Innisbrook Resort's Island golf course near Tampa draws some attention away from sibling Copperhead

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club has a serious case of sibling rivalry going on.

Innisbrook Resort's Island golf course
The Island course was the first of the four golf courses at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.
Innisbrook Resort's Island golf courseInnisbrook Resort - Island CourseIsland Course at Innisbrook
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Islands Course at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club

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The 18-hole Islands Course at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club in Palm Harbor, FL is a resort golf course that opened in 1970. Designed by Larry Packard, Islands Course at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club measures 7310 yards from the longest tees and has a slope rating of 144 and a 75.1 USGA rating. The course features 5 sets of tees for different skill levels. The greens are tiff eagle grass and the fairways are bermuda grass.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 7194 yards | ... details »

A Florida golf standout, Innisbrook is home to the famous Copperhead golf course, one that many PGA Tour pros call their favorite when they make their annual swing through the Sunshine State.

"If I could only play one course the rest of my life, it would be Copperhead," Curtis Strange once said. "It has that much character."

But the Island golf course at Innisbrook is Copperhead's older brother. It was Innisbrook's first course, a picturesque track with a Lowcountry feel that attracted all the members down from the North. Over time, it appears the course and its members got jealous of all the attention Copperhead was getting.

They must have been very glad the resort finally changed ownership, because for now the focus is on the Island Course.

A company called Salamander Hospitality, owned by the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, Sheila Crump Johnson, bought Innisbrook this year for a reported $35 million.

The sale only came about after earlier attempts to buy the resort from its financially-troubled owner, Golf Trust of America, failed.

The new owners promise to restore the resort to its former glory days, when it was always mentioned as one of the top golf resorts in Florida.

The new owners plan to build a new luxury spa and renovate the tennis and fitness facilities.

If members had their doubts about the commitment to the Island Course, they didn't last long. Less than a day after the sale was announced in July of this year, renovation began on the Island.

To date, maintenance crews have spent $1.7 million, tripling the size of the practice putting green, replacing all 18 greens and adding 19 new sets of tees. They also cleared quite a bit of vegetation out, including the pesky Brazilian peppers that were threatening to take over. There is still a lot of clean-up work to do.

However, they were careful not to mess with the original design of Larry Packard, who designed all four courses at the resort. If you're familiar with the Island Course, you might notice your approach shots will be largely the same, and all of the green contours were kept precisely intact.

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

The Island Course has always been a very pretty layout, where alligators, eagles and ospreys are seen regularly; the course does have homes around it whereas Copperhead is splendidly homeless.

You might think you were on the Carolina coast, with moss-draped Cypress trees and a distinctly Lowcountry attitude. Packard installed interesting, well-sloped greens, attractive, strategic bunkering and quite a few risk/reward options.

There is a ton of water, as befits a Florida layout, and tight fairways. 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, where you can either be Braveheart or Chicken Little.

None of that has changed, it's just been spruced up.

Innisbrook Golf Resort's Island Course: The verdict

The Island Course was a very good play before all the improvements; in fact, there were those who said it was as good at Copperhead. This is where Phil Mickelson won the NCAA Championship in 1990.

Golf Digest has ranked it in its top-50 resort golf courses in the past.

It's even better now, with more tee options and better conditioning. However, it is still not as good as Copperhead.

Tampa golf resorts

Innisbrook is one of those all-inclusive golf resorts where you'll never have to start your car engine or carry your clubs, unless you want to practice your bad swing in the privacy of your golf villa. They'll whisk you and your clubs to whichever course you happen to be playing that day and all you have to do is show up for your tee time.

It's a big resort, on more than 900 acres between Highway 19 and the Gulf of Mexico, with the beaches a short, though congested, drive away. The resort has 600 guests suites in 28 lodges scattered around the grounds, with six swimming pools, including the monster Loch Ness, which reportedly cost $3.4 million to build.

There is a fitness center, of course, a wildlife preserve, 60 acres of lakes - including some mighty fat largemouth bass - as well as jogging and cycling trails. If you tire of golf, there are 11 tennis courts and three indoor racquetball courts. For you business types, there is 65,00 square feet of "flexible meeting and banquet space."

There are also four restaurants, including the excellent Packard's, and three bars.

The resort is home to the Innisbrook Golf Institute.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

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.

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