Hotel Review: STREAMSONG RESORT

BY RON BERNTHAL

Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?

Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet)–
Though some savants make earth include the sky;
And blue so far above us comes so high,
It only gives our wish for blue a whet.

Fragmentary Blue
Robert Frost

Driving the last few miles to Streamsong is an ethereal experience. I am in central Florida, less than two hours from the tourism clutter of Orlando, an hour from Tampa’s busy commercial scene, but after passing through the busy suburbs outside Disneyworld, past vegetable and citrus farms, the terrain changes again, with one-block towns reminiscent of 1950’s Florida, a gas station, post office, a few shops selling dry goods and small engines, the small black dots on Florida’s state map that few tourists ever pass through. This is Florida’s mining country, an area encompassing three rural counties – Polk, Hardee and Desoto – where phosphate mining has been the dominant industry since the late 1800’s, and where rail tracks and cracked cement back roads crisscross the region, still carrying freight trains and trucks laden with sand and dry, pebbly phosphate.

Historic train station in Bowling Green, Florida, located a few miles from Streamsong Resort.

Approaching Streamsong I am enveloped by the landscape, a huge sky with beautiful billowing clouds, a treeless horizon that stretches forever, my car following a two-lane shimmering heat haze that seems to lead nowhere. But the road swings sharply left, and beyond the wavering tall grass a building suddenly appears, a large, odd-shaped, six story weatherized steel structure with a wall of windows overlooking a lake and 16,000 acres of a reclaimed phosphate mine. It is a startling sight.

Evening view, Streamsong (photo courtesy Streamsong Resort)

During the drive to the resort I kept my car windows open to feel the sauna-like heat but I was happy to walk into the ice-cold air-conditioning of Streamsong’s Leaf Lounge, a bright and modern lobby area located in a huge open corridor that connects the main hotel building to the conference center wing. A 20-foot floor-to-ceiling window overlooks a large lake, where bass thrive within its waters and alligators lay quietly just beneath the surface, only their eyes appearing above the placid green water. During the annual bird migrations in spring and fall the lake and surrounding grassland is a resting stop for thousands of multi-colored warblers, waterthrush, and sparrows.

Streamsong, a resort, golf and spa complex opened in January, 2014, but it was not constructed by Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt or any other hotel firm. It was constructed by The Mosaic Company, the world’s largest supplier of phosphate and potash, and one of the largest land owners in Florida. The main hotel building, called the Lodge, was originally supposed to be a small, rustic Florida-style fishing lodge, a place where Mosaic’s best corporate customers could come to fish for bass on a natural, private lake. But with deep pockets and an almost unlimited amount of their own land (they own 300,000 acres in central Florida), Mosaic decided to do something different with this particular phosphate mine reclamation project by taking the vision of creating a small, sustainable hospitality site a few big steps further by building a world class golf course, hotel, spa, conference center, dining venues, tennis courts and an infinity pool on top of the former 16,000 acre phosphate mine.

The Leaf Lounge is part of the hotel’s lobby, with stylish furniture and large windows overlooking the lake and wildlife area. (photo Ron Bernthal)

If you think the idea was crazy — that avid golfers, mostly men and women business executives, would go out of their way to travel to a unknown, desolate region of Florida and golf, sleep and eat over a former phosphate mine — then you need to visit Streamsong to see how the project worked out.

The Lodge (216 guest rooms) and Clubhouse (12 guest rooms at the golf course location a mile down the road) was designed by architect Alberto Alfonso using weatherizing steel, glass and locally sourced wood products. Guestrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, unique walnut louvers to control window light, and lovely brown carpeting with muted stripes of color. I enjoyed the dual, 32” HD-TV screens, one side facing the living room, the other side facing the guest room bed. A large marble-top work desk with several audio, video, and electric inputs, and a modern couch and black leather and wood desk chair made the room very comfortable. There is free, high speed WiFi throughout the property.

There are two sinks in the bathroom, an in-room fridge, and a custom-made, hand-crafted bookshelf with ten hardcover titles. One of the books (placed in every room) is A Land Remembered, by Patrick D. Smith, a story about how Florida was settled. Each room contains museum-quality works of art, perhaps a charcoal drawing, a sculptured bowl, a painting or framed photograph. No two art pieces in the hotel, whether in guest rooms or public areas, are alike. In my room a beautiful Alvar Aalto-designed glass vase stands discreetly on a small shelf.

AcquaPietra is the resort’s 7,000 square-foot, grotto-style spa with seven intertwining therapeutic pools, nine treatment rooms, and a fully-equipped fitness center. The four dining venues at Streamsong include Fragmentary Blue, the Lodge’s rooftop lounge which offers small plates dining and beverage service, with indoor and outdoor seating; Restaurant Fifty-Nine, a steak and seafood-themed restaurant at the Clubhouse; SottoTerra, a fine dining restaurant serving an Italian-themed dinner menu; and P₂O₅ is a casual restaurant opening for breakfast, and continuing with traditional Floridian comfort foods like Apalachicola oysters, conch chowder and buttermilk fried chicken for lunch and dinner. P₂O₅ is named after the empirical formula for phosphorus pentoxide, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to the mining connections, and of course there are no health risks visiting the hotel or any of the outdoor facilities.

