- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sheila C. Johnson, owner of the Washington Mystics and part-owner of the Wizards and Capitals, is breaking into a new sport: golf.

Ms. Johnson, who co-founded District company Black Entertainment Television with ex-husband Bob Johnson, yesterday closed on a deal to purchase Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Fla., for $35 million.

Ms. Johnson’s Salamander Hospitality LLC, which is based in Middleburg, Va., immediately started renovations that will reach “into the millions,” she said.

“This is really one of the — once we get it back up — one of the premier golf resorts in the country,” she said.

Golf Trust of America Inc. of Charleston, S.C., was the seller. The former real estate investment trust has been selling its golf courses since it went out of business in 2001 and wasn’t able to keep up the resort properly.

“The prior ownership has not had the ability to renovate the property and over the course of time, it has gotten a little tired,” said Prem Devadas, president of Salamander Hospitality. “We have a great opportunity to come in and refresh it at a very high level while adding amenities.”

The resort has four courses — including Copperhead, home of the PGA PODS Championship — meeting facilities, condos and soon, a spa.

The purchase makes Ms. Johnson the first black woman to own a championship golf course, according to Salamander.

But “firsts” are old hat for Ms. Johnson, who is called the country’s first black female billionaire and whose Washington Mystics — which made her the first black female WNBA owner — just this weekend hosted the WNBA All-Star Game at the Verizon Center.

Ms. Johnson said her enterprises all fit together, from her background at BET, to her sports teams to her growing hospitality company.

Salamander Hospitality also owns the Woodlands Resort & Inn in Summerville, S.C. and the $100 million Salamander Resort & Spa on 340 acres in Middleburg, which is expected to open in late 2009. It owns Salamander Management Services, which manages independent hotels and resorts, including the Colosseum in Blacksburg, Va.

“You can’t separate them out,” she said. “Entertainment and hospitality really go hand in hand. In the entertainment business you’re always hosting.”

Ms. Johnson said the resort often hosts athletes, from the nearby Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to the Washington Redskins to the Washington teams she owns.

Former Redskins cornerback Darrell Green, former wide receiver Art Monk and former defensive end Charles Mann were at a press conference at the resort yesterday, according to Salamander.