Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Fla., a community on the northern edge of the Pinellas Peninsula west of Tampa, is celebrating the silver anniversary of its relationship with the PGA TOUR. In 1990-1999, it served as host of the JCPenney Classic, a team competition pairing one golfer from the PGA TOUR and LPGA. It then made its debut as an official event as the then-Tampa Bay Classic in 2000. The club's own member, John Huston, prevailed.
After six editions were contested in autumn (2000, 2002-2006), it's been a staple of the Florida Swing in March during the FedExCup era. Last September, it was announced that Valspar, a global provider of paint and industrial coatings, inked a four-year agreement with the tournament, which is now known as the Valspar Championship.
Innisbrook's Copperhead Course played as the most difficult par 71 in a non-major last season at +1.222 strokes to par. That's a five-year high. It features five par 3s and four par 5s, can stretch 7,340 yards and boasts roomy greens that average 8,900 square feet prepped to run at 11.5 on the Stimpmeter. In 2013, it ranked third-most challenging in par breakers (15.21 percent) and inside the top 20 in distance of all drives (268.7 yards; fourth), fairways hit (61.42%; 17th), greens in regulation (60.07%; ninth), scrambling (57.84%; 20th) and par-3 (T10), par-4 (T10) and par-5 (T5) scoring.
The 16th, 17th and 18th holes, known collectively as the Snake Pit, averaged +0.637 to par as a trio last year. No. 16 extended its run to four straight editions as the track's hardest hole (+0.261), while 17 (fourth-hardest) and 18 (third-hardest) will give everyone in the field of 144 reason to brace coming in.
While the tournament enjoys a landmark occasion this week, it also remembers Larry Packard. He designed all four courses at Innisbrook, including Copperhead in 1972. Packard died on Jan. 28 at the age of 101.
Midweek rain and boomers should clear out by Thursday, but gusty winds and cool air will trail, so expect scoring conditions to be difficult in the opening round. A high in the low 60s is forecast. Breezes will abate as the tournament prolongs and it will warm into the mid-70s on the weekend. Rain in measurable amounts is not expected if it even falls.