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.

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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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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.



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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”