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Harlingen: The Best of Texas for Less

31 Aug, 2009

By: Andrea Johnson

For the best of Texas and delicious international flavor at an incredible value, consider Harlingen for your next sporting event.

Located at the southernmost tip of Texas in the heart of theRio Grande Valley, Harlingen offers a subtropical climate with fabulous weather year-round. It's probably one of the few places in the U.S. that can confidently host an outdoor international soccer tournament with more than 100 teams in December, a 100-mile bike race at the beginning of February followed by a nationally-renowned amateur golf invitational in March. When temperatures climb later inthe year, cool sea breezes keep sweltering heat in check, as Harlingen is just a few miles from the ocean.

"Not only do we offer the perfect climate, we're the perfect destination for event planners who are sensitive to today's economic situation," says Nydia Tapia Gonzales, executivedirector of the Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Few people these days can attend a sporting event and go on vacation as well. In Harlingen, you can easily combine both."

Continental, Southwest Airlines, Frontier and Sun Country airlines offer direct flights to Harlingen, andjust a short drive away are:

  • The legendary white-sand beaches of South Padre Island. This spring-break paradise features the gamut of seaside fun – boating, fishing, world-class water parks, lively nightlife, restaurants, shopping and more.

  • Mexico. Who thought visiting another country for the day could be so easy and carefree?

  • The World Birding Center, attracting the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth. Harlingen is its gateway with aquiet wooded retreat connected by the Arroyo waterway, as well as hike-and-bike trails.

  • Brownsville, which is home to the Gladys Porter Zoo. Featuring 26 acres of lush tropical plants and some 1,600 animals, this zoo is known for its success in breeding endangered species.

     

Located about four hours away are San Antonio and Austin. But when it comes to the cost of hosting sporting events, they're worlds apart.

"In comparison with larger cities, Harlingen is very affordable," says Jeff Lyssy, Parks & Recreation director for the City of Harlingen. "Hotel rates are very much below what you'd find in Austin and San Antonio – they're at least 20 percent cheaper. And we have fabulous locally owned and operated restaurants where you can enjoy a full meal and beverage for around $6. Most importantly, we're a very pro-sports community, and as such wecan draw upon hundreds of dedicated volunteers whose interests range from soccer to softball to golf to cycling," continued Lyssy.

"Oftentimes, people will open their homes to participants, spend the day at concession stands, attend parking, take tickets, and even host dinners, parties and hospitality suites," points out Gonzales. "All of this volunteerism can add up to significant savings for event planners; they don't have to hire as many people."

An example of exceptional volunteerism at work is the Jalapeno 100 Ride, Run, Walk. For the past two decades, the Jalapeno 100 has been a completely volunteer-run event. "This is, without a doubt, one of the biggest, most-anticipated events in the Rio Grande Valley," says Kelly Roberts, Jalapeno 100 chair and coordinator. "Our volunteers are ultra-dedicated, oftentimes working around the clock to ensure everything runs smoothly. They make the course fun and memorable, keeping cyclists smiling mile after mile with themed water stations and Burma-shave signs scattered across the course."

It's no wonder the event attracts more than 500 riders from across Texas, the nation, and even Canada and Mexico.

"I've been coordinating this event since the beginning, and every year I hear about how very friendly and nice everyone is here," says Roberts. "In Harlingen, we genuinely appreciate our visitors and you'll notice that immediately in the warmth of everyone you meet."

It helps that Harlingen isn't a sprawling metropolis; you can drive from one end of Harlingen to another in just 10 minutes. "We definitely have small-town warmth with big-city services and amenities," points out Gonzales.

This includes facilities like the:

Wilson Sports Complex
Even though the Wilson Sports Complex is only a few years old, when PONY (Protect Our Nation's Youth) softball was considering hosting their national tournament inHarlingen, the City of Harlingen secured their business by adding an additional four to the existing eight lit fields.

"Everyone from the mayor to the city commissioners to the city manager bent over backwards to bring the tournament to Harlingen; the attention they paid to our needswas exceptional. I doubt we would have received such an impressive amount of cooperation in a larger city," says John Brown, regional director for the PONY baseball and softball league. "Furthermore,Harlingen is one of the few areas where baseball and softball leagues work together; people go out of their way to help you."

Harlingen Soccer Complex
This new state-of –the-art soccer complex boasts of 10 regulation-size fields, with six of them lit. Two championship fields at the front of the complex are lit with higher foot candles for those intense final matches. For those who don't play soccer, but want to get a good run or walk in, a 1.2 mile trail winds around the complex. With 650 parking spaces, covered pavilions, irrigation ponds, and a concession stand, the Harlingen Soccer Complex provides everything for a successful tournament. In December, its premier event was an international soccer tournament with 100 teams from across the United States and Mexico. "The proximity to Mexico makes Harlingen the ideal place to host international soccer events," notes Lyssy.

HEB Tennis Center
The HEB TennisCenter features 14 tennis courts, but it is under renovation and is expected to re-open in March of 2010.

Golf Courses
Harlingen's exceptional weather makesit a golf haven year-round, and home to one of the nation's top amateur invitationals – the Life Begins at 40 Golf Tournament, which celebrates its 58th year.

"If you're hosting a golf tournament and want to keep costs low, Harlingen should be at the top of your list," says Steve Hollon, coordinator of the event. "Furthermore, we're very golf-oriented here and have successfully hosted some important tournaments over the years, like the LPGA and Pan-Am Classics."

Harlingen's courses include the Harlingen Country Club, Tony Butler Municipal Golf Course, Treasure Hills Country Club, Cottonwood XXI and Stuart Place Country Club.

"I think it's unusual for a city of our size to have such an impressive array of sporting facilities," says Gonzales. "It helps that our community is so heavily sports-oriented and it helps that we're smaller. We can pay very special attention to the sports events that come to town and give exceptional service they'll never find in a larger city. The Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau will work hand-in-hand with them toensure the best event. That translates into fabulous opportunities for organizations that want to host a sporting event for less effort and less money, and, most importantly, want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their participants will have the time of their lives."

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