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Business Observer Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009 12 years ago

COVER UPDATE: LPGA bellwether?

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Following Sheila Johnson's investment of $26 million in the renovations process, Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club appears to have bettered its image. But how have dire economic times impacted the game of golf?
by: Alex Walsh Web Editor

Sheila Johnson graced the cover of an issue of the Review published in late April, after spending a total of $60 million acquiring and renovating Palm Harbor's Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club.

Johnson, considered by many to be America's first black female billionaire, felt compelled by the resort's several hundred employees to become involved with the revival effort.

“You could see it in their eyes,” she said. “They were saying 'please come back.'”

She answered that call with a substantial investment, including a $26 million venture towards renovating Innisbrook's amenities and appearance.

Some financial indicators made Johnson's decision to invest appear quite risky. Most notably, Johnson cited a trend in sponsorships that had forced many accounts to drastically cut back their payments. Companies that had put up $100,000 or more in years past were scaling back to the $10,000 and $20,000 range.

When asked about the resort's ability to respond to those, a company spokesperson declined to provide financial specifics. Instead, attention was drawn to the resort's recent hosting of the Open Championship for the Legends Tour, the LPGA's more veteran circuit.

Even if sponsorship financials are kept under wraps, one metric bodes well for Florida's golfing industry: the first-place prize at Innisbrook's Open event garnered Sherri Steinhauer $300,000 in winnings. In 2007, Rosie Jones took in just $50,000 for her win.

Indeed, the success of the Open Championship has consequences for the entire state of Florida.

Beyond Innisbrook, golfing as an industry has a significant impact on the state's economy. The PGA of America estimates that the golf courses in Florida with nine holes or more account for 56,000 jobs statewide, providing those employees with $1.4 billion in wage income.

Even if professional golfing changes for the worse, Innisbrook can continue to succeed by hosting events for other local organizations. One such example includes the Tampa Bay Partnership's celebration of their 15th anniversary, which took place at Innisbrook last November, with 300 attendees.

In the long run, it appears as though the result is as tied to the economic rebound as most other Gulf Coast business.

— Alex Walsh

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