An appreciation for the Copperhead course at Innisbrook starts with the short par-4 seventh
Even more than when the tour visits near-century-old properties like Riviera, East Lake or Detroit Golf Club, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort, home of this week’s Valspar Championship, feels like stepping back in time.
The course dates to a design era that is not particularly cherished, the early 1970s, when golf architecture was transitioning from the optimistic course construction and municipal golf boom of the 60s into the early phases of profit-seeking residential and real estate development. Environmental regulations began limiting what could be built and where, changing how layouts were routed, and in general courses were becoming narrower, harder and more contrived.
The Copperhead Course, designed by Roger Packard in 1974, is one of the more enchanting exhibits from the time period, even while embodying some of the same calling cards. The tree-lined fairways demand precise driving, the target-style greens are heavily bunkered and numerous holes bend around lakes and lagoons. Neither contemporary nor historic in the vein of some other tour venues, the design, however, is nevertheless engaging precisely because of its unique style and vintage. All of the most quintessential 70s elements are represented in the tough par-4 seventh.
A VERY DIFFERENT APPROACH OFF THE TEE
Usually a 420-yard hole is a drive and a sand wedge for a tour pro, but not when the fairway shrinks down from 25 yards to 17 yards wide as it moves between the 275- and 325-yard mark off the tee. Trees on the left and a bunker on the right further constrict the hole at the 310-yard mark, forcing virtually all contestants to play for position to hit short irons into a green angled right-to-left and set behind two large fronting bunkers.
WHY IT MATTERS
The Copperhead is a tight, paint-by-the-numbers design that, in previous generations, flattered players who could strike it cleanly, place shots, shape drives with persimmon and steel, and flight balls into the tilted Bermuda-grass greens. That makes it a fascinating foil for today’s power game. Players can choose to hit their tech-filled drivers, but even fairway metals and irons must be accurate as shots missed in the left rough are blocked out by trees. The approach is all about distance control, and a surprising number of shots end up short of the green or in the bunkers.
Tournament players expect to make 3 on a hole of this length and simplicity, but that doesn’t happen as much as they think. The seventh has played to a stroke average of 4.08 over the past five Valspar Championships, and bogey is far more common than birdie—363 to 284—over the same time period.
The narrowness of the fairway often puts players out of position—that’s part of the difficulty—but the sliding, back-to-front and right-to-left cant of the putting surface (above) also makes it challenging to get second shots close to the hole, especially with high-spinning clubs that draw back to the front of the green. Shots hit over the green tend to run away leaving downhill recovery pitches, and the surrounding greenside bunkers are surprisingly difficult outs—less than 50-percent of the field has saved par when hitting into them. Requiring finesse and skill to play successfully, the seventh proves that a good golf hole is a good golf hole no matter when it was built.
(Green-reading map courtesy of StrackaLine)