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 to succeed?
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."
GDS: At that point, this land had not been used for some time. What was it like?
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 site.
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 that.
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.
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.