Annika and billionaire Johnson team up in Florida

By Doug FergusonMarch 27, 2012, 11:08 pm

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sheila Johnson is quietly giving women a stronger voice in the golf industry.

Johnson, the first black woman to become a billionaire, is CEO and founder of Salamander Hotel & Resorts. She has built a network of golf resorts across the central part of Florida called “Grand Golf Resorts of Florida.” They go from Innisbrook near the Gulf Coast to Reunion in the Orlando area to Hammock Beach in Palm Coast along the Atlantic shores.

Hammock Beach has two courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, while Reunion has three courses designed by Nicklaus, Watson and Arnold Palmer. Innisbrook has four courses, including the popular Copperhead, where Luke Donald won two weeks ago.

Johnson also wants an LPGA event that would rotate among her three resorts.

The key, as with Innisbrook, is finding the right sponsor.

“I think we’re in a time now where sponsors are making us work for their money,” she said. “It’s a case of trying to put the right package together and finding the right sponsor that believes in the sport.”

She sounded optimistic and said it was “possible” to get an event in 2013.

Johnson, though, is looking beyond tournaments. She was at the PGA Merchandise show in January, meeting the equipment companies about apparel and with the PGA of America about their “Golf 2.0” program, which includes an effort to attract women.

“Golf is in a transition. Things are starting to pick up again,” Johnson said. “The PGA has recognized that we’ve got to get women into the game of golf. It’s a good revenue source. I’m taking it upon myself with my properties to bring that commitment and excitement.”

Annika Sorenstam held a clinic during the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook, and Johnson referred to the Swede as a “partner” in her projects. Sorenstam has an “Annika Academy” at Reunion, and Johnson said Sorenstam would be making appearances at other resorts.

Sorenstam asked Johnson to be on her board, without knowing the billionaire was in the process of buying Reunion.

“Three weeks later, I told her, and she about jumped out of her skin,” Johnson said. “We get along so well. We’re able to focus on her goals and missions, which marry up with mine. We want to bring more junior programs out here. We’ve got to start building from the foundation.”

Johnson didn’t make any hard sells when she met with equipment companies at the merchandise show. At this point, it’s about building relationships. Most of her work, however, will take place at the resorts.

“There are a lot of holes everywhere that need plugged,” she said.

Johnson, who also serves on the board of the Tiger Woods Foundation, plays a little golf herself. And she has been to the Masters, which she called a bucket-list experience. She was the guest of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2009 and got the whole tour of Augusta National—a look inside the Eisenhower cabin, lunch in the clubhouse.

“She left before the last day,” Johnson said. “Once she left, I had to go to the back gate, get there at 5:30 in the morning. I waited in line with my green chair and ran to the 16th green to get our spots. I love the honor code, how you put your name on the back of the chair, and it will not move.”

Did she leave her purse on her chair, as some patrons do?

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Johnson said. “It was my first time there.”

TOP 100 WORLDWIDE: Royal County Down in Northern Ireland remains No. 1 in “Golf Digest’s” latest ranking of Top 100 golf courses outside the United States.

The list will be in the May issue. It’s the first worldwide “Top 100” ranking since 2009. It was compiled based on 609 panelists who provided 11,426 golf course evaluations, along with input from 30 international editions of the magazine.

Royal Melbourne (the West course, not the composite used for the Presidents Cup) moved up 20 spots to No. 2 and was followed by the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Rounding out the top 10 were Royal Dornoch (Scotland), Muirfield (Scotland), Cape Kidnappers (New Zealand), Turnberry (Scotland), Hirono (Japan), Kingston Heath (Melbourne) and St. George’s, which hosted the Canadian Open.

The magazine also includes course rankings for 203 different countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

PADRAIG FOR SALE: Three companies have signed up to advertise through Padraig Harrington in a unique, part-time sponsorship to raise money for his wife’s cousin, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident.

Harrington decided to auction the branding on his clothes that he wears at the Houston Open, the Masters and the Heritage. His regular sponsors have endorsed his effort.

IdentityX, Clune Construction and have taken him up on his offer. They have offered more than $200,000, which will go to the Padraig Harrington Charitable Foundation for Gerard Byrne.

IdentityX gets his cap and clothing, while Clune Construction and are taking spots on his clothing. also has pledged a percentage of its website sales.

“I hope I will repay their support with some good results over the next three weeks, while wearing their branding,” Harrington said. “I am also very grateful to my current sponsors for allowing me to do this. I know this assistance will help Gerard and his family, who have shown so much courage during this difficult time.”

DIVOTS: Tiger Woods is among the top 10 in seven of 10 statistical categories on the PGA Tour. He leads in total driving (distance and accuracy rankings combined) and the all-around ranking. He is second in scoring average behind Rory McIlroy. … Phil Mickelson will be wearing a blue hat at golf tournaments to promote a project with sponsor KPMG aimed at buying books for children in low-income families. The public can buy the same hat, and each hat sold will go toward the purchase of three books. … Golf Channel has agreed to a three-year extension to show the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first LPGA major of the year.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eight of the top 20 players in the world have won this year on the PGA Tour. A year ago, only four players from the top 15 had won on the PGA Tour or European Tour.

FINAL WORD: “This will be my 54th trip to Augusta. I got $20,000 for winning the Masters. Now I get $10,000 to go there and eat a free steak.”—Bob Goalby, 1968 Masters champion.

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.