Under The Green

Streamsong Golf Resort is built on a former phosphate mine, and that's just one of the hidden layers which make up this remarkable facility. As Streamsong prepares to open a new course later this year, we take a deeper look at the composition of one of America's great golf experiences.

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By  Susan Comolli Davis

Presented as part of Alfa Romeo's

What Lies Beneath

Since Streamsong Resort opened in 2013, this premier golf destination an hour southeast of Tampa has received a steady supply of awards, accolades and visitors from all over the world. Its two current courses, Red and Blue, are on numerous "best of" lists, and when the highly anticipated Black course debuts this fall, rankings will undoubtedly go even higher.

Red is the product of a unique collaboration between Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, whereas Blue was conceived by Tom Doak's Renaissance Golf Design group. When Black, created by Gil Hanse, opens in September, Streamsong will be the first resort in the world to have courses built by these four high-profile golf-course architects.

Streamsong is a lavish course with top-notch facilities, yet part of what makes it such a joy to play on is the fact that it's located on a former phosphate mine. In true links style, all three courses are designed to play firm and fast with lots of bounce and run: the ex-mine's many hidden layers of sand comprise Streamsong's foundation, and create the draining conditions that help keep the course firm.

That same mine is also the reason for Streamsong's gigantic sand dunes. The Blue course's first tee is 100-feet up, perched on a dune that was formed by the wind, other elements, and mining activity over the decades. Native grasses and vegetation have grown over the other dunes, creating the feel of a fescue-covered links and delivering dramatic visual punch. The hilly topography makes for some of the most memorable opening shots in golf.

While some of the holes on Red and Blue intermingle, the two courses have a distinct feel, most notably in the greens and bunkers. Red has more water in the form of lakes, some of which are 200-feet deep, and Blue features wider fairways, huge bunkers and sweeping elevation changes.

The much-anticipated Black course will have panoramic views and flowing elevation changes with rolls, tumbles and ridges. Bunkering will be in a similar style to that found in the Australian sand belt region of Melbourne. Streamsong's three courses differ, but on all of them the slopes and contours influence every shot and putt, and the work of several world-class golf architects—combining existing features and man-made innovation—is at the foundation of the playing experience.

 

Streamsong is all about the details, and these are the most important ones, from hidden sand to subtle signage.

The Grasses

The tees and fairways are 419 Bermuda grass, a heat-resistant hybrid. The greens are MiniVerde, another type of Bermuda that thrives in the heat. The 165 acres of turf had to be hand sprigged because the sandy base would have become compacted if heavy machinery had been used. There are two heights of cut grass on the course: the green height and everything else. There is no maintained rough, as the natural vegetation provides the visual punch.

earth and "soil"

Like the rest of Florida, the land at Streamsong was once part of the ocean floor, resulting in large deposits of phosphate rock. There are about two inches of turf, roots and soil, then all sand. The superintendent of the course actually has to develop the soil to keep it free of sand. It will take years for the site to develop its own actual soil. The team is creating it by adding organic matter such as chicken manure and molasses, as it's not easy to grow turf grass on sand.

water

Streamsong's property is dotted with lakes that were created when the phosphate mining company dug out trenches as part of the mining process. The lakes were formed over the years as water filled the trenches. The course design incorporates these lakes for visual and strategic effect.

the underpinnings: drainage and irrigation

One of the most important things to consider when designing a golf course is drainage. If it does not drain well, a course will not play as it was designed to do. Streamsong's courses are designed to play firm and fast, and Streamsong's terrain is sand, which is the ideal natural drainage system. The course never faces wet conditions, but rather needs to be watered to keep the playing surface firm. Selecting the right grasses helps with irrigation and maintenance.

sand

Streamsong provided its designers with an endless supply of sand, which is easy to sculpt into bunkers and contouring. An estimated eight to 12 million cubic yards of sand have been blowing around here for decades, 60 to 100 feet deep. The sand deposits are a result of the phosphate mining, and many large sand spoils ("dunes") were left, some as high as 75 feet.

trim

Streamsong's look is uncluttered and understated. The benches and flags are traditional. There's no flashy signage, no ball washers, and no ornamental planting. Hole markers are remnants of the grounds' old railroad ties (trains once transported the phosphate off the property.) As gorgeous as it is, Streamsong has been designed with players in mind, and its simple, elegant look reflects that.