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Far from Florida's beaches and theme parks, new Streamsong luxury golf resort wins awards

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BOWLING GREEN, Fla. - What do you do with 15 million cubic yards of sand?

If you're Mosaic, one of the world's largest phosphate companies, you build two award-winning golf courses. And a spa. And an edgy, modern hotel.

In the middle of central Florida, far from any theme park or beach.

Streamsong Resort opened its golf courses and clubhouse in late 2012, and last month, it unveiled its 216-room lodge. It's located in the tiny community of Bowling Green, which is closer in DNA to cattle ranches than Disney.

In fact, Streamsong is difficult to find; the journey from the Tampa Bay area included a turn at a ramshackle BBQ restaurant and a drive past several cows. A medium-sized metal sign with the resort's name is the only thing signalling that one has arrived on the property.

Visitors are first greeted by the sight of large, grass covered dunes and blue lakes, and instead of the flat landscape of central Florida, there are hills and dips and yes, some green of the golf courses. A modern-looking hotel, with its slightly curved exterior, is nestled near a lake.

The whole landscape is nothing like anything in Florida, possibly because it's not groomed and plucked and patterned with palm trees. The property is oddly wild and rough, yet zen-like and tranquil.

The resort was built on what was once a phosphate mine. The mining, which was last done on the property in the 1960s, left behind the sand and the dunes. About seven years ago, a Mosaic executive wondered what the company could do with the property.

"We needed to do something that was exceptional," said Rich Mack, the general counsel for and executive vice-president at Mosaic. "You can go to a lot of great places in Florida. We needed to do exceptional, not just great."

Mack had played college golf and some competitive golf as an adult, so he called in three of the world's preeminent golf course designers to evaluate the property (Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Doak, the people behind some of the courses at Bandan Dunes in Oregon, for you golfing aficionados).

The golf course gurus were initially skeptical about even coming to look at the property, said Mack.

"They expected central Florida to be relatively flat," he said.

But once they arrived and saw how nature had overtaken the dunes with natural grasses and scrub, and saw how the Florida sunlight shimmered off the rugged landscape, the trio signed on.

The rest became golfing history. Coore and Crenshaw's team built one course (the "Red" course) and Doak built another (the "Blue" course). They still have the "Red" and "Blue" names, after the pen colours the designers used to make initial drawings.

Both courses are considered "minimalist" golf, where players generally walk while playing (although carts are available). Rates are $180 for walkers and $210 for a golf cart with a forecaddie during the winter season. Caddies are also available and they work for tips; $80-$100 plus gratuity per group is suggested. Rental carts and clubs are extra, and the resort discounts both golf and hotel rates in the summer season.

Tom Parke, Streamsong's director of marketing, said that the courses are not your "stereotypical" Florida golf course, with paved paths for carts. The Streamsong courses are more similar to European-style golf, featuring many elevation changes, wild grasses and bunkers — and within months of opening garnered several awards.

Golfweek magazine named it the best new golf course in 2012 and in 2013, the magazine listed both courses on the top 40 public courses in the world.

There are 130 caddies during the high season, a clubhouse that serves lunch and drinks near the golf course, and 12 rooms for those that want to wake up each morning on the course.

"Those are for pure golfers who literally want to be at the course's edge," said Parke.

Players don't have to stay at the resort to use the course; Parke said that some visitors come from the Tampa and Sarasota areas just for the day.

And while Streamsong is a golf-heavy resort and conference centre (think high-level executives meeting in conference rooms, then hitting the links in the afternoon) there is more to the resort.

The hotel is something out of South Beach, with its concrete-and-wood exterior — except that it overlooks a beautiful and unusual Florida landscape. There are four restaurants on the property (three in the main hotel and one in the golf clubhouse).

Visitors can go fishing in one of the many lakes, shoot sporting clays or lounge by the pool. There are fire pits for the slightly chilly winter evenings and a rooftop bar.

Eventually, some may go to the resort just for the spa, which has a grotto-like feel with marble, concrete and diffused natural light. It offers six thermal pools, a steam room, a sauna and treatment rooms, along with a more traditional beauty salon.

Hotel rooms are equally as modern and interesting, and they start at $359 a night for a weekend stay (pricer, 2 bedroom suites are $799 a night). They all offer sofas, Keurig coffee makers, refrigerators, large bathrooms and two-sided TVs — one person can watch from the bed, while the other can watch something different from the sofa.

All have a view of the land, whether it's the lakes or the golf course and its dunes.

Looking out from a room, or the rooftop lounge, a visitor might just forget they are in Florida.

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If You Go...

STREAMSONG: http://www.streamsongresort.com/ in Bowling Green, Fla., about 85 miles (137 kilometres) from Orlando and 50 miles (80 kilometres) from Tampa.

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Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

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