Preconceived notions of grandeur are assumed ahead of a round on a PGA Tour golf course. “Home to the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship,” is a lengthy testament in just a few words. Mental images of diamond-cut fairways, bursting flower gardens and grand water fountains appear. There are four golf courses at Innisbrook Resort near Tampa, Florida, but only one is memorialized with evergreen shrubs. It’s one of the most photographed scenes on the PGA Tour, “Copperhead” scripted in foliage along a pond next to the seventeenth green. The other golf courses at Innisbrook are good – Copperhead is spectacular. It’s difficult to note its specific advantages – everything is a little bit better. Attention-to-detail is raised from tee to green. However, the Copperhead Course is not the resort’s crowning achievement.
“No, I don’t do a lot of interviews, actually this is the first one,” Brandy Merola, Innisbrook Resort pastry chef tells World’s Best Golf Destinations.
In all its glory – the Copperhead Course plays second fiddle to Innisbrook desserts. The Osprey Bar is a popular hangout at the resort. Golfers watch sports and settle wagers over draft beers. The usual suspects are on the lunch and dinner menus: chicken wings, quesadillas, burgers, pasta and steak. Then, like a secret passageway to a sugar wonderland is the dessert menu. The list reads like a Danielle Steel love story: peach bread pudding with proper creme, Ghirardelli Chocolate walnut brownie a la mode and rustic apple tart with salted caramel sauce. And songs will be written about the “cookies and milk”, three mini chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches served with the greatest chocolate milk of all-time.
“Yeah, the trio of ice cream sandwiches is our most popular dessert. The kids love em’, well everyone does. And it comes with a glass of chocolate milk. It’s heavy cream with sugar and 60-percent couverture chocolate, Merola adds.
A pastry chef for 22 years, Merola’s headed the Innisbrook bakery for five years. With a team of four – they service all of the resort’s restaurants, weddings, in-room welcome amenities and other events. They can make four-foot tall wedding cakes and they do the baking for the giant gingerbread house in the lobby during the holidays. And the croissants, muffins and Danish at The Market – they make those too.
Like all the great ones – just when you think you’ve seen all of Merola’s tricks, the curtains part revealing new treasures. Packard’s Steakhouse has its own dessert menu which is perhaps more indulgent than its brethren. There is a hot chocolate truffle cake served warm with homemade vanilla bean ice cream, crème brulee and a cookies and cream cheesecake dome.
There are no shortcuts. All ice cream, sauces and creams are made from scratch. Desserts veer for indigenous flavors at themed events. At Latin-inspired parties, tres leches cake appears and for the lovers – chocolate covered strawberries. With all due respect to Paul Casey who just won the Valspar Championship for a second consecutive year – the champion at Innisbrook Resort is Chef Brandy Merola. Hoist the trophy and take a bow.
Getting There: fly to Tampa International Airport and take a resort shuttle or Uber to resort which will cost around $30
Other Popular Activities: tennis, fitness, yoga classes, summer camps, Clearwater Beach (17 miles), swimming pools including the massive Loch Ness Monster Pool, Busch Gardens theme park (25 miles) and Ybor City restaurants, cigar shops and nightlife (30 miles)