Wearing a plaid jacket, Larry Packard stood at the edge of the luscious rolling greens that he created. He chatted with golfers who had just come off the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club. "They got it looking nice," Packard said of the course that will host the PGA's Transitions Championship beginning next Thursday.
Packard, 98, knows Innisbrook's four golf courses intimately. He designed them. And his Copperhead course, built in 1974, was ranked among America's top 100 resort courses by Golf Digest.
"The golf course has to be for the common man," Packard said this week at the Packard Steakhouse, which has views to Copperhead's pristine green grass. "You don't build it so hard that the common person can't play it. That's dumb.
"You design a course that will be tough for the pros but interesting for the average guy."
Packard and his wife Ann watch professional golfers tackle his challenging course every March from the gallery at Copperhead's 18th hole. This year, the Transitions Championship is part of a four-tournament Florida swing on the PGA Tour.
A landscape architect, Packard started designing golf courses in 1946 in Chicago. He has designed more than 350 new ones and redesigned more than 250 existing ones.
He designed Countryside Country Club and Countryside Executive Club in Clearwater, and Cypress Run Golf Club in Tarpon Springs. He's done courses in Egypt, Japan, China, South Korea, Guatemala and Costa Rica.
"I try to design a course to make sure that you can use every club in your bag," Packard said. "The key is that you have to have enough land and some source of fresh water."
At Innisbrook, Packard notes that a Pinellas County sewage treatment plant is right next to the courses.
"We have all the water we want," Packard said, pointing at the plant. "We installed an 8-inch main to pump all the water we want during the dry periods."
Before he got involved in putting greens, Packard was in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, where he devised a camouflage scheme to prevent enemy attacks on an air base. He later designed what is now known as O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
The double dogleg
Most of Packard's courses include his trademark, the double dogleg hole. Many golf course holes are straightaway from the tee to the green. With the double dogleg, the tee goes left, then right and then left to the green.
Copperhead has a double dogleg at hole 14. It's one of four par 5 challenges among the 18 holes.
"I had to put a little challenge in the course," Packard said with a laugh.
Charles Bailey, 41, lives in South Tampa and has been playing at Innisbrook for three years. He was pleased to meet Packard on Tuesday. "The landscape is a big reason why I'm a member," Bailey said.
Sean Schreiber, 43, of Tarpon Springs, who has been playing there for five years, had the same reaction to meeting Packard during a golf outing.
"Coming here takes you to a different place," Schreiber said. "It's a great opportunity to play a course like this, especially when it's in Tour condition."
Packard, who attributes his long life to never drinking cheap booze, says golf is a competition with oneself.
"There's no one out there but you," he said. "You can't blame anyone. It's all on you."
He's often asked what goes into his thinking when designing a golf course. But there is no pat answer.
"It has 18 holes, why doesn't it have 20?" Packard asked. "Damn if know why it has 18 holes."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or 727-445-4174