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Revamped Island golf course still a scenic favorite at Innisbrook resort

Island Course at Innisbrook Resort - Hole 18
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With its moss-draped trees and abundant water, the Island course has always been known as the resort's most scenic course. (Courtesy of innisbrookgolfresort.com)

PALM HARBOR, Fla. - The Island course was the first of four golf courses at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, the original star that first garnered all the praise and attracted all the members down from up north.

When it opened, it was a very scenic, lowcountry layout that had the place mostly to its own, until the Copperhead course opened. The Copperhead eventually surpassed the Island as the main attraction and eventually the members - and the course - must have gotten a little jealous of its younger sibling.

So what do you do when your younger brother gets all the attention? You act.

New owners Salamander Hospitality, owned by the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, Sheila Crump, have been pumping money into Innisbrook's Island course over the last few years, starting the day after the announced sale.

They injected around $2 million into the layout. The golf course was lengthened by nearly 350 yards to its current 7,310 yards. They tripled the size of the practice putting green and replaced all 18 greens, lowering them slightly and re-sodding them with TifEagle, the same as Copperhead.

They added 19 new sets of tees and installed new cart paths. They also cleared a lot of vegetation, including the pesky Brazilian peppers, to make room for new trees.

But, most importantly, they left the original Larry Packard design intact, including saving the interesting contours of the challenging greens.

"We changed everything and we changed nothing," Director of Golf Jay Overton said.

The Island course has always been known as the most scenic of the resort's four courses, with its moss-draped trees and abundant water, where eagles, osprey and alligators roam. Water hazards come into play on about half the holes.

Aside from the challenging, well-sloped greens, Packard installed tight fairways, attractive, strategic bunkering, and quite a few risk/reward options.

The first six holes are still dominated by Lake Innisbrook, the middle six still have rolling, tree-lined fairways and the last six still have the most risk/reward holes.

With its numerous tee options and superb conditioning, the golf course has many vocal advocates, some of whom say it is every bit as good as Copperhead.

Golf Digest has ranked it in its list of top-50 resort courses and the Island has been a regional qualifier for the U.S. Open. Fans of golf history know the Island is where Phil Mickelson won the NCAA title in 1990.

"You'll find tall pines draped with Spanish moss and lots of serene views," Overton said. "I love the Island course. It's tighter off the tees, and just as tough as Copperhead. You need to be straight here."

The Island has a number of well thought-out holes, including the 570-yard seventh, a tricky, double-dogleg par-5 that officials consider their signature hole. The big lake is to the right and a line of trees guards the left. A decent drive will still leave you 250-300 yards to the green, depending on which tee you hit your drive from. The second shot is around a dogleg and uphill to boot, into a well-guarded green.

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