Have you ever been punched in the gut by a golf course? (Yes, you read that right...a golf course.) No? You haven’t? Well, you’re missing out, my friend. Nothing like a really good golf gut punch!
There are gut-punchers scattered all over the United States (PGA West-Stadium, Wolf Creek, Quintero, etc.). Florida has at least two. Old Corkscrew in Estero is one. The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort is another. Old Corkscrew...well...for legal ramifications I’ll just leave that course alone.
Copperhead though...you need to know about Copperhead (and Innisbrook Resort in general). It may just be the best gut punch you’ll ever get.
Is Copperhead really that hard? Well...yes and no. You definitely need to bring your “A” game. But you mostly just need to be honest with yourself. I played with three guys under 40 whose club cards claimed they were single digit handicaps. (ROFL.) Not one of them beat my 88 from the Whites. I knew of Copperhead’s reputation (and back nine “Caution” sign) so I played up a set from where I usually do...and I still could have moved up more. You don’t need to make that mistake. Play the right tees and you’ll probably LOVE Copperhead. I still wouldn’t say it’ll be EASY...but it sure would be easier!
“This is where the PGA Tour plays.” Usually those words have a level of exclusivity to them—as in, you probably can’t play here… or it will cost you around $500. That’s not the case at Innisbrook. Everyone can play Copperhead—the course that hosts the Valspar Championship each March—that Jordan Spieth won on just weeks before he won the 2015 Masters. (Adam Hadwin was the most recent champion.) You might get your rear end handed to you—even from the Whites—particularly on the closing stretch (dubbed the “Snake Pit”) but you can give it your best shot. Or at least 88 mediocre ones.
It’s still pricy, no doubt—in the neighborhood of $250-$300 most of the time—but if you’ve got the money to pay you can absolutely play. It’s a gut punch you’ll fondly tell all your friends about.
Copperhead isn’t my favorite course on site. That the PGA Tour plays here is a cool fact, but shouldn’t factor into your actual level of course appreciation. It may add to the experience—an intangible factor, so to speak—but it shouldn’t dictate anything about your game. In fact, Innisbrook's “B” course could very well be your “A” course. (It was mine!)
The “B” course at Innisbrook Resort is the Island Course. (Some “B” course!) The Island Course is so strong it has at least eight signature holes of its own. The first six of Island’s holes make quite a splash—serenely bordered by Lake Innisbrook, and the rest of the course is no pushover. Some contend the Island Course is just as tough as Copperhead. Maybe. One thing is for sure—the Island round is dramatic, picturesque, friendly and fun. In case it’s important to you, the Island Course also has the “historic intangible.” US Open qualifiers and NCAA championships have been played here. The LPGA plays here. Island has even been ranked a Top 50 Resort Course in the country. (Speaks volumes on the depth of the Innisbrook Golf portfolio.)
There are North and South courses at Innisbrook, too—72 holes on property. While the South Course is the easiest of the four, with more of a “resort” course feel, it still has several tough holes. The courses will challenge you plenty.
Off the course, your biggest challenge will be selecting “the best” lodging option from a spectacular range of accommodations—from one-bedroom suites to vacation rentals—all with incredibly plush beds, access to multiple pools and surrounded by a park-like aura throughout the premises. There are 11 clay tennis courts, 60 acres of trail-bordered lakes for fishing, a great water park for kids and a number of other family friendly activities. There’s also beach access—kind of. Perhaps the coolest (or hottest) complimentary resort feature is the shuttle to and from Caladesi Island State Park—actually named “America’s Best Beach.” If you’re going to remember only one sentence from this article let it be this one: “Innisbrook, as a Family Resort, is Top Notch.”
Six resort restaurants take care of your thirst and hunger on-site, but I’d make a case for Innisbrook’s best restaurant being off-site, only because it’s managed by the resort’s F&B Director. That would be The Lucky Dill & Brooklyn Bakery, with one of the most diverse menus and deepest dessert selections in all of Florida. (Four meals there were not enough.)
That said, Packard’s Steakhouse at Innisbrook is one of Tampa’s highest rated steakhouses and the Osprey Bar was definitely a great place to watch the Open Championship.
I write like Salamander manages, without pulling any punches. Innisbrook Resort is a well-oiled machine. They know how to take care of their guests. Families flocking to the Tampa area, be it for Busch Gardens, the Gulf beaches or whatever, can really make their days and nights count even more with a stay here. Copperhead may or may not be the toughest course on Tour, but it arguably turned Jordan Spieth into a Masters Champion. Innisbrook may not make you a Masters Champion, but it will probably make you majorly grateful.
Where It’s At: 36750 US Highway 19 North / Palm Harbor. Only 20.5 miles northwest of Tampa International Airport.
Ideal Stay & Play: 2-3 nights. Play the Island and North 18’s… and if you’re a legit single-digit handicap player, love playing PGA Tour courses, or have unlimited wealth play Copperhead too.
What It’s About: Providing comfortable accommodations and plenty of space to traveling families. Host of PGA and LPGA events so they know how to nail their hospitality.
Family Focus: Complimentary shuttle to “America’s #1 Rated Beach” is invaluable. Great pools all over and water park with slides. Plenty of on-site family activities, and great trails/fishing. 24.5 miles from Busch Gardens.
Local Food & Drinks: (High End) Bern’s Steak House (Social) The Lucky Dill & Brooklyn Bakery – Dinner and Dessert dynamic duo! (Casual) Wright’s Gourmet House and (Hot Spot) Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern’s Steak House.
Day GolfGetaway: 55 miles south of two fabulous nationally ranked Tom Fazio courses at World Woods. Perfect for a 36-hole day while your spouse takes the kids to Busch Gardens or the beach.