PALM HARBOR – Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort is known worldwide, particularly for its famed Copperhead Course, site of the PGA’s annual Valspar Championship.
But the 950-acre resort, at 36750 U.S. 19 N., is much more than Copperhead and its trio of 18-hole companion courses, according to Innisbrook Managing Director Mike Williams. Owned by the Virginia-based Salamander Hotels & Resorts, Innisbrook also features 300 rental condo units, an award-winning steakhouse and grill, 65,000 square feet of conference and meeting space and a world-class tennis center, salon and spa.
Despite offering a variety of options for golfers looking for a complete package of attractive amenities, Williams said, Innisbrook is facing some of the same issues affecting the rest of Florida’s hospitality industry, including an influx of vacation rentals and the timing of the school calendar. Williams said he has discussed these issues last month with U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, during a visit to the resort by the veteran lawmaker.
“We have a number of issues we talked to Congressman Bilirakis about, including short-term rentals and opposition to (vacation rentals by owners), which have had a dramatic negative impact on us and the hospitality industry in general,” Williams said. Bilirakis was at Innisbrook for the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s “Heart of the House” hotel tour, on Aug. 30.
“We wanted to talk to him about that, as well as state issues,” Williams said.
The issues included the Pinellas County School Board’s board’s decision to push back the school start date. The schedule change, he said, “affects us negatively because it takes August out of play for an industry that caters to vacations and conferences.”
In addition to meeting with state and industry officials, Williams said, Innisbrook executives are working to ensure the resort remains a major player in an ultra-competitive industry for years to come. These steps include remodeling the greens on the Osprey South and Osprey North courses and completely renovating every rental unit in advance of the resort’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2020.
“It’s an exciting time for Innisbrook,” Williams said, “with the renovations to the guest accommodations set to start at the beginning of September and be completed by the end of the year, combined with the reopening of our Osprey South course.”
Innisbrook is 48 years old and the greens as well as the rooms needed refreshing, according to Williams.
“Now we have four championship courses, 72 holes, with the same surface as Copperhead, and individually-owned accommodations that can be rented out and are more like residences than hotel rooms. We truly think of ourselves as America’s golf resort.”
Copperhead, the best known of the Innisbrook golf course, is the site of the PGA’s Valspar Championship.
While he is proud of the new features Innisbrook can use to entice vacationing golfers, Williams is equally excited about some of the amenities and events Innisbrook has on tap for the public.
“We recently confirmed we will host a senior tennis event next year at our tennis center, which is the finest in the Tampa Bay area,” he said. Former U.S. Open champions John McEnroe and Andy Roddick and former Dade City resident Jim Courier, winner of French and Australian Open titles, are expected to participate.
Although many people assume Innisbrook is a strictly private resort, its spa and Packard Steakhouse and Salamander Grill are open to the public. “We have something for everyone,” he said.
Even with all the improvements to the facility, which started shortly after Salamander Resorts CEO Sheila Johnson, the co-founder the BET cable network, purchased the property in 2007, for many people Innisbrook will remain the place where they can see the best golfers in the world compete at the highest level every year, at the Valspar Championship. The 2018 edition of the tourney, held March 8 -11, got a big boost when Tiger Woods, seeking to hone his game prior to this year’s Masters, made his first Innisbrook appearance since 1996, when he competed in what was then the JC Penney Championship with LPGA golfer Kelli Kuehne.
“We’ve always had a strong field, but this year we had many names that really draw a crowd,” Williams said of a field that in addition to Woods included Jordan Speith, Rory McElroy and the 2018 winner Paul Casey.
“Last year we had a gate of 111,000, and this year it was 150,000, and certainly Tiger was a big part of that,” Williams said.
Woods’ performance in the Valspar, tied for second with 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, has had a lingering effect, Williams said. “Every golfer up north was on the phone or online the next day saying, ‘I want to play where Tiger Woods played.’ ”