The wild, exotic sand mounds-- some as high as 75 feet-- conjure up images of Ballybunion in Ireland or the somewhat bizarre Tobacco Road in Pinehurst. The unusual terrain looks ominous, but it's definitely an inviting setting for golfers.
You're in Florida, alright. Smack in the middle of nowhere.
Streamsong is an 80 minute drive from Orlando and about an hour from Tampa. Set in Polk County near Fort Meade, the resort is still a 40 minute drive from the nearest possible hotel options in Lakeland.
That said, there's a phenomenal clubhouse on site, which sleeps 16, and an upscale bar and steak restaurant.
Streamsong has 36 holes of golf set on terrain that was previously used as a phosphate strip mine. While the miners have packed up and left the site, what they left behind is soaring sand mounds, lakes and vegetation that are a something to behold.
Developed by Mosaic, the company that has owned the land for more than five decades, Streamsong has been called by some writers as Bandon Dunes South. From a golf standpoint, I'd say it's right up there with Bandon, but I'll reserve judgement on the overall experience till its open for a couple of years and we see if the service level on and off the course stays consistent.
Two of the most respected design teams in the world were recruited to fashion the land into world-class golf courses.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw's team built the Red Course and Tom Doak's Renaissance Golf Design group did the Blue Course.
On my visit, I played the Red Course, but did not have time to play the Blue. However, I took an extensive cart tour of the layout.
A couple of things I really like about both courses are the wide, very generous landing areas off the tees. It makes them more playable and helps speed of play.
If you play the correct set of tees for your game, you can score well on both layouts when playing well.
The Red Course has several large green complexes for roll-offs, which I like, and Coore and Crenshaw offer numerous opportunities for bump and run shots. They also limit the carries over water to par 3's. With few large trees, the wind comes into play often and you'll need a good ground game to do well.
On the Blue, the first thing you'll notice is the gargantuan elevated first tee, the highest point on the property. The greens are large on the Blue and it appears to have deeper bunkers than the Red. There are also more forced carries over water.
One of the great things about the Red Course is that no two holes are even remotely alike. It's difficult to single out some holes as being better than others and my choices are very subjective.
First, let me say, I'm a sucker for short par 4's and Crenshaw and Coore have provided a couple of doozies on the front nine.
My absolute favorite is the 312 yard (from back tees) no. 9. With a good poke off the tee you can find the green. From the black tees it's 271 yards and from the silver it's 257 yards. The green is gigantic so even if you reach it, the chances of a three putt are high. The 330 yard (from back tees) no. 4 is another superb short par 4.
For a par 3, you won't find a better one, in my opinion, than no. 16, a 208-yard (from back tees), 184-yards (Black) and 160 yards (silver). A stunning view from an elevated tee and undulating green complex with a bailout area to the left dominate this great golf experience.
The sleek, minamalist design clubhouse has the avant-garde appearance of something you might see in L.A., not the wilds of Central Florida.
It has 12 private guest rooms, a veranda overlooking a lake, a golf shop, bar and three meal/steak restaurant named Fifty-Nine.
Appointed with plush leather chairs, design carpeting and rich wood fixtures, the ambiance of the clubhouse is decidedly upscale.
10 Little Things I Like About Streamsong
1. The bye hole, designed by Tom Doak, near the clubhouse, which is great for settling bets.
2. Small chunks of railroad track used as tee markers.
3. The fast greens are among the best I've played in Florida.
4. The frosted beer glasses in the bar.
5. The great selection of quality beers on tap like Goose Island 312 and Smithwick's.
6. The minimalist design of the clubhouse and the elegant, sophisticated furnishings.
7. The emphasis on using a caddie and walking.
8. The phenomenal practice putting green.
9. No home anywhere on or within miles of the golf courses.
10. The spectacular views from the elevated tee boxes on no. 7 and no. 16 on the Red Course
It Remains to Be Seen
Streamsong Resort had been open only a few weeks before my visit in late January (2013).
You have to be very careful on evaluating a golf course facility in its embryonic stages. Who knows if the eager beaver, overly friendly staff of the first few months will lose their enthusiasm and the service level drops. We'll have to wait and see at Streamsong.
One of my concerns is what the experience will be like playing in the torturously hot months of June, July and August. With virtually no shade on the courses, it might be somewhat of a death march, especially if you're walking.
In conversation with staff members, several said they had to travel more than 30 minutes from their homes to Streamsong. Hopefully, they won't tire of the commute and the service level will stay up.
Slated to open in late 2013, the 216-room lodge looks like a luxurious gem if the developers follow through on their promises. It will include a spa, guided bass fishing and sporting clays range.
Presently, the best hotel options are a Residence Inn and Courtyard by Marriott in Lakeland, about a 40 minute drive.
Important Information if You Go
* When you drive out to Streamsong, be aware, there is very little signage for the resort. To be sure, don't look for any large billboards because there aren't any. There are a couple of little road signs (see below), but beyond that, not much.
* I found the cell phone service in the area to be hit and miss, so you can't always rely on your GPS, which is annoying.
* The county roads are not well marked, either, especially County Road-630, which is the main arterial to Fort Green Road, which leads to Streamsong.
The main number at Streamsong Resort for tee times is 863-354-6980.
Premier Golf, a highly respected golf travel company, has a special "Streamsong Red and Streamsong Blue Package" starting at $495 per person that includes one night of accommodations off site, breakfast off site, 2 rounds of golf with cart, all taxes and special golf and lodging benefits for PGA Professionals. Call 888-258-4653 or click www.premiergolf.com