Many of the usuals have gathered to compete this week at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course for the Valspar Championship. Among them are U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, PGA Champion Jason Dufner and former world No. 1 Luke Donald, the 2012 Valspar champion. Missing, however, is Larry Packard. The face of Innisbrook and architect of its Copperhead course passed away on January 28 at the age of 101, and his loss is keenly felt.
I exchanged pleasantries with Packard not long before he died and had a long sit-down with him three years prior. At 98 years young, he maintained the energy of a man half his age. Best known for his work in Illinois, where he began his design career in 1946, Packard crafted courses worldwide, and in our conversation, possessed near total recall from events more than 60 years ago. He related a story to me about a day in his first year of employment when he mentioned to his mentor, architect Robert Bruce Harris, that there ought to be a society of practicing golf course architects, as there was with landscape architects. Harris agreed, and eventually enlisted Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones Sr. (among others) and formed the American Society of Golf Course Architects.
“I heard him make the call to Trent,” Packard told me, “and tell him we have to start a society.”
Packard served as the Society president in 1970 and is credited with advancing the group’s awareness like no one in his position before or since.
At Innisbrook, Packard, course builders Brent and Stanley Wadsworth and Larry’s son Roger, who became a top architect in his own right, stumbled onto an architect’s dream, especially for Florida.
“All of the elevations were here at Copperhead, especially on the back nine,” Packard told me at the time. “There were open pastures and swampy low areas. There were big mature trees everywhere. We had three or four ponds; we changed their shape and made them bigger. There was so much variety in that one place.”
Packard’s 1974 creation had no bigger fan than Ernie Els. On his website in 2006, Els gushed, “This is probably Florida’s best golf resort…and I personally think the Copperhead layout is the best golf course the PGA Tour plays in Florida. It has a lot of character, some nice design features and, unlike a lot of courses in the area, it has some significant changes in elevation.”
When I asked him to comment on Els’ flattering portrayal of Copperhead, Packard responded with the short, straight truth that came with being 98 years old: “I think he’s right.”
Rest in peace, Larry Packard. We’ll enjoy your legacy this week -- and for years beyond.
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