The sun disappeared at 5:38 p.m. in a spectacular show of fiery colors while I was sitting in traffic on the W. Courtney Campbell Causeway out of Tampa. By the time I arrived at the welcome gate to my accommodations, complete darkness had descended. Following the guard’s directions and the map he provided along dimly lit roads, I reached one of Innisbrook‘s three clubhouses and checked in. The lobby was decorated for Christmas, with a tree tastefully trimmed with gold ornaments and a huge gingerbread house that would keep you snacking until July. A jocund crowd in the Market Salamander Grille, down the short hall lined with enlarged photos of celebrated Professional Golfers’ Association players just off the lobby, sounded like the holiday spirit had taken hold.
After driving down the wrong road on the way to my lodge — how big was this place?— I entered my room, a one-bedroom suite complete with living room, kitchen, and private balcony. I smiled at the spacious interior and exhaled a long sigh of contentment as I sank into the king-size bed for the night.
In the morning light the next day, I started to realize the scope of what Innisbrook Golf & Spa Resort looks like when I stepped onto my balcony and took in the expanses of greenery everywhere and the Spanish moss dripping off the nearby trees. Eager to investigate the grounds, I headed out on a long, leisurely walk to explore everything that had been invisible the night before.
Established in 1970, the resort has grown over the years to its current capacity of 620 rooms in about 30 lodges spread over 900 acres. The low-rise lodge buildings are clustered into little groups along curvy roads that blend into the natural setting and bear names that give a nod to the Scottish invention of modern golf — St. Andrews, Royal Aberdeen, Carnoustie, Dornoch.
The main activity here, obviously, is golf, and you can choose to play a round on one of four perfectly manicured 18-hole courses, including Copperhead, site of the annual PGA Tour Valspar Championship, won by such luminaries as Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk, as well as the occasional alligator out for a little sunbathing.
If golf isn’t your game, you can reserve one of almost a dozen clay tennis courts or one of three racquetball courts. Lake Innisbrook draws fishing enthusiasts, where, if you’re lucky, you can end up cooking your own catfish or bass for dinner in your room’s kitchen. Paths for joggers and for cyclists renting their wheels on the property twist around the grounds. Swimmers can take a dip in one of six pools. And naturalists and ornithologists will love the nature walk through the wildlife preserve, where you’ll easily spy a roseate spoonbill fly by, or a few anhingas relaxing in a tree, their wings spread out to absorb the warm sunshine.
Once you’ve built up an appetite from all that activity, Innisbrook offers a steakhouse, two grills, a pub, and a sports bar that will restore your depleted resources with some very fine fare. And, of course, if you don’t want to do anything at all, you can head over to Indaba, the 18,000-square-foot spa, salon, and fitness center, and indulge in a long list of treatments that will have someone else doing all the work for you.
Despite all the activities and enormity of the grounds, Innisbrook was never crowded. In fact, it felt rather cozy. And if you completely fall in love with it, you can buy one of the condo apartments and make Innisbrook your permanent home.