PALM HARBOR — When Sheila Johnson purchased Innisbrook in 2007, renovating the resort was priority No. 1, but landing an LPGA event was always part of her vision for growth.
That hope is now a reality, as Johnson announced Thursday that the LPGA's Legends Tour will stage its first major championship at Innisbrook's Island Course, Nov. 20-22.
The $300,000 event will feature an array of big names, including Hall of Famers Pat Bradley and Nancy Lopez, 2007 champion Rosie Jones, Dale Eggeling, Colleen Walker and Renee Powell. The Legends Tour, for players over 45, boasts nine Hall of Famers and more than 100 members, who total 600-plus LPGA Tour wins and 55 major titles.
The minimum size of the field is 40, and many players are expected to be added. The event will kick off with a pro-am, followed by 36 holes of stroke play. Ticket information is scheduled to be released Aug. 15.
"I, as a woman, bought this resort, and it's only fitting that we can bring an LPGA event here," said Johnson, who owns the WNBA's Washington Mystics and a share of the NBA's Washington Wizards and NHL's Washington Capitals.
The wheels were set in motion by Legends Tour CEO Jane Blalock, who had heard about the changes Johnson was making at Innisbrook and was familiar with the PGA Tour's history on the Copperhead Course. So Blalock, a winner of 27 LPGA events, gave Johnson a call.
"I had certainly read about Sheila, because I'm a sports fan," she said. "And I thought, 'Gosh, knowing the great history of golf in this area, wouldn't this be a great place to have one of our LPGA Legends Tour events.' So I just made a cold call."
Johnson was immediately receptive to the idea. "I said, 'Done deal,' " she recalled. "I said, 'This was the call that I was waiting for.' I've been working with the LPGA, wanting to get them here. We've had many of the new, bright young players come in and play the Island Course, and they said it was a treat. But nothing was really happening — and suddenly Jane Blalock called."
Blalock made a presentation at Innisbrook, then met Johnson at the PGA's Transitions Championship in March.
"I think the big thing is we came with a title sponsor, someone putting up the prize money — we didn't come in saying we needed the community to put up all this money," she said.
LPGA patron Dr. Haruhisa Handa, chairman of the International Foundation for Arts and Culture and honorary chairman of the Japanese Blind Golf Association, has made a three-year financial commitment.
"This is a win-win situation," Blalock said.
Johnson still would like to land an LPGA Tour event, but her focus now is on the Legends.
One of them, Bradley, is thrilled to return to the bay area, where she competed often, including two JCPenney Classic wins — and excited about competing on the senior tour.
"I'm still going to have an opportunity to play a game that I love and compete against wonderful players," she said. "Being on the Legends Tour has given me a second chance to bond with players that I tried to bury."