Innisbrook Golf Resort Undergoing Huge Renovations
by Scott A. Sumner
Most every golfer has heard of the Innisbrook Golf Resort in Florida near Tampa Bay and when I found out this would be our first stop on the 2007 Golf Coast Writer Cup in Florida I was excited. After playing at some of America’s other finest golf resorts like Kiawah Island, Harbourtown and Pinehurst I was looking forward to a great golf experience. Each year in march Innisbrook has hosted a PGA tour event at their Copperhead course one of four at Innisbrook. After an easy 1 and 1/2 hour flight from my home city of Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada to Toronto it was a direct approximately 2 hour flight flight on Air Canada to Tampa Bay. Leaving the airport was a 40 minute drive by car to the Innisbrook Resort where I checked into a large 1 bedroom suite overlooking the newly renovated Island course. The suite was very nice with lots of room to stretch out in as well as full kitchen facilities for those who would like to stay for a week or more. These units a re owned by individual investors and rented out by the new owners of Innisbrook, Salamander Hospitality. Salamander Hospitality is a new company started about 2 1/2 years ago by Sheila Johnson. Sheila was an owner of Black Entertainment and sold her shares for over $1 billion dollars. Salamander was formed to own, operate and manage very unique independent properties. The first property is a nature based 168 room very luxurious resort located in Middleburg a quaint historic town that is horse country where the company is headquartered. It will open the first quarter of 2010. Salamander also own a resort near Charlestown, SC one of three 5 star lodging in the US. Innisbrook was purchased by the company in July 2007.
“ Innisbrook has been a icon of the golf industry for almost 40 years. Back in their day it was the place to go on the east coast. You can’t replicate what you have here with 4 golf course on 900 acres in such a beautiful area. There are about 600 units in the rental pool with a mixture of full condominiums. As well there are another 400 units not in the pool. We have 5000 square feet of great meeting space here, 3 great club houses and restaurants and 6 swimming pools. There is also a wonderful tennis facility and golf instruction facility,” informed Chuck Pomerantz,Managing Director of Innisbrook and Vice President for Business Development Salamander Hospitality. “ We are 10 minutes from the gulf of Mexico and offer TRAM service there. There are some of the best beaches in the country right in this area.We are one of 36 places that host a PGA event each year, the PODS Championship which was won by Mark Calcavecchia this past March.”
“ We knew this resort needed an infusion of cash as it had not been renovated in a while with the previous ownership. We will do $15 to 20 million of renovations and maintain a great service level as well. The pools are being renovated, the tennis facility as well and we will touch every one of the amenities for a total investment of over $50 million dollars at Innisbrook.” stated Pomerantz.
Jay Overton has been the Director of Golf at Innisbrook for over 30 years now. If that name seems familiar Jay has played many PGA golf events over the years including over 20 majors and was a regular on the Champions Tour of 4 years. He came to Innisbrook from Pinehurst in 1977 where he was Head Golf Professional.“ I was invited down to look at the property but I didn’t want to go as my perception of Florida was flat with palm trees. Mike Souhuk the current pro then interviewed me on the course, the highest elevation in our county at 76 feet about sea level some 1/4 mile from the coast. I then saw the potential and moved to Innisbrook. As a club professional I played more tour events than any other club professional including more than 25 majors between their regular tour and Champions Tour, “ stated Jay Overton. “ However my heart was always at the club running this facility. I enjoyed the creativity of the golf packages for example. We were one of the first to offer tee time systems to organize the golf course into something that was manageable rather than something that happened everyday. In the old days you put your ball in the little rack and the next guy plays. We managed to take a look at golf a little different. I had to balance the use of the inventory so the members and others could play, so the members were not inconvienianced. If you let one of the courses get the attention from the focus of finances, agronomic or media there is an imbalance. Pinehurst went through it with No.2 and we went through it with Copperhead. We had to give more attention to all the courses.”
The Island course at Innisbrook has just been renovated. The construction process is over including redo greens, redoing bunkers and adding bunkers, 16 tees and lengthened the course by 300 yards. TheIsland course now will need 6 months of TLC where it will be overseeded and other fine tune improvements made touching it up. The final product will materialize by March according to Overton although the product we played that day was quite good.
Innisbrook is comprised of 650 golf members, 600 social members, 100 tennis and junior members for over 1700 members. There are about 110,000 rounds of play on all four course combined per year with a 140,000 potential.The summer months of July and August are hot but all the courses are up and running.
Jay Overton knew former Thunder Bay pro Jim Jamieson. “ I first met Jimmy when he was playing on the tour at Pinehurst. He was mentored by one of our members here and spent time in Innisbrook. Jimmy is a great guy and did some promotional work for us in the past. He was known for winning the Western Open with 5 different company’s clubs in his bag with no sponsors,” smiled Overton. “ 2005 was my last year on the Champions Tour . I did not win but had several top 5 finishes with the opportunity to win but I guess got to thinking what would happen. I never left here I still came back and forth to the resort. It was fun.
I love my job and I love this property. I have been in only two facilities in my career, Innisbrook and Pinehurst.”
The Copperhead course was originally an executive course to accommadate corporate play before it became the championship layout it is today. Since 1970 nothing had been done to the Island course except to fertilizer and cut grass. “ Time passed it and the greens were 38 years old and that doesn’t cut it. The day after Salamander purchased the resort we started the renovations. This practice green we are standing on is 6 weeks old with all new grasses. It was years of thought into these changes,” smiled Jay Overton. “ We could play a major event here. No 11 is 530 yards and the longest par 4 in Florida. We changed everything and yet didn’t anything from the look perspective. One day we would like to play our March PGA starting on all the courses and ending at Copperhead. According to PGA Tour players, the Copperhead course is one of the best they play all year. A SPA is under construction.”
My stay at the Innisbrook Resort was very enjoyable. The staff were all very nice and there to help me. My first evening I ate at the Packards Steakhouse and had a great meal. Unique at Innisbrook is their “ trams” which are small buses that total 15 in number and are there to move you around the resort at no charge in quick fashion.Definitely a nice touch. Of course the golf was fantastic. I really enjoyed playing both the Copperhead and Island courses. Innisbrook is a place to go for all golfers. You may want to spend at least 5 days to experience everything this fine resort has to offer.