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100-year-old course designer Larry Packard especially fond of Copperhead

Longtime course designer Larry Packard, 100, admires the condition of the 18th hole at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Longtime course designer Larry Packard, 100, admires the condition of the 18th hole at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course.

PALM HARBOR — Larry Packard was 45 years old when he had a chance to design his first golf course. That was 1957, well before any of the players in this year's Tampa Bay Championship were born.

"I didn't know which end of the club to grab onto back then," said Packard, who helped design airports before tackling golf courses.

Packard, who turned 100 in November, figures he has designed 350 golf courses and redesigned another 250 around the world. One of the championship courses he takes most pride in is the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, home to this week's PGA event.

He designed the course in 1974. Since then it has hosted numerous PGA and national amateur tournaments.

Despite his age, Packard still gets around Innisbrook thanks to his caretakers. His memory is still sharp: He vividly remembers a celebration in his Connecticut neighborhood the day World War I ended.

He has lived at Innisbrook's Turnberry Complex for about 20 years. He still takes pride in wearing his red plaid jacket with the American Society of Golf Course Architects logo. It's a jacket he has worn since 1970, when he was president.

And he loves watching the pros try to figure out his course.

"You've got the best players in the world and only about a dozen of them can break par," Packard said on Tuesday morning in the clubhouse restaurant that bears his name, Packard's Steakhouse. "They can get on the green, but they can't always make them. These greens have slope. That's good. You don't want them to cut you up."

Actually, 62 players broke par last year. The lowest score ever was 18-under by Vijay Singh in 2004. But ever since the PGA started coming to Innisbrook in 2000, it has given plenty of players fits.

The Copperhead has length (7,340 yards), elevation change and slick greens. He also designed the Island, the North and the South courses at Innisbrook. Packard said his philosophy in designing a course is simple.

"I want him to use all the clubs in his bag," he said. "Every hole is different. Different length, different shape. I think that makes it more interesting. This game is supposed to be fun. That's how I've always tried to make my courses."

LIFESTYLE CHANGE: Scott Brown planned on playing in about five or six PGA events this season. After a subpar 2012, Brown had limited status in PGA events. That all changed Sunday when he won the Puerto Rico Open with a birdie on the final hole.

Brown, 29, earned a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. His original schedule of playing mostly Web.com events will have to change.

"It's more of a relief than anything," Brown said. "It's a big monkey off my back."

Unfortunately, Brown still isn't eligible for his favorite tournament, the Masters. Because the Puerto Rico Open is an opposite field event, played the same week of the WGC Cadillac Championship, the winner doesn't get a Master's invite.

Brown grew up just 500 yards from Gate 16 of Augusta National. He has played the course once, in 2005. He shot 74. He'd love to play there again someday.

"If I continue to play well then I'll earn my way in there," he said.

Brown played in last year's Transitions Championship at Innisbrook and missed the cut.

FIELD CHANGES: David Skinns won a Tuesday morning playoff to round out the Monday qualifiers. Kevin Na, Steve Marino and Scott Verplank have withdrawn. Jin Park, Jim Herman and Eric Meierdierks have been added to the field of 152.

TODAY: The pro-am begins with 7:45 a.m. tee times. The second wave of players begins at 12:30 p.m.

100-year-old course designer Larry Packard especially fond of Copperhead 03/12/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 10:59am]

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