Monday, November 20, 2017

Innisbrook designer Larry Packard dies


PALM HARBOR — Larry Packard, who designed more than 600 golf courses including all four at the Innisbrook Resort and Spa, died Thursday at age 101. On Monday, during a luncheon to promote this year's Valspar Championship PGA event at a restaurant that bears his name, Mr. Packard was remembered fondly.

"I honestly feel Larry Packard is and was Innisbrook,'' said Sheila Johnson, owner of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, which runs Innisbrook. "His signature golf course, the Copperhead, is here at Innisbrook. But he had a tremendous influence on all the courses here. I have never met a kinder, smarter, more genteel man in all my life.''

Mr. Packard was born Nov. 15, 1912 in Northampton, Mass. He served in World War II then began his course design career. He was best known for a "double dog leg'' hole design, which is used on the Island and Copperhead courses at Innisbrook.

"He always had some interesting takes on things,'' said former PGA professional and NBC golf analyst Gary Koch. "Every architect wants to come up with some signature feature. To me, his designs were simple yet effective.''

In 1970, Mr. Packard became president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Innisbrook opened that year and he was asked to design the Island Course. That was followed by the North and South courses as well as Copperhead.

Mr. Packard decided to live at Innisbrook in 1970 and stayed there until his death.

"To live to 101 years old, you didn't get cheated out of anything in life,'' said Rodney Green, director of golf at Innisbrook. "For me, I was really glad to have an opportunity to meet Larry and talk about his philosophy when he built these courses.

"He said to me he designed golf courses that needed to be the ultimate test of fair. He wanted to build courses where you have to use every club in your bag. When you play out here, you find that's exactly what you have to do.''

Up until his death, Packard was a regular at the PGA event, which is held in mid-March. He would usually spend one of the tournament days watching from a box on the 18th green.

"You could still see in his aging face the enthusiasm he had sitting on the 18th hole and watching the players struggle,'' Johnson said.

"He's like 'I did that. I really got that right.' He was an extraordinary man. He is our renaissance man around here. He is really going to be missed.''

No more LPGA Legends, but LPGA?: Johnson said the LPGA Legends Tour will not be played on Innisbrook's Island Course in November. The Tour played its season-ending tournament on the course for the past five years, but Johnson said details could not be worked out for a return.

"We just couldn't get a sponsor,'' Johnson said. "It's so hard to get a sponsor for women's sports. I own a WNBA team (Washington Mystics). I know how hard it is.''

Johnson said she has not given up hope trying to lure the LPGA to Innisbrook.

"I would love to have the LPGA come here,'' Johnson said. "The reason they aren't here now is because when I talked to them a few years ago they wanted to play on the Copperhead Course. That's the PGA course. It's against the rules. But they could play on the Island Course. They didn't want to do that. Maybe with a new commissioner, I'll make another run at them.''

MisC.: The Valspar Championship, which is the week of March 10-16, needs volunteers. Contact Doug Lassiter at (727) 942-5566. … The tournament has increased its purse to $5.7 million, with $1,026,000 for the winner. Last year's winner, Kevin Streelman, earned $990,000.

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