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From Phosphate Mine to Golf Resort: Streamsong

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Credit Larry Lambrecht

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. The thousands of acres of Mosaic land that makes up Streamsong may be depleted of phosphate -- but it's rich in something  invaluable in the golf business. Sand.

It may seem like a surprisingly remote location for the Streamsong clubhouse and 216-room Lodge, complete with fine dining, infinity pool, spa and a modern, minimalist award-winning design of stone, wood and glass created by Tampa architect Alberto Alfonso. But Mosaic's developers are betting that golfers will travel  for a course that intrigues them.

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Credit Streamsong photo

Doug Smith is one of those golfers. He flew down from Tifton, Georgia, with a friend from Atlanta, and says the course is unlike anything else in Florida.  "And, he says,  it creates an opportunity for a good friend and I to come down, spend a couple of days, and kind of disappear."

There are a lot of golf courses in Florida, But Scott Wilson, Streamsong's Golf Director, says  the fast and firm conditions here set it apart, as does the landscape.

"You don't see links-style golf with deep water lakes and sand formations like this anywhere else in the world," Wilson says.

Those lakes, of course, are 30 or 40 foot deep phosphate pits.  And the first tee -- where Wilson is preparing to tee off -- is 100 feet high, atop one of the towering sandy dunes created during the mining process.

Wilson points out the tee markers, which are old railroad ties --  a nod to the trains used in the mining industry.
 

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Credit Streamsong photo

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, the phosphate molecule. On display in the lobby is the fossilized jawbone of a giant Megalodon shark that was excavated here. And the land, disfigured by enormous draglines decades ago, has matured into something strange but lovely. Native grasses cover the towers of sand and largemouth bass swim in the lakes.

"Through the former mines and mining, it was left like this and it's beautiful," Wilson says. "It looks natural, and you see exposed sand everywhere you look. Then suddenly  there's a lake, and some grassy dunes and some sandy dunes…. you see hints of Nebraska and hints of Oregon and hints of Scotland and hints of Ireland. And some people have come and said, that looks like Ballybunion and that looks like Sand Hills, Nebraska."

Wilson says sand creates these dry, fast conditions, which are so unusual on U.S. courses and found mainly in the coastal "links" of Scotland and Ireland. And like the old mines, those links - literally "linking" the sea to fertile land -- were not useful for much, but their sand made them great for golfing.  And sand, it turns out, is a byproduct of phosphate mining.

"Sand is gold in the golf business," says Tom Sunnarborg, Vice President of Land Development for Mosaic. "All of the best, classic golf courses in the world are built on sand."  Sunnarborg says that when Mosaic took stock of the value of its large land holdings several years ago, Mosaic's CFO, Rich Mack,  a high-level amateur player, saw the potential for golf in the Streamsong site. But Sunnarborg says it's not likely that Mosaic will be getting into the golf and hospitality business. For one thing, he says, the company likes its core business of crop nutrients. But also, he says, "We don't have other places like this in our land portfolio, and no one else does either. The way this sand was stockpiled, and the way that the lake was created are unique. There isn't anything else like this."

Phosphate mining was a cornerstone of Polk County's economy for more than a century, but the last mine closed last year. Mosaic's Streamsong resort has taken some of the sting from that loss, though. It helped bring in record high tourist tax dollars last year, and has created about 450 new jobs.