Innisbrook Director of Golf Bobby Barnes admits to a few sleepless nights during the Copperhead Course's six-month restoration. But despite a few glitches, caused mostly by the summer's torrential rains, the Copperhead officially reopened Tuesday. The restoration was the first since the course opened in 1972.
"It is a bit of a relief," Barnes said. "This summer we wondered if this day would ever come."
The Copperhead will be open for play until March, when it will host the Valspar Championship on March 10-13.
Here are five things to know about the new Copperhead Course:
1. Don't expect to see a new course
For the casual fan who has attended a professional event at Innisbrook, things will look much the same. Officials did not change the routing of any of the holes. The Snake Pit (Nos. 16-18) looks just as it did before the restoration. The yardage is the same (7,340), and no water hazards were added or taken away. That's just fine for those who play the tournament regularly.
"We're driving around this morning and I'm thinking, well, this hole looks the same. Good. This hole looks the same. Good," said PGA Tour pro George McNeill, who has played the tournament nine times and finished second in 2008. "When they said they were going to redo it, a lot of us thought, what do you mean you're going to redo it? It doesn't need to be redone. We understand courses need new drainage, new irrigation, new surfaces. That happens. But don't change the design of the course. That's why everybody shows. They didn't do that."
2. The greens, tee boxes and bunkers, however, have changed
Over time, tee boxes, greens and bunkers shrink due to mowing and erosion. As part of the restoration, the tee boxes and greens were enlarged. The tee boxes were also leveled. Some bunkers were moved closer to the greens. Some were shrunk, as was the case behind the 14th green. And in some cases, like on the 18th hole, bunkers were added. There are now staircase-style bunkers right of the 18th fairway near the landing area for drives.
By enlarging the greens, course officials can put holes in places where it was previously not possible. Expect Sunday pin placements to be more challenging now that they can be tucked behind greenside bunkers that nestle against the fringe.
"The most exciting part to me is to see the new pin placements that this allows because of the bigger greens or the softening of a slope on a green," Barnes said. "And I'm interested to see how that translates to the scores of the tournament. We take a lot of pride around here when we see a single-digit (under par) winner."
3. Practice areas have been enlarged
The practice putting green is still in its original place, but there is a new green near the driving range that is used for sand practice and chipping. Additionally, a second tier was added to the driving range. When one tier gets chewed up, the other can be utilized. Just as before, spectators can watch the pros in the practice areas by standing behind the ropes or sitting on bleachers. But the pros are sure to notice the extra practice space.
"It allows for more tee space, but it also allows for more visualization of the targets," Barnes said.
4. The grass is greener
Another subtle move, but the course has switched to Celebration Bermuda grass on its fairways. The grass is commonly used in Florida and can withstand heat and rain. To water the course, officials tore out the old irrigation system and replaced it with a system that includes 500 more sprinkler heads. The theory is that the more sprinkler heads, the more quickly an area can be covered and the less the water is on.
"We're going to have much more coverage, but we're also going to use 11 million less gallons of water," Barnes said.
5. Expect some skeptical pros in March
Though it doesn't matter to those of us who don't making a living playing golf, the pros who show for the 2016 Valspar Championship are sure to be a little more nervous about the restored conditions. Perhaps a few more will show up on Monday or Tuesday of tournament week to get in an extra practice round to see where the new bunkers are and how the greens are breaking.
"You'll see a lot of players and caddies out here spending some extra time," McNeill said. "There are a lot of subtleties. Every time they redo a course, it's never exactly the same. There are things we might have known from previous years that have now changed."