I recall being at the Innisbrook Resort in 2008 for the PGA TOUR's Pods Championship and hearing of its new owner Sheila Johnson. Now five years later, it is time for the Tampa Bay Championship this week on the famed Copperhead Course.
While Donald Trump had the televised stage last week at Doral, don’t expect to see as much of Sheila this week. But don't be surprised if you come to learn that she has hired, not fired, someone you know. Who is building and opening new golf resorts in America these days? Johnson is, and she has also purchased others and put them together like a necklace around the neck of Florida to shine and attract us to unique and pleasurable golfing and resort experiences. Join Reistetter as he recalls his recent and finest golf resort experience in Florida.
The history of the Innisbrook Resort with professional golf goes back almost 50 years.
At first it was couples golf starting with Jerry Pate and Hollis Stacy winning in 1977 to John Daly winning with Laura Davies in 1999. With the new millennium came the regular PGA TOUR, and then later in the decade came Sheila Johnson debuting as golf's newest visionary lady.
Since then, major champions Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk have won at Innisbrook and so too has the golfing world, with the contribution of this media silent though quietly effective woman. What she has done in the last five years is quite remarkable.
Starting with Innisbrook on the Gulf Coast in 2008 and adding Reunion in Orlando and Hammock Beach on the Atlantic Coast in 2011, Johnson has assembled the Grand Golf Resorts of Florida and created a Legends of Golf Trail that is quite impressive. But that is not all, as her new Salamander Resort & Spa will be opening in August amidst the scenic horse country of Virginia.
With exclusive golf privileges at The Club at Creighton Farms, another Jack Nicklaus Signature Design, and the personal touches by Sheila, it is a grand opening not to be missed.
Even in Florida, the state with the most coastline, there is only one golf course with six holes that border the Atlantic Ocean. There may be other ocean courses, but Hammock Beach's Jack Nicklaus Signature Design is the only one with "Florida's Ocean Course" on the front of the scorecard. The second course, a Tom Watson Signature Design, The Conservatory has earned the distinctive "Golf Masterpiece" on its scorecard.
While I will remember the sound of the surf in my backswing in the morning and a non-conservative 3-birdie fun round in the afternoon, my lasting impression of Hammock Beach is the comfort of its beds, the tranquility and beauty of its accommodations and the rich taste and texture of its food.
My recollection of time spent at Reunion is captured with the faces on its scorecard—Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Annika Sorenstam. "Nowhere Else in the World"—four legends, three courses and one incredible golf experience.
The combined scorecard unfolds to a length of 24 inches, and while the penciled-in numbers aren't as low as I would like, the memories golfing with friends—there cannot be any higher or more inspirational. We played the rounds in three formats—a scramble, a better ball and a shame (my own individual ball), not shamble. With Annika's Academy located there, along with 320 villas and suites and a rooftop bar for sunsets, can there be a better place for corporate events?
While we don't yet know who the winner is at Innisbrook, we do know the Snake Pit and the Copperhead Course will produce a deserving champion who can play every club in his bag on a course full of variety. Larry Packard, who designed all four courses, may not have the notoriety of other golf architects, but he has the talent proven around the world and something else we all want—longevity, as he celebrated his 100th birthday last November.
I guess the gist of the Grand Golf Resorts of Florida is their longevity and variety in golf. In addition to the Tampa Bay event, Hammock Beach has hosted PGA TOUR and Champions Tour events, and Reunion has hosted the LPGA.
If you want that type of variety, there is a package that features six nights accommodations and nine rounds of golf, which can be used in one trip or split up into three. A composite course called the Ultimate Legends of Golf has been created and you can track your score over the nine courses to see how you compete against others on Florida's most famous necklace (I mean trail).
I admit to one error in the writing of this piece. The state of Alaska has more coastline than Florida, but is there a golfer in Alaska? I will also admit to another mistake—that it took me five years to intimately discover the Hammock Beach, Reunion and Innisbrook resorts. Please don’t make the same mistake, surely you can do better.
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer and a broadcast assistant for the various golf networks. He spends time on all four major American golf tours: the PGA TOUR, Champions, Web.com and LPGA.
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