PALM HARBOR — Some Florida delegates to the Republican National Convention expressed annoyance that they were assigned to a hotel 32 miles from the convention location in Tampa.
But the Innisbrook resort in Palm Harbor isn't taking it personally. Instead, the resort staff has been having fun preparing for the deluge of Grand Old Party members who will begin arriving in about a week.
A group of employees at the lushly landscaped, 900-acre resort held a brainstorming session a few weeks ago on ways to highlight the RNC, since both the South Carolina and Florida delegations will be their guests.
"We were doing research on the computer, and we realized there have been 18 Republican presidents,'' said Ramona Hurley, spokeswoman for the resort on U.S. 19. "With 18 holes on a golf course, we knew we had to take advantage of that.''
During the week of the RNC, while guests take up temporary residence in about 525 rooms, the 18 holes on the Copperhead Golf Course, home to an annual PGA Tour event, will be renamed for Republican presidents.
The names will be assigned in chronological order, so No. 1 will be the Abraham Lincoln hole. The 18th hole will belong to George W. Bush.
No. 14, one of the most visible because it is close to the busy Osprey Clubhouse, will be the Richard Nixon hole.
Once the convention starts, Hurley plans to display life-size cutouts of some of the presidents in different areas, giving guests plenty of photo opportunities.
The Innisbrook staff also is gearing up for some late-night entertaining at the Market Salamander Grille & Bar, a sports bar inside the Osprey Clubhouse.
"Since we know the delegates will be in Tampa each day from about 4 p.m. on, we know we'll be dealing with night owls," Hurley said. "We plan on altering our schedule, keeping open until 1:30 or 2 a.m. so they can come back from Tampa, unwind, listen to music and grab something to eat or drink."
Mike Garrow, director of sales for Innisbrook, said that although the news media reported that the Florida delegation was not happy with the hotel assignment, he has been hearing from delegates that they were "thrilled to be put here,'' he said.
"It's a tranquil and a natural setting,'' he said.
Whether it is grabbing a morning tee time on one of the resort's four golf courses before catching the afternoon shuttle to Tampa, or visiting places such as nearby pristine Caledesi Island, the delegates "know they have a place where they have space for networking, rejuvenation and relaxation,'' he said.
Innisbrook is also joining forces with the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce to provide delegates and their families a shuttle service between the resort and the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.
"We're making sure to show the delegates what this area offers,'' said Sue Thomas, president of the chamber. "The nice thing about having Florida and South Carolina delegates at Innisbrook is that they can hop in a car and come back to the area easily. It's not like they're from Alaska or a far-away place and won't be able to come back."
The Tarpon chamber also is highlighting two local events during the convention period, Thomas said. From 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 25 is the Tarpon Springs Wine and Art Walk. Visitors will be able to sample wine and hors d'oeuvres while listening to live music and visiting the Sponge Docks shops.
Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1-3, the annual Tarpon Springs Labor Day Arts and Crafts Festival will be held along the Sponge Docks. The number of vendors has been increased because the event comes on the heels of the RNC.
Though Thomas knows it will be busy during the convention, she does not foresee any extreme challenges.
"We handle much bigger crowds at other events,'' she said. "There's Epiphany, with more than 20,000 people coming in for the day, and the Tarpon Springs Fine Arts Festival (in the spring) has 25,000 people.''
Innisbrook doesn't foresee any problems, either. Although the staff will be juggling the unusual hours, the number of visitors to Innisbrook will be small compared to the thousands of people who ventured through the gates in March to watch Luke Donald win the last three-day PGA tournament.
Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.