The 18,000 square-feet of flexible, indoor conference space, and another 40,000 square-feet of outdoor event space, seems perfect for a corporate meeting, conference or wedding. There is a separate entrance to the Conference Center for local attendees, while Lodge guests can access the meeting facilities directly from inside the building. The architecture of the entire complex is in the Frank Lloyd Wright-style, in the way the exterior design meshes with the landscape using earth tones, and lots of wood and stone. Both the exterior and interior of the building is understated and functional, with Mr. Alfonso using clean, simple lines and the best, natural materials to create a beautiful structure with Caribbean-influenced artwork and colors.

However, the attraction for guests is purposely not the building, but the terrain outside, as seen through the extra-large windows placed in guest rooms and public areas, which allow guests to focus on, and become part of, the sun-baked Floridian scene outside — the tall grasses, the ospreys and egrets, dragon flies and butterflies, and the birds that are a constant source of wonder — without actually having to go outside.

Guests who want to exercise can find several recreational facilities a short walk away, including the infinity outdoor pool, placed between the Lodge and the lake. Surrounded by lounge chairs and a group of sheltered cabanas, along with Hemy’s, a pool-side snack bar, the pool is a good place to relax after a golf match, or a day of meetings. There are also two outdoor tennis courts, and bass fishing and a sporting clay course are available for a supplementary fee.

Infinity pool at Streamsong overlooks the lake (photo Streamsong)

Although I am far from being a dedicated golfer, playing just once or twice a year, I enjoyed being on and around the two golf courses at Streamsong, located a two-minute drive down the resort’s private road. The Clubhouse is a beautifully designed building with 12 guest rooms, a small meeting room, a Pro Shop and the dining venue Fifty-Nine, a bar and restaurant serving three meals daily with its own chef and kitchen.

The Streamsong golf course is a traditional links course (actually two, co-mingled courses) laid out on the undulating terrain and sand hills of the reclaimed phosphate mine. Now covered with wild grasses — wiregrass, purple lovegrass, patches of Elliot’s lovegrass — with small streams meandering through and around the sand berms and soft, flat greens, the course has become a magnet for golfers who thought they could play this type of terrain only by flying to Ireland or Scotland.

The two, 18-hole, links golf courses were designed by professional course designers Bill Coore, Tom Doak and Ben Crenshaw (also a former professional golfer). Streamsong Red (par- 72, 7,148 yards) and Streamsong Blue (par-72, 7,164 yards) received accolades from Golf Week, Golf Digest and numerous other sports media almost as soon as they opened in 2013, a year before the Lodge opened its doors. Much of Streamsong’s initial marketing efforts were directed to avid golfers who loved their first experience on the course and returned a year later with golf buddies and corporate clients when accommodations were available, often booking executive meetings at the resort’s Conference Center at the same time.

In January, 2015, the property announced plans to build a third course, which will open in fall 2017. The third course, to be called Streamsong Black, is being designed by Gil Hanse, architect of The Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, and co-designer of Castle Stuart Golf Links in Scotland, among others. Streamsong Black will be built directly southeast of the two existing courses, Streamsong Red and Streamsong Blue, and with the addition of Streamsong Black the resort will become the only location in the world where guests can enjoy three distinct courses designed by these four legendary architects. The resort plans to add a second practice facility, clubhouse and restaurant to serve guests playing Streamsong Black when it opens in 2017.

Streamsong Blue is built over a reclaimed phosphate mine, with the sand hills, clay soil and wild grasses helping to form a perfect links course. View is of Blue #7 hole. (photo courtesy Streamsong Resort)

The unique aspects of Streamsong are not only the stunning, esoteric architecture of the Lodge and the traditional links golf course, but that a large mining company, Mosaic, found a way to reuse the former phosphate mine for an upscale resort that is providing employment opportunities for a local population even as the once-stable mining jobs in the region are decreasing. During my visit I spoke with many resort employees, including pastry chefs, wait staff, front desk clerks, conference managers and spa attendants, men and women of various ages, often former phosphate mine workers, who were happy to be trained in hospitality work and who now enjoy using their new skills in a resort environment. The property has developed many sustainable policies, and as Streamsong becomes more well-known among business and leisure travelers, the additional visitors purchasing goods and services in this low-income, rural area of Florida will surely increase revenue for the merchants in nearby communities.

Streamsong Red, #17 (photo Streamsong)

After a late dinner on my last night at Streamsong I visited Fragmentary Blue, the rooftop lounge with a 365-degree view of the surrounding landscape. The bartenders were cleaning up, getting ready to close, but I was able to order a cold beer and sit outside on the terrace. The night was balmy and clear with a million stars overhead, the sounds of frogs and crickets emanating from the darkness six stories below reminded me of the Caribbean, and the soft reggae music the staff was playing on the PA system inside the bar added to the “island” ambiance. At that moment, if someone had said that we were sitting on top of a former phosphate mine in central Florida, I wouldn’t have believed them.

Fragmentary Blue is the resort’s rooftop lounge, and the perfect place to enjoy the sunset with tapas and drinks . (photo Streamsong)

Streamsong
1000 Streamsong Drive
Bowling Green, FL 33834
(863) 428-1000
www.streamsongresort.com