Standing at the top of a towering sand dune more reminiscent of Scotland than Central Florida — yes, Central Florida! — my hands are sweaty and knees shaky as winds wallop my face. Below me, undulating terrain punctuated with sparkling lakes and acres of waving prairie grasses create such an immersion in natural beauty that it is hard for me to focus on the game of golf.
While we might feel like we’re in golf’s homeland, we’re at Streamsong, a resort and spa 60 minutes east of Tampa and 80 miles south of Orlando. On a map, the nearest “big” town is Bowling Green. With all due respect to Polk County residents, the remote location defines the cliché, “It’s in the middle of nowhere.” While getting there requires a bit of effort, the Streamsong experience is like no other.
Even using GPS to find the resort is challenging. Past miles of orange groves, an occasional RV center and lots of grazing cows, a small, understated sign signals we have arrived. Then we continue another three miles wondering if we missed a turn when suddenly a massive concrete and wood structure appears on the horizon. The curved, stark building looks like something straight out of a James Bond film.
Explaining this unlikely landscape of surprises to the uninitiated isn’t easy, but I will try: Envision three world-class golf courses arranged on 16,000 acres filled with towering sand dunes, deep bunkers, blue lakes and vast expanses of golden grasses. There isn’t one house or caged pool lining even one fairway. Imagine complete silence interrupted only by the occasional chattering of birds or the shooing away of persistent dragonflies. The only distraction is an occasional alligator.
We walk all 18 holes. In season, there are no golf carts. Alone with our caddie, we are accompanied only by stiff breezes and golf at its purest. Streamsong was once a phosphate mine, owned and developed by The Mosaic Company, the world’s leading producer of phosphate-based crop nutrients and one of the largest private landowners in Florida. Typically, when mines are reclaimed they are restored to the original form, but Mosaic got creative and did something unique while supporting the local economy.
First order of business was hiring four legendary golf course architects — Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Doak and Gill Hanse — to create the Red, Blue and Black courses, named after the color of the pens used to design them. (This is the only golf resort in the world that offers three courses designed by these golf icons.) They loved the site — native grasses had grown over trenches made by the mining process so it looked like fescue-covered links land. The dramatic rise in elevation created by these “sand dunes” resulted in the perfect landscape for links golf.
Not only are the courses first rate, Mosaic didn’t skimp on other details. For guests more interested in the thread count of sheets, Streamsong provides plenty of luxury. The main lodge has 216 guest rooms and suites, all with floor-to-ceiling windows. Many rooms have a spacious sitting area plus dual HD TVs — one facing the sofa, the other facing the bed — a mini-library stocked with classics and bathrooms that look like they belong on Park Avenue. An additional 12 rooms are in the clubhouse for golfers who simply must sleep adjacent to a tee box.
Dining isn’t an afterthought. Restaurant choices — from swanky to casual — incorporate Florida’s specialties including Apalachicola oysters and conch chowder. An après-golf highlight is a drink on the rooftop terrace, where picture-perfect sunsets or star gazing makes the location feel more like Big Sky country than Florida. (Stars seem to shine brighter when there aren’t other distracting lights for 16,000 acres.)
AcquaPietra, the resort’s grotto-style spa with diffused lighting and walls of concrete and marble, offers a tranquil mood for therapeutic water and traditional treatments, plus options such as a milk and honey ritual. And the nearby infinity-edged outdoor pool provides additional “aaah” moments.
While there are plenty of other things to do — bass fishing, sporting clays, a nature trail, archery, tennis, a fitness center and fire pits for chilly nights, Streamsong is all about golf. Friends say the vista on the Black Course reminds them of the Australian Sand Belt. My husband thinks the Red Course looks like Turnberry in Scotland. As for me, the Blue Course with its sweeping elevation changes and undulating greens is reminiscent of Oregon’s famous Bandon Dunes.
Two more days of this and we are spoiled forever. On our last round, as the wind lashes across our faces on the 18th green of the Red, there is something calming, almost Zen-like about this experience. I say to my husband, “Pinch me, I must be dreaming.” We can’t possibly be in Central Florida.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the Tampa Airport, 60 minutes; from Orlando, 90 minutes.
Stay at the main lodge for more luxury, but there are 16 guest rooms above the clubhouse for golf aficionados who want to sleep steps from the courses.
WHERE TO EAT
Six dining choices include SottoTerra, an Italian fine-dining experience, as well as more casual. Don’t miss cocktails and light fare at Fragmentary Blue, the lodge’s sixth-floor bar that is perfect for sunsets or stargazing.
WHAT TO DO
No time to play all 18 holes? Check out The Gauntlet, a 2-acre putting green. Or play a shorter loop of six or nine holes (greens fees priced accordingly.) Go bass fishing in a lake steps from the lodge, try your hand at sporting clays or archery, play tennis, hike along a nature trail, make a spa appointment or relax and enjoy the infinity-edge pool.
GOOD TO KNOW
In-season golf, walking only. Off season, golf carts are available.
I am sharing this article with my brother, who is an avid golfer. You make me want to visit this spot but not for golf. Thanks, Mary Ann.