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The South Course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club near Tampa, Fla. dares to be different

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
South Course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club
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Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club's South Course opens up considerably on holes 5-13. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

PALM HARBOR, Fla. - The South Course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club has always been sort of like the kid brother to the venerable Florida golf resort's three more famous golf courses: Copperhead, Island and the North Course.

So the South did what a lot of kid brothers do - rebel.

It just had to be different, didn't it?

The South starts off pretty much like the other Innisbrook layouts, with tree-lined fairways over-modestly rolling terrain, but when it hits No. 5, a par 3, it opens up like a vast, windy space.

All those trees you'd been battling suddenly give way to the wide open prairie. The cart paths mostly disappear as well, and you're confronted with wild grasses fronting pot bunkers on rippled fairways.

Damn. You're in Scotland.

The people at Innisbrook talk about the "links" look at the South Course, and indeed it does have that look about it. It lasts all the way through No. 13, a tough, 560-yard par 5. Then it's back to tree-lined fairways and competing with its bigger siblings.

But the purpose has been achieved. You notice it.

"I like that difference," said Glenn O'Steen, a low-handicapper from North Carolina. "All the courses out here are great, but it's nice to get that different look. Plus, you can spray your driver on those holes and not get all hung up."

True enough. Not that it gets easy, though many people claim the South is the easiest of the Innisbrook layouts. No. 7 is a fairly long par 4 with mounded bunkers fronting the green, blocking your view like the Scots like to do. The bunkers are actually on the other side of the mount, facing the greens.

And No. 8 is ranked the hardest hole on the course, a rather short par 5 with a fairway that dances and slithers around. A pond starts about halfway down on the right, and the fairway slopes to it off the tee, then it's back uphill once you negotiate the pond.

South at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club: The verdict

The South, at 6,620 yards from the back tees, is actually longer than the North at 6,325 yards.

The openness of the South brings another hazard into play the other three courses pretty much avoid: wind.

The breezes off the Gulf of Mexico can come sweeping across the wide-open fairways, and usually do. In the afternoons, and even late mornings, the wind can easily make up to a three-club difference. If you're facing a crosswind, it can play havoc.

The easy part, unlike many Scotland golf courses, is that there is no true rough to speak of. Let the big dog have his Alpo on the links-like stretch. Surrender to your inner gorilla. You get the picture.

As on all the Innisbrook golf courses, the conditioning on the South is superb. It's also a very scenic course, with bridges taking you over the creeks and canals (there are 10 water hazards).

Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club

Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club is one of the premier golf resorts in Florida, and the country for that matter. You turn off busy Highway 19 and enter a world of peace and plenty of golf on 900 wooded acres and 70 acres of lakes less than a half hour from the Tampa International Airport. Park your car, pack your keys and let the golf tram shuttle you to the courses.

This fall is a good time to visit. The resort is offering a fall special three-night, all-inclusive golf package and throwing in two free rounds through Jan. 14, 2009.

It costs $269 a person, per night, and includes the five rounds with cart and three nights in a suite with full kitchen and private balcony or patio. It also includes a daily breakfast, a daily clinic and use of the practice facilities. Groups of nine get their own golf concierge.

The big news down here is the new title sponsor. Transitions Optical Inc. recently signed a four-year deal for a title sponsorship. That ensures the PGA Tour will stop by here for at least the next four years.

The resort, as of this date, is completing the final stages of a $25 million restoration and rejuvenation plan. The resort was bought by Salamander Hospitality last year with a promise to return it to its glory days, not that it ever exactly fell into shabby disrepair.

The first thing the new owners did was revitalize the Island course and re-do all three clubhouses.

The plan is to open a new 12,000-square-foot spa and 4,000-square-foot fitness center overlooking the Copperhead course. The spa will have 12 treatment rooms, as well as a hair and nail salon. It will also have an outdoor area with whirlpool, cabanas and outdoor treatment areas.

The resort is also creating a centralized "gathering village" where registration, golf shops and a gourmet market are in a central location. Not to mention a central place for everyone to drink beer and watch the game.

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South Course - FairwayInnisbrook Resort and Golf Club - Bird

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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