Ten months after The Mosaic Company unveiled two unique golf courses shaped from an old phosphate mine in central Florida, it’s now preparing to open a 216-room lodge and present the property to the world.
It took Rich Mack, General Counsel and Vice President of The Mosaic Company, a Minneapolis-based mining firm, a long time to convince colleagues that building a 36-hole golf resort in the middle of Florida was a good idea. Developing a property in the bustling metropolis of Bowling Green (pop. 2,900), over an hour away from both Tampa and Orlando and at a time when the economy was so stale that construction of new golf courses had more or less ceased, really didn’t seem like a viable plan.
Mack, though, was holding three aces that he would play judiciously, but with the confidence of a man who knew exactly what he wanted to do.
AT A GLANCE
The first—and most crucial, perhaps—was the 15 million cubic yards of sand that Mosaic, the world’s leading producer of phosphate-based fertilizers (or what it prefers to call “crop nutrients”), and the seventh largest landowner in Florida, left behind after phosphate had been extracted from the 16,000-acre site for more than 50 years. Impressive dunes, some as high as 75 feet, dotted a landscape that also possessed a number of natural lakes, producing a site unlike anything any golf course designer had ever worked with in the state before.
Mack’s other trump cards were the two golf course architects he was set on lining up to turn this unique environment into the sort of traditional, ground-game layout he was so fond of. Those design firms—Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf and the partnership of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw—are acknowledged as masters of crafting playable and engaging courses out of such terrain, having recorded not a single dud between them in the previous 15 years. Coore & Crenshaw’s portfolio included Friar’s Head in New York, a redesign of Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, and Nebraska’s Sand Hills. Doak had a similarly distinguished resume that included Pacific Dunes in Oregon, Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, Barnbougle Dunes in Australia, and Ballyneal in Colorado.
“I’d played a few of their courses before, so I was aware of what these guys could achieve on sandy soil like we had at Streamsong,” says Mack. “I knew the ingredients were right for them to create something very good.”
A Closer Look
But Mack had to sell the idea to his first-choice designers—not an easy task, given the location. Coore was reluctant to even visit the site initially, saying the last thing Florida needed was another golf course. But after Mack mentioned the sand, a development plan that included no homes bordering any fairways, and assured him that the project had Mosaic’s full financial backing, Coore agreed to at least take a look.
“It was a truly amazing site,” he recalls. “Before going out there for the first time, I asked myself if I really wanted to build a course in Central Florida. But Rich persuaded me to go, and I walked around the place totally stunned. I called Ben [Crenshaw] and said, ‘You are not going to believe what I’m seeing.’ ”
Doak was similarly disinclined to sign on, but changed his mind after hearing that Coore & Crenshaw, architects he respected greatly, were also in the picture. “The fact that they wanted Bill, Ben and me to build the courses told me a lot about the sort of golf they wanted,” says Doak. He was also shocked when he first saw the land: “If you’d asked me which state I was in, Florida would have been about my 47th guess.”
Construction began in mid-2010, and though a good deal of earth-moving was required to create the first six holes of what became the Red Course designed by Coore & Crenshaw (Doak and his men built the Blue Course), both were ready for play by mid-2012.
To complement the unique courses, an equally unconventional clubhouse was built in a saddle between two of the tallest dunes. The location and positioning was intentional, to prevent the building from stealing the limelight away from the golf holes. But the sophisticated, stylish structure, designed by Alberto Alfonso of Tampa, Fla.-based Alfonso Architects, is striking in its own right. The 50,000-sq. ft. building houses an elegant steak and seafood restaurant (Restaurant Fifty-Nine), 4,500-sq. ft. of meeting space, the pro shop and, on the second floor, 12 guest rooms that have been almost constantly occupied since the courses opened.
Alfonso took his cue from the minimalist mentality of the golf course designers to also apply a “less is more” approach to the clubhouse. “The idea is to take what the land gives and then try to be reductive in the way we think about things,” he told buildings.com in October 2012. “For a site like this, it’s perfect. It’s a conceptual piece of architecture, but it does not distract from the natural setting.”
Stained cedar, a stone base made of dark pietra, and floor-to-ceiling glass give the clubhouse its distinctive exterior. Inside, light and spacious rooms make it an inviting and comfortable place to not only eat, drink and relax—but also work, says Director of Golf Scott Wilson, who looks out over the golf courses from his pro shop office window.
Providing An Escape
The golf program is also using a back-to-basics emphasis, to provide more of a “pure golf” experience. GPS carts aren’t allowed at Streamsong, and the property does not have a golf school. “We actually went in the other direction on purpose,” says Wilson. “It’s kind of low-key.
