and it snowballed from there.
GDS: You're a lifelong golfer, having played collegiately for Morehead
State. How did being a passionate golfer make this project more likely
RM: My golf background was certainly very beneficial. No. 1, I've had the
fortune to play a lot of good golf courses. No. 2, I've got great
respect for the game. And No. 3, I could marry our landscape with what I
know are the characteristics of great golf are. I could say, "Listen, we
do have an opportunity to do this here." And at the time, if you go back
to 2007 or 2008, people were scratching their heads saying, "You have to
be nuts thinking you could create a golf resort here that people would
be interested in." In 2007 things were going gangbusters [with the overall economy] as you recall. And
then 2008 happened, and the financial crisis hit. My golf background
allowed me to able to identify the potential opportunity and really
bring in the right people to validate the thesis and work with me
to properly bring it to the next level. It was very helpful.
GDS: What were the other elements needed to make this project successful?
RM: I knew if we could distinguish ourselves, people would be willing to
make an investment to come to Streamsong. Any golf-course owner aspires
to build a "world-class experience." We needed the right people
involved. With Tom Doak designing the Blue course, and Bill Coore/Ben
Crenshaw on Red, that was the trigger. At first, we talked to a lot of
the world's greatest golf course architects. At first blush, we didn't
immediately say, it's only Tom Doak and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that
can work on this project. But we invited several architects out,
including those three guys.
It wasn't easy to get, in particular, [Coore] out there. Bill knows
Florida landscape and he understands the general golf environment. And
if you talk to Bill, he'll say, "The last thing Florida would ever
need ... ", and that's what he said to me, " ... was 36 holes of additional
golf." But we persevered and we were persistent, and we finally got Bill
to come out to the site. And when he saw it, in his own words, he was
extraordinarily surprised. To the point where, in the first 10 minutes,
he walked off to the side and called Ben, and told him he was on site,
and said, "You're not going to believe what I'm seeing." Because at that
point, what he was seeing was the amazing asset of the dunes that the
landscape had. The sweep, the elevation changes, the sand and the native
grasses. And that caught him by surprise. We brought Tom out and what we
initially did was, we showed them not only the dunes landscape, which
comprises 1,000-someodd acres of property we have. But Streamsong
encompasses a 16,000-acre dedicated area for the resort. So what we did
with all the architects was we showed them four or five different types
of landscapes. The dunes, your traditional more forested areas, some
uplands-prairie areas. But everybody gravitated immediately toward the
dunes. Because everybody said, "If you want to build something truly
special and unique, this is the starting point."
Related: Ron Whitten: Best New Golf Courses of 2013
GDS: At that point, this land had not been used for some time. What was it
RM: We decided on Streamsong's location because of a couple of reasons.
A) The great lake you see outside the Lodge, which has world-class bass
fishing. B) And a mile away, the sand dunes have been there effectively
untouched for half a century. I started this concept internally here at
Mosaic over 2007 and 2008, building out what we were thinking about,
scouring our property, and looking across the 300,000 acres of property
that we own, and trying to identify where our starting point would be to
do something different than any other reclamation project.
GDS: When was this land used for mining?
RM: We mined that area in the middle part of the 20th century ... say the
1960s. Interestingly enough, we polled, over the mining life that is now
Streamsong, over a million tons of phosphate rock in our mining process.
Through that mining process, roughly 15 million cubic yards of sand was
stockpiled. And that sand is what's now Streamsong's golf component. It
had been effectively sitting there in a dormant fashion for five or six
decades with the winds blowing, and the rainstorms, and native grasses
growing. And while half a century ago, it was not a natural site, nature
had overtaken the site in the past 50 years. So nature and wildlife
abound. That's all you would hear out there. You'd hear nothing except
for wind, elements of weather, wildlife, native grasses blowing and so
forth. It was really a very tranquil, peaceful place to be.
GDS: It almost feels like you're in the Midwest. Certainly not Florida in most spots of the property.
RM: A famous Tom Doak quote, very early on was, "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." He uses that quite
often. And the calling here is, we knew we needed to be different. Not
just different, but distinguishable, to the masses of courses that
already exist in Florida, and also in the Southeastern part of the U.S.
It would've been very difficult to be promoting the concept of
Streamsong within my organization, and me to have the conviction to
speak about it. It was the land that really spoke to the project. It was
the land that said effectively, "You can do something that is very
different." And it's quite analogous to some of the best golf resorts in the
world. The Sand Hills of Nebraska, the coastal areas of Oregon and all
of the fantastic stuff that's going on in that area. A lot of people
will compare us to that. I've heard parts of Long Island, also. Above and beyond
that, boy, I get Australia, I get Ireland, I get Scotland, I get the
Serengeti in other descriptors of where people think they are when
they're on our property.
