Bob Gillespie



PGA 2012: Kiawah’s Ocean Course set for short- and long-term financial gain

Posted 12/1/2011 11:01:00 AM

With about nine months to go before the 2012 PGA Championship comes to Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, and with more than 95 percent of all tickets already sold, it’s easy to say now that South Carolina’s first men’s major is set to be a stunning success, both aesthetically and – as important – financially.

But nearly a decade ago, when Kiawah Island Resort president (and PGA 2012 general chairman) Roger Warren first conceived of bringing the tournament to his relatively isolated resort and its Pete Dye-designed golf course, there were more questions than answers about the economic feasibility of hosting such an event.

“Coming into this environment, we knew we had to look at the way business had been done in the past, and create a new model,” Warren said. “(Charleston is) a new market, a smaller market than a lot of (past) majors.

“We knew we had to create a product to appeal to people in this market.”

So far, the numbers say they have done just that.

Daily tickets for three of four tournament rounds (Friday-Sunday) are sold out, leaving only practice-round tickets ($45 Monday and Tuesday, $60 Wednesday) and Thursday’s first- round tickets ($110). Week-long tickets to the Wanamaker Club also have sold out.

And corporate buyers have bought up all allotted hospitality space at the course’s 18th hole, while all but a handful of corporate packages at the par-3 17th, perhaps the Ocean Course’s best-known hole from the 1991 Ryder Cup, are also already sold.

“In my 10 years (with the PGA), we’ve never sold as much (corporate seats) this far out,” championship director Brett Sterba says. “This will be the first time we’ve had a sellout a year out from the event.”

What does it all mean? Experts from the College of Charleston’s school of business predict an economic impact of $92 million. By comparison, the largest economic impact listed for the PGA Championship from 2000-2008, according to PGA of America studies, was $76 million at Whistling Straits, Wis., in 2004.

And, Warren says, add to that number another $26 million in jobs generation, plus an “exposure impact,” pegged at $75 million, for South Carolina, Charleston and Kiawah from multi-media coverage. The tournament will have 154 hours of live coverage (TV and Internet) going into 540 million households in more than 200 countries around the world.

“The long-term benefit is the exposure we get,” Warren says. “People will be talking about this forever.

“We know that to this day, the 1991 Ryder Cup has been a driving memory and force for people to want to come to this area, particularly to the Ocean Course. They want to see the place where that great event took place. I expect the same thing to happen with this PGA.”

While tickets have been sold in 47 states – “that says a lot about Kiawah and South Carolina as a golf destination,” Sterba says – 78 percent of attendees will be from South Carolina, with 60 percent of those coming from more than 50 miles from Charleston. Apparently, hosting a major golf championship has created a statewide “pride of ownership” and a feeling this once-in-a-lifetime event is not to be missed.

As for logistics: Some 18,000-20,000 spectators each day will ride buses from a 15,000-car parking lot at the entrance to the island, or from pickup sites in Charleston. Those buses will offer on-board videos – featuring tournament highlights, tips where to watch and weather reports – to entertain and inform during the 20-minute trip.

“We’ve planned how to get people to and from the golf course as efficiently, and pleasurably, as possible,” Sterba says.

Warren’s “new model” also will be in evidence at the 17th and 18th holes, where multi-level tent “villas” (air-conditioned at 18, open-air at 17) will house not just high-dollar spectators, but also food and beverage services.

“We decided to put all our corporate hospitality on a golf hole, not off the hole” in separate tents, Warren said. “The people there are in the action, able to see it,” rather than having to move from tents to course, or watch via TV.

For “regular” spectators, the 17th hole will have a grassed amphitheater viewing area behind the green. “Knowing the history there, I think the 17th will be where 90 percent of spectators go first,” Sterba said. Misting stations and seating at on-course concession stands will mitigate the expected August heat.

With nearly a year to go before the first shot is struck, little wonder that Warren and Sterba feel confident they will host not only a great tournament, but one that will pay dividends for decades to come.

“From a state perspective, this is a great opportunity to let other people know what we already know: We’re a great place to do business, to travel, and more people need to know that,” Warren said.

“We have this opportunity to let the world know it. And I don’t think we’ll miss on that opportunity.”