“We want golfers to be dazzled by the courses, not all the other extras you might get elsewhere,” he adds. “In an effort to keep it simple, we really don’t use an awful lot of high-tech gadgetry, and I think that helps the guests remain relaxed. They’re here on vacation, and for a break from all that stuff.”
Adding to guests’ enjoyment of the golf is a caddie program (walking and talking caddies are strongly encouraged) put together by Director of Caddie Services Chip Brooke. The most important part of his job, Brooke says, has been pairing the right caddie to each player.
“I go to great lengths to ensure that each player gets the appropriate caddie, because so much depends on the level of rapport the caddie can establish,” he says. “Get it right, and it certainly adds to the guest’s enjoyment of the round; get it wrong, and they can leave here thoroughly dissatisfied.” Judging by comments received from over 1,000 player surveys, Brooke has been getting it right much more often than not, achieving a 4.96 rating (out of 5).
Growing Good Roots
Excellent course conditions have also been a major factor in ensuring Streamsong’s early success. Head Superintendent Rusty Mercer says the courses have been playing firm and fast since they opened, and that guest feedback has been entirely positive. Mercer and his crew of 35 have consistently achieved good results with the 419 Bermuda fairways and MiniVerde greens, which have not only remained fast and true but also withstood a significant amount of traffic with ease.
“I’ve been extremely pleased with the turf,” says Mercer. “It has performed even better than I hoped it would. It is just about to face its first winter, but I don’t foresee any problems.”
Thanks to the quality of the courses’ design, as well as the efforts of teams led by Wilson, Mercer and Brooke, golf during the first year of operation has helped put Streamsong firmly on the map and in the minds of prospective guests. Which was just as Mosaic, and Mack, planned it.
“That was the strategy all along,” says the man who describes himself as the project’s “executive sponsor” and remains very active in its ongoing development. “I wanted to establish the golf first, and get people talking about a place they might not otherwise have ever considered visiting.”
That might sound counter-intuitive when the “place” is central Florida—but with no artificial hazards or landscaping, no houses, and few carts, golf at Streamsong has already been established as very different from what’s offered throughout the rest of the Sunshine State. “It’s almost anti-Florida,” says Mack. “And partly because of that, I think people who never talked about this area before have begun to. I think we have succeeded in generating awareness and interest.”
Speaking at a University of Florida-sponsored conference in February, Tom Sunnarborg, Mosaic’s Vice President of Land Development and Management—and Mack’s man on the ground at Streamsong—shed more light on the rollout strategy for the property. The best way to launch the new brand, Sunnarborg told the group, was to open the golf courses and clubhouse before everything else, and then “market the heck out of them.”
“By establishing the golf first, we were telling meeting and conference planners they weren’t taking a risk by committing to Streamsong,” Sunnarborg noted. And now that the resort has become firmly rooted in the golfer’s consciousness, ownership is preparing to show all that they have in store for the next round.
A “Tree” Grows in Florida
Early in 2014, Streamsong will open its 300,000-sq. ft., six-story, 216-room Lodge (see rendering below) a mile from the golf courses. The new facility will allow the resort to now offer several other amenities and activities, including bass-fishing (the Lodge will overlook a lake named the ‘Glory Hole,’ stocked with an abundance of trophy-class bass), clay shooting, aquatics, tennis, a 7,000-sq.ft. spa, wedding services, 18,500 sq. ft. of meeting space, and a full range of new dining options to complement Restaurant Fifty-Nine.
Those will include Sotto Terra, which will have an Italian theme and offer a fixed-price, five-course menu; P2O5 (the simplest molecular formula for the chemical compound Phosphorus pentoxide), a more casual, café-style eatery with Floridian cuisine, featuring local favorites like Apalachicola oysters, conch chowder, and key lime pie; and a rooftop bar/lounge, Fragmentary Blue, offering small plates and pub cuisine.
Mack expects the rooftop to quickly become a popular spot. “It’s going to be the perfect place for watching the sun set and for star-gazing,” he says. “People who have played a full 36 holes will head up there for a memorable end to the day.”
Clubhouse architect Alfonso also designed the Lodge. “I took the idea of reclamation—taking something and turning it into something new and better,” he said in October 2012. “Florida used to be under water; the fossils were compressed over time, and that’s why we have such large deposits of phosphate. The hotel lifts up on ‘treelike’ concrete root structures underneath, and that’s where the spa and the Italian restaurant are located. As the building moves vertically, it goes from concrete to stone to wood.”
