On The Green

Sheila JohnSON, CEO of Salamander Hospitality L.L.C., is making history with the $35 million purchase of Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, a 900-acre, 620-room, premiere golf destination near Tampa, Florida. The deal, believed to be the first for an African American woman, was finalized in June 2007.

Innisbrook, home to four championship golf courses, including the famous Copperhead course, has welcomed pros such as Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh during PGA Tour stops.

“It really is extraordinary,” says Johnson of the sprawling resort, which boasts six swimming pools, four restaurants, 11 tennis courts, three conference halls, and a nature reserve. “I’m still pinching myself that I’ve made this purchase. It is an incredible piece of property.”

Innisbrook’s most recent owner was Golf Trust of America Inc., and Westin formerly managed the resort (excluding golf operations). The storied facility, reportedly once valued at around $90 million, employs some 700 staffers but has seen declining revenues in recent years.

Johnson says she plans to invest in renovations over the next year or so, including the addition of a full-service spa and what she dubbed “signature” upgrades to existing facilities, such as the golf houses and restaurants.

Mike Hughes, CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association, a South Carolina-based trade group that represents 6,000 courses worldwide and more than a quarter of the 16,000 public, private, and resort-based golf facilities nationwide, says, “We believe that this is the first time a black woman has purchased a major [golf] resort.” He notes that Clearview Golf Course in Canton, Ohio, was developed in the 1940s by Bill Powell, an African American, and is still run by his family. “But it’s not a resort, or on the same scale as Innisbrook,” he says.