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PGA Championship: One Course, Years of Planning, Millions in Impact

12 Aug, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Sports planning professionals already know great events don’t come together in the snap of a finger. And while those same professionals may covet the exposure, the clout – and let’s be honest, the economic impact – of a big-name event, it’s an equation that involves time, manpower and a huge amount of planning. And the bigger the event is, the more lead time, manpower, etc., are needed.

 Case in point: the PGA Championship heading for Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin.

Whistling Straits, recognized as one of the most difficult public courses in America, is a masterpiece of design by renowned course creator Pete Dye. The visually beautiful (but intimidating) facility offers two courses – the PGA-level Straits and the challenging, but more accessible Irish.  In addition to the upcoming PGA Championship, Whistling Straits has hosted the 2004 and 2010 PGA events and the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, and it is the site of the 2020 Ryder Cup.

Playing host to the PGA Championship for a third time in a little more than a decade has left the business community around Whistling Straits better equipped to capitalize on the event, understanding golfers’ and golf spectators’ hours and needs notes an article in the Sheboygan Press .

As a rule, golf fans rise early, spend the day at Whistling Straits and other than stopping for dinner near their hotel, don't typically go out shopping or sightseeing. (Many non-hospitality local merchants –in previous years had complained they saw no economic impact from the event. The town has since learned the patterns of spectators, course personnel, media and others, and has helped to set realistic expectations.)

All told, the economic impact from major-level golf events is staggering, making them one of the most sought-after events to host. Communities of all size reap enormous benefits.

In 2014, Louisville, Kentucky, hosted the PGA Championship event at Valhalla Golf Club, and were able to anticipate an $85 million to $90 million return on their investment. In a local TV news segment, Karen Williams, director of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she expected to see 250,000 during the week of the championship.

"Where PGA economic impact comes from is the guests coming in, flying in, the restaurants, the attractions. I mean, it's just heavy. All the restaurants will really feel this business," said Williams.

The PGA Championsip event at Whistling Straits expects to have a $100 million impact, according to a recent Forbes article.

Spectators and their usage of the hospitality industry are largely the cause of the direct economic impact at the time of the tournament, but there are plenty of others who come in for ancillary reasons, including tournament personnel.  And plenty of those are needed. Preparations for the event, according to the WBHL report, started two years out. And not just with paperwork, either.

An interview with Kohler Group Director of Golf, Jim Richerson, taken during Media Day prior to the championship at Whistling Straits, detailed the rigorous process of putting on the event. The PGA, Richerson explained, moves in two full years ahead of time, assigning an on-site championship director to oversee every aspect of the tournament.

From the one on-site PGA championship director who came to Sheboygan two years ago, the number of personnel has grown steadily, and now is a crowd that includes 44 volunteer groups numbering 3,400 alone.  Media credentials are expected to mirror the 2014 PGA where over 1,000 print and digital media representatives covered the event.

Large sports events are rarely the result of just one organization; in fact, there are multiple partnerships at work to bring events the size of a PGA Tour championship together. Sports commissions, convention & visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce may take the lead with the governing body, but there are a multitude of others.

In his interview with WHBL-TV, Richerson described three partnerships, one between the Kohler Group and the PGA, and the others with the Sheboygan Chamber of Commerce and Wisconsin Tourism to greet the 40,000 to 50,000 daily attendees using area hotels, restaurants and businesses. He also noted that many of the area’s hotels were already sold out.

The body count coming into town just keeps growing, too, in ways most spectators don’t even guess. Logistical companies that arrange for everything from placement of spectator barricades and presence of course marshals to location of first-aid stations will also play a factor in keeping the event running smoothly, as will any assistance needed from public officials regarding changes in traffic patterns or signals.

Then, of course, there’s media representation to add into the mix. The exact number of media (and their corresponding spend) is difficult to calculate, since they stay in the same hotels and patronize the same eating and drinking establishments as spectators (and PGA personnel, for that matter.)

So they might be invisible, but their influence is not. There is an uptick in tourism that follows any sports event televised nationally, since it entices golfers and their families to come and visit the area, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

And with benefits like that – and so many more – it’s a sure bet PGA championships – as well as other high-profile sports events – will continue to be sought after for hosting privileges.

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