PALM HARBOR, Fla. — You may not see them, but there are deadly snakes hiding all over the grounds of the Innisbrook golf resort in Palm Harbor. Tucked behind bushes and hidden in trees, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes rest in the cool of the shade.
What would you expect at a championship course nicknamed the Copperhead?
“They are here. You have to watch where you’re walking,” joked Jay Vessey.
Vessey isn’t afraid of snakes. In fact, the biggest on the course is one of his designs.
“It’s a cool statue,” said Innisbrook Resort’s Director of Golf Bobby Barnes. “It really has become an iconic figure.”
The Copperhead course, one of four on the property, will celebrate 50 years in 2020. It’s hosted numerous top-tier golf events in the past half-century and is currently home to the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship.
The entrance to its final three holes is guarded by Vessey’s recognizable statue.
In 2007, Copperhead’s then-tournament director Gerald Goodman nicknamed the closing holes the “snake pit” because of their difficulty. The par-4, par-3, par-4 finish routinely challenged even the best PGA Tour golfers.
“Don’t get bit in the pit,” he’d say.
A snake statue made sense.
“We went through a bunch of different variations before we chose this particular iteration of it,” Vessey said. His company, EVO Sports, created the copperhead. “It’s been supported through the years and it’s very popular.”
Vessey can been seen cruising the Copperhead course in his golf cart during tournament week each year for the Valspar Championship. He says most visitors are surprised to hear the statue is not bronze, but actually high-impact foam cut on a 3-D computer numerical control machine.
“Not many people know that.” he said. “It’s very durable.”
Goodman’s 2007 idea didn’t hit the design phase until 2009.
It took five months to create the giant snake, which debuted on the course during a media golf event in 2010. Its highest point, the snake’s arched back, stands roughly ten feet off the ground.
The snake is perched on a tree stump and is surrounded by roses. A plaque affixed to the front asks fans to take photos with it and post them to social media using the hashtag, #snakepitselfie.
In the last nine years, plenty of fans have followed those directions.
“It literally has taken on a life of its own,” Barnes said. “It just automatically makes you think of the Valspar Championship, the PGA Tour event, the excitement that is around this place in March, and it’s a cool thing.”
Vessey laughs when he tells people he has never taken a snake pit selfie. Regardless, his company’s design has become one of the most photographed spots in Tampa Bay.
“It’s a big, scary foam snake,” said Barnes with a chuckle.
Vessey has operated EVO Sports for 23 years. His work at Valspar, specifically with the copperhead statue, has opened doors for him to work on foam displays for 16 professional golf events across multiple tours. His work can be seen all over the country.
But that Copperhead snake is special.
“It’s really turned out to be representative of this great course,” he said with a smile. “It’s one of the things I’m very proud of.”
The 2019 Valspar Championship is March 18-24.
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