The guest rooms will feature furniture designed by Alfonso and paintings that are also the Cuban native’s handiwork. The rooms will have three-foot wide, floor-to-ceiling walnut louvers instead of curtains, and reclaimed wood will dominate the leaf-shaped lobby. Four steps will lead down into the lobby, and as you step down, Alfonso says it will feel like walking on a dock. “And we wanted something rustic with a lot of character, so we exposed ceiling beams and have a real fireplace wrapped in Venetian plaster,” he said.
The Lodge’s exterior will be accented by Florida cypress trees and safeguarded with Corten steel, which needs no painting and forms a stable, rust-like appearance when exposed for several years.
With these types of features, the Streamsong Lodge certainly isn’t going to look anything like the stereotypical, high-rise Florida condo resort. “That’s exactly what we didn’t want,” says Mack. “Alberto was given room to be creative, and he came up with a very bold design that complements the clubhouse. It’s clean and contemporary. I’m very excited about it.”
While he wanted the Lodge to have an urbane and refined feel, Mack adds, he also wants guests to be able to relax. “We used earth tones throughout, and there will be a lot of light,” he says. “I really liked Alberto’s image of a structure that’s like a tree—solid and busy at the roots, and lighter and roomier as you go up. The very top, with the rooftop bar, will hopefully be a place where everyone can chill out and unwind.”
Bringing the Team Together
The opening of the Lodge will also call for coordination of management directed by KemperSports, which has been overseeing Streamsong’s golf operations since day one, and Interstate Hotels & Resorts, which will now be involved with lodging and other activities. Bringing it all together will be Richard Mogensen, who was named General Manager in early October. Mogensen comes to Streamsong after four years as General Manager of Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, Calif., and he has also held GM positions at Binks Forest Golf Club and The Polo Club in Florida, and the Town and Country Club in Saint Paul, Minn.
Mogensen was selected to lead Streamsong into its next, all-important phase, Mack says, because he “has a proven and extensive background in several disciplines—sales, marketing, management. But more than anything he appreciates that we are seeking to demonstrate what value there can be in reclaimed land. He gets how important Streamsong is to the local area, and what impact it could potentially have.”
Much of his time before the Lodge opening, Mogensen says, will be spent establishing a culture. “We don’t see each individual as a KemperSports or Interstate Hotels employee, but as a Streamsong employee,” he says. “I want everyone to own his or her job, and to feel they are part of something extraordinary here.”
That starts with the right personnel, Mogensen stresses. “We want to hire people who care about the resort and are as committed as the owners and management to making Streamsong a truly world-class destination,” he says. That will be made easier, he feels, by the fact that many of the employees will come from families that helped mine the land one, or even two, generations ago.
A key to “giving guests something they won’t find elsewhere,” Mogensen says, will be engaging clientele as much as possible—and in this case, high-tech touches will be vital to the outreach.
“We absolutely must communicate using social channels,” Mogensen says. “Sixty-one percent [of guests] have some sort of mobile device on which they use Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail. We need to keep guests informed of everything happening at Streamsong. We all know the population is becoming increasingly tech-savvy, and it will benefit us greatly to stay on top of that.”
Until now, 100% of Streamsong visitors have come to play golf—but once the Lodge opens, Mogensen expects that number to drop to roughly 70%.
“We’ll have so much more to offer,” he notes. “Streamsong is synonymous with golf and always will be, but golfers will now be able to bring their partners and families and not worry about what they are going to do all day. Besides the spa, we’ll have the pool, tennis, and plenty of hiking and biking trails. And Disney World is less than an hour away.”
To help customize guests’ experiences, staff will keep close track of tee sheets, spa appointments, what people are purchasing, and if guests are first-time visitors or making a return trip.
“We have one regular guest from New York who has already visited eleven times since the golf courses opened,” says Mogensen. “We obviously need to do whatever we can to ensure that guests like that continue to enjoy coming here.”
While most of the guest population to date has been from the East Coast, Streamsong has also attracted a fairly steady stream of visitors from the Midwest, West Coast and Europe. With the opening of the Lodge, Director of Marketing Tom Parke plans to ramp up efforts to get the word out about the world-class golf, lodging, dining and amenities that have now been added to the attractions of central Florida.
“We are competing on a global basis,” Parke says. “Streamsong is a global destination. We are looking to attract the sort of golfer who crosses oceans to play the world’s best courses.”
Adds Rich Mack: “We will take nothing for granted at Streamsong, and try to remain humble. But we know how special a place this is.”