The Valspar Championship is fast becoming a must-attend event on Tampa Bay’s sporting calendar
Tournament Director Tracy West and her staff strive to make the Valspar Championship the Place to Be in mid-March in Tampa Bay.
There’s no reason to believe this year’s PGA event (March 16-19) in Palm Harbor won’t be the area’s star attraction. After all, the tournament and sponsor have put on quite a show together before, including last year when some 125,000 guests came to the Innisbrook Resort to see Sam Burns win his second straight Valspar. Certainly in 2018, when Tiger Woods was the main attraction for most of the resort’s approximately 175,000 visitors.
While golf is the main attraction, the Valspar Championship has much more to offer.
“There really is something for everyone and you don’t have to be a die-hard PGA Tour fan to enjoy and have fun,” West said, naming some of the week’s attractions, including a Family Fun Zone, a hospitality area for Active and retired military and a concert by Darius Rucker after the third round on Saturday. “We’re trying to make this the place to be in Tampa Bay this week. When all is said and done, we will crown a great champion on Sunday and we have raised significant money for charities across Tampa Bay while making a financial impact on the community.”
The tournament debuted in 1977 and has gone through several iterations. Approximately 30 miles northwest of downtown Tampa and a similar distance north of downtown St. Petersburg, the event has continued to carve out a handsome spot in the region’s sporting landscape. This is especially true since Valspar came on board as title sponsor in the fall of 2013. The first tournament at Innisbrook under the Valspar banner was held in March 2014, three years before the paints and coatings company was acquired by Sherwin-Williams in 2017, which only increased brand awareness.
“They understand how to leverage this tournament in a very positive way for their brand, not only through building their brand presence but also through the benefit to this community,” said West, who has served as tournament director since Valspar of Pro Links Sports, a professional golf tournament management company that she co-founded three decades ago. “When they started out as title sponsor, not many people knew what Valspar was. This tournament really changed that. They have learned to love and appreciate what this means for their business.”
Although Sherwin-Williams and its brands, including Valspar, are headquartered in Cleveland and the latter has offices in Minneapolis and Chicago, the commitment that has been driven over the past decade, particularly by Valspar, since coming on board is the embrace the Tampa Bay area while building a successful partnership with the West staff and everyone else involved.
“Even though Valspar and Sherwin-Williams aren’t based in Tampa Bay, we really wanted to be a part of the community and show the community our commitment and appreciation for everything they do with this tournament throughout the year,” said Sarah Hackney, who works primarily on the Valspar brand as a senior marketing manager at Sherwin-William. “Pro Links Sports is a great extension of our brand, which is extremely helpful. The partnership is great.”
Valspar’s event slogan is “The Most Colorful PGA Tour Tournament On Earth”. That’s not because former NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski will be spending St. Patrick’s Day at a new rooftop vantage point next to the 18th hole, although that could be the case. Rather, guests traversing the grounds of the Copperhead course, including the Snake Pit (holes 16-18), while observing Burns, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Luke Donald and the rest of an appealing field, literally see the day through Exhibitions and exhibitions are illuminated markers displaying the company’s many colorful offerings.
“We try to keep our branding fun and memorable for fans and players,” Hackney said. “We try to bring the fun closer to the fans in a colorful and unique way.”
While West and her staff run the event, non-profit organization Copperhead Charities, Inc. operates the tournament. The Copperheads are a group of more than 200 Tampa Bay area business leaders and corporations who have supported charities in the area through professional golf since 1977. Ronde Barber, a member of the Pro Football of Fame’s Class of 2023, is in his ninth year on the Copperheads’ board of directors and in his second year as general chair. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defenseman has helped oversee a dedicated group that has offered unwavering support.
“The partnership has been invaluable in the growth of the tournament,” said Barber, who will have a day in his honor on March 16 – the Ronde Barber Appreciation Day – and will host a 5K race that will take place on March 12 Having a great golf course helps, but the reality is that the momentum of the tournament and the inertia that has built up since our title sponsor came on board has helped us get more sponsors and at the same time increase our donations. It has only gotten better every year.”
Since the tournament began, the Copperheads have raised $50 million for a group of charities that now numbers more than 80.
“Our work continues to improve and our reach continues to grow,” Barber said. “Our tournament has grown and it certainly helps that our title sponsor is 100 percent behind it. This has allowed us to form many partnerships with individuals and companies in the region.”
The economic impact of the tournament is also being felt across the region. West noted that a study by the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business found that Valspar generates 22,000 hotel room nights in Pinellas County and has an overall economic impact of $50 million to $65 million.
“We know we have an impact on tourism, too,” West said, noting how the Golf Channel and NBC covered the area’s beaches and other attractions over four days of broadcast.
It all makes for one hell of a showcase, thanks to the combined efforts of nearly 2,000 volunteers, the sponsor, the Copperheads, and a dedicated staff.
“The community is really involved from a volunteer standpoint,” West said. “There’s a lot of people in this community who are committed to making this thing happen. Our success begins with Valspar and their investments and the things they do. Kudos to the Copperheads. They all share a passion for golf, give back and understand what this event means to the community.”
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