Raising the Bar at Innisbrook

By Ian HutchinsonMarch 9, 2008, 4:00 pm
PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- A mischievous smile crosses the face of Sheila Johnson and her eyes twinkle as she gently pulls the tape recorder thats been under her nose for the last half hour close to her.
 
If youre listening to me right now Tiger Woods, I would really like you to come see the facilities, said the owner of the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, near Tampa. He would be my ace in the hole.
 
Im going to work on that, she added.
 
Of course, Tigers an ace that every self-respecting entrepreneur in the golf business would like to get a piece of to represent a product, but theres a big difference between big talk and reality and the reality is that he was absent from the field at the PODS Championship at Innisbrook.
 
That fact wont discourage Johnson, who leaves you with the knowledge that she doesnt relent once she sets her mind to something and raising the stature of Innisbrook to one of the top resorts in the United States is on top of her to-do list these days.
 
It was exactly a year ago that Johnson began scoping the property in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area just after the 2007 PODS Championship concluded.
 
From the moment I decided to buy Innisbrook, the bricks and mortar were great, the grounds were wonderful, but what moved me to buy it were the employees.
 
I have never been to a facility where the employees were so passionate about a property, said Johnson, who closed the deal in mid-July, when her new employees found out quickly that their passion would be returned by the new boss.
 
She had already prepared with the team on site the first improvement and that was the enhancements to the Island golf course, recalled Doug Schmidt, director of membership and golf public relations for Innisbrook.
 
Within 22 hours, the earth-moving equipment was on the golf course and in a little more than 90 days, we had completely renovated the Island golf course and modernized it, added Schmidt.
 
Probably the greatest compliment (director of golf) Jay Overton ever received was from our long-time members who said, You didnt change a thing. I dont see the changes, even though we added 300 yards to the golf course.
 
In other words, the changes were subtle, not overpowering, some dedicated to dealing with the effects of modern equipment technology.
 
The golf course now plays 7,310 yards, par 71, said Schmidt. We have a par four 11th hole now, one of the longest par fours, certainly in Florida.
 
Other changes included new Tif Eagle greens, cart paths, signage, irrigation systems, tree plantings and landscaping on a course that can leave you with plenty of awkward shots should you be even slightly awry.
 
The members will tell you that yes, the pros say Copperhead is one of the best golf courses on the PGA TOUR, said Schmidt. Theyll tell you its the second-best course because they believe Island is the best course and its their favorite course, so its great to have two courses of that stature.
 
Ernie Els, for one, likes what he sees at the Islands more renowned sister course at Innisbrook. Its a very demanding golf course. You can play any major tournament here, said Els.
 
Theyve got great par 3s, five par 3s on this golf course. Youve really got to try to keep your score down on those and then, its got some hills unlike the rest of Florida golf courses. Its really an old-fashioned tree-lined golf course, very demanding.
 
Whatever course turns out to be your favorite, Innisbrook now has a one-two punch with the Island and Copperhead, which is why the work on the Island course became the foundation of an overall improvement to the resort that is still a work in progress.
 
I had those machines out there ready to go. I wanted to send a message, said Johnson of the Island course.
 
Other improvements yet to come in the near future include construction of a full-service spa, seemingly mandatory at any modern golf resort these days, a new fitness centre, extensive renovations to the tennis centre, improvements to the clubhouses and meeting spaces, among other changes.
 
Johnson says she is a firm believer in the old adage about spending money to make money.
 
I want to make money, too. Im not stupid, but I really believe that, if you put the quality into something and you really put your heart behind something, its going to come back to you, said Johnson, who can back that up with personal experience.
 
An accomplished violinist and music teacher, Johnson is best known for starting Black Entertainment Television along with former husband Robert L. Johnson, a former cable industry lobbyist, with the support of investor John Malone, in 1980. While the rise of BET resulted in her current fortune, it wasnt easy.
 
Its just like any new idea, she recalled. We thought our idea would catch on among all African American businesses.
 
Still there was that unbelievable doubt that we dont trust what youre doing, we dont quite know what youre doing, we dont understand what youre doing and the fear factor of committing advertising dollars to a network that may or may not work.
 
It was really, really tough in the beginning to get any kind of advertising and even though you would give them a statistic that African Americans are probably the largest consumers of products, that we are a significant force out there, there was still the racial barrier of not wanting to put money into an African American business.
 
I think we just assumed, being an African American network, that especially African Americans would jump on this, she said.
 
Such was not the case and she says the backing of Malone played an integral role in the development of BET, including getting the network on satellite. John Malone was really smitten with the idea of starting a cable network targeted at African Americans, she recalled.
 
However, she recalls looking under cushions to find change to do her laundry and cutting out coupons to do the grocery shopping. My goal was to try and buy a weeks worth of groceries for $25 and when I could do that, I was just so excited, she recalled. It was lean, let me tell you,
 
The drive and passion paid off over 20 years later when BET was sold to Viacom for a reported $3-billion, which was split when she and her husband divorced.
Now the chief executive officer of Salamander Hospitality LLC, she runs several luxury properties that now include Innisbrook and is believed to Americas first black woman billionaire,
 
The reason she chose Salamander is that its a lizard that can walk through fire and still come out alive. That perseverance is an example that she has set for her employees with her dedication in the past and in her current efforts to raise the status of Innisbrook.
 
Her efforts dont end with golf. She is hoping to attract a high-profile tennis event that will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Billy Jean King versus Bobby Riggs battle of the sexes. Next month, the WNBA will hold its draft at Innisbrook.
 
Johnson, who is president and managing partner of the WNBAs Washington Mystics, as well as having interests in the NHLs Washington Capitals and the NBAs Washington Wizards through Lincoln Holdings, is also planning a WNBA exhibition game in the area.
 
Id like the young girls here to see some real professional, extraordinary women, she said.
 
The first step for those youngsters might be to look up the extraordinary accomplishments of the woman who runs the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club.
 

Email your thoughts to Ian Hutchinson
 
Toronto Sun Editor's Note: Ian Hutchinson is golf columnist for the Toronto Sun. He is also a frequent contributor to Golf Scene and Golf Canada Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.
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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.