GDS: It is unique. So the golf course opened in January 2013, and we saw the Lodge open
last month. Did Year 1 meet your expectations?
RM: We've been thrilled. Last month's opening of the Lodge [to accommodate
200-plus guests] was critical to our golf operation [moving forward].
Based on our projection since it opened in January 2013, our numbers are
better than expected. We have attracted people from all over the U.S.
and 15 countries, and that's probably an underestimate. Our
rounds numbers have been very solid. We know it's not
a massive inconvenience to drive 60 miles from Tampa or 90 miles from
Orlando. The quality of the golf continues to mature -- firm, fast
playing conditions and incredible green structures. So I'm very happy
with that. The summer in Florida was one of the question marks coming into it, what's
going to happen during the summer months. The play, in particular
catering to the Florida residents, and people in the Southeastern part
of the United States, we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of
traffic we had during the summer months. Just like how in the winter months,
Bandon Dunes leans on its Oregonian residents. In the summer, there's 18
million people in Florida. And golf is a summer sport. People obviously still
play golf. So we have a tremendous base of business sitting there.
GDS: Streamsong has been very progressive in offering partial rounds, aside from the traditional offerings. What led to that?
RM: As a new entrant into this business, you want to be accommodating to
what your guests' interests are. The changing landscape in golf, with the
digital world we live in, is the inability for everybody to spend four to five hours on
recurring days on a golf course. So, interestingly, it was something we
recognized while we were developing the courses: We realized both of the
sixth greens came back to the clubhouse. So to have a six-hole loop, or
a 12-hole loop to get six on Red and six on Blue, is actually
operationally very feasible for us. So, No. 1 if you arrive at
Streamsong in the middle of the afternoon and want to get a taste of what the
golf courses are like, you can go play six or perhaps 12 holes. If you
are an infrequent golfer but you nonetheless want to go out and play
without investing the full 18-hole amount, you can play six or 12 holes. It's providing options. It's time management. It's [accommodating] kids or women
who traditionally might not be the most common visitors to a place like
ours. And we've been very happy with the amount of women who are coming
out to play the red and the blue. It is an opportunity for something
different. You don't have to go out and pay the full rate for 18 holes.
You can still enjoy the venue, come in and have a very good food and
beverage dining experience with all of our great restaurants we have on
GDS: And it still feels like a full experience?
RM: We have a special scorecard made up for these rounds. So you get the full-meal
deal. All the experience is intended to make it feel like a full round.
But for an inexperienced golfer, this could be 50 minutes or an hour,
and they can enjoy it and it is an option to grow the game.
GDS: Are there any plans to expand the property?
RM: We're pursuing development of a massive putting green, a la Bandon Dunes
and Pinehurst, in 2014. And this falls into our discussion into six- and 12-hole loops. You also can
get families and guests to go out and have a fun putting contest. We have a
very interesting area for it. It'll be adjacent to the Lodge. I think it'll be very compelling. It'll
be fun, and the land will allow us to add a little craziness to it. But it will also ensure that people
who are at the Lodge, can still have that golf DNA to it. And you don't
necessarily need to get into our Sprinter shuttle to the golf courses to enjoy a golf
component. That's something we're looking at in 2014.
GDS: How about plans to build more courses?
RM: The sky's the limit. There are things in place. We could always opt
toward a short course. There are a lot of people who get excited over
We'll be methodical. But we have plenty of opportunity. And plenty of land owning
the acreage [16,000 acres] we do. And the land is in close proximity to the Lodge and
the clubhouse. We feel extremely compelling golf could be developed.
It's something that our customers will tell us. If there's demand for
more, we'd certainly be interested in pursuing it.
Related: Two perspectives: An avid golfer and an architectural guru on Streamsong
There's things that are in place. We could always opt toward a short
course. [The question would be] how does a short course fit into a facility with multiple
championship-regulation courses. There's a lot of people who get excited
over that. And in terms of additional golf, people who come out to
Streamsong, because it is a destination, they're there for a purpose.
Having more than 36 holes, whether it's 54 or 72 holes, time will
ultimately tell. But certainly the ability to have more golf, maybe
folks will stay for three nights instead of two nights. So we just made this
significant investment to our infrastructure with a beautiful Lodge that
200-plus people can stay at. We have the base infrastructure investments
behind us. So now what we want to be able to do is continue to offer
compelling golf that would be on the scale and the class of the best
golf resorts ahead in the years ahead.
GDS: Any timetables in place on this?
RM: We're studying it right now. And hopefully, if things go well, the plan is for implementation
and to have the putting green built in 2014.