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Converting a phosphate mine to golf course resort

Robin Sussingham Sep 2, 2015
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Around the country, many abandoned old mine sites have been coming alive again as golf courses. Old gypsum mines in Michigan, and an old copper mine Superfund site in Montana are a couple of examples.

In remote central Florida, land turned inside out by phosphate mining has been transformed yet again, this time as an upscale golf resort that’s getting a lot of attention in the golfing world. Since the 1880s, generations of families in Polk County have worked in the phosphate mining industry, which was worth $400 million to the county in 2012. But the last mine in Polk closed last year.

The development of Streamsong by The Mosaic Company has taken some of the sting from that loss, though, by creating hundreds of jobs. It’s also helped bring in record high tourist tax dollars from golfers like Doug Smith, from Tifton, Georgia.

“It is different than anything in Florida,” says Smith, “and it creates an opportunity … to come down, spend a couple of days, and kind of disappear.” 

There are a lot of golf courses in Florida, but Streamsong employees say the fast and firm conditions here set it apart. They say sand creates these conditions — and there’s more sand here than other U.S. courses. Streamsong, they say, is more like the coastal links of Scotland and Ireland.

Sand is gold in the golf business and it’s also a byproduct of phosphate mining. Fertilizer giant Mosaic’s CFO, who also happened to be a high level amateur golfer, came up with golf as a creative solution for a mined-out piece of the corporation’s vast land holdings. Mosaic executives are betting that golfers will make the trip for a course that intrigues them.

Scott Wilson, Streamsong’s Golf Director, says “you don’t see links-style golf with deep water lakes and sand formations like this anywhere else in the world.”

Those lakes are 40-feet-deep phosphate pits. And the first tee is a hundred feet high, atop one of the towering sandy dunes created during the mining process.

The Mosaic company is not trying to disguise the fact that this resort is built on an old phosphate mine. One of the four restaurants is called P2O5, named after the phosphate molecule. On display in the lobby is the fossilized jawbone of a giant Megalodon shark that was excavated here. The land, disfigured by draglines decades ago, has matured into something strange but lovely. Native grasses cover the towers of sand and largemouth bass swim in the lakes.

“It was left like this, and it’s beautiful,” says Scott Wilson. “You see exposed sand everywhere you look, and then suddenly there’s a lake, and some grassy dunes and some sandy dunes.”

Streamsong has been getting a lot of praise from the golf media, with courses designed by Tom Doak and the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Mosaic executives, however, say they won’t be leaving fertilizer for the resort business any time soon. They say they don’t have any other holdings like Streamsong — and no one else does, either.

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