As the PGA-sanctioned 2017 Wells Fargo Championship prepares to come to Eagle Point Golf Club in Porters Neck next May, businesses and other members of the community gathered at the Wilmington Business Journal Power Breakfast Tuesday morning to hear officials speak about how it could impact the Wilmington area.
The point stressed by the four panelists who spoke was capitalizing on the exposure the region would get before and during the weeklong event (three days of practice rounds, four days of competition) and turning it into a long-term economic benefit.
“We take pride in the fact that it’s become one of the largest and most prestigious events in the Carolinas,” said Wells Fargo Regional President Kendall Alley. “It annually draws many of the world’s top golfers and brings … unprecedented exposure with tens of thousands coming [to the area].”
According to tournament officials, in addition to the thousands of visitors coming to town (they’re expecting about 30,000 spectators to be on the golf course each day), the event will be broadcast to over 900 million households worldwide.
“Obviously the event will be a short-term event for our tourism industry, but if we do it right, we have the opportunity for long-term economic growth,” Alley said.
Connie Majure-Rhett, the director of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
“We have never had this kind of exposure before, “ said Majure-Rhett, noting that local tourism officials are looking into what kind of advertising and marketing can be done to promote the Cape Fear region. “That visibility we need to capture is so important.”
Alley said Wilmington was chosen over other courses in San Francisco, Minnesota and Atlanta, among others, in part because of the connections Eagle Point Golf Club has with golf pros, but mostly because of its location.
“This was a Carolinas-based event, and most importantly, we wanted to keep it in the area,” Alley said. “What a great location to do it. It’s something fresh and new.”
There has not been a PGA event in the area since the 1971 Azalea Open at Cape Fear Country Club. As a result, it is unclear what specific things local businesses and organizations can do to take full advantage of the exposure.
“You ask what you can do – we’re not sure yet,” said Majure-Rhett. “We’re all looking at pieces of the pie as to what we can do to help the business community. We’re working on having a long-term plan in place so people don’t forget Wilmington after it’s over.”
While there are strategic issues that need to be worked on, one of the biggest concerns is the logistics of the event. Parking and getting people up to the golf course, which lies in a residential area in Porters Neck, is particularly problematic.
“We’re going to keep as many cars off Porters Neck Road as we can,” said Wells Fargo Championship Executive Director Kym Hougham, who said they were still in the “infant stage” of logistics planning. “Most everybody is going to be shuttled, but that is not unusual [for golf events] in this day and age.”
It is unclear where people will be able to park and ride shuttles. Many visitors are expected to be downtown, where several new hotels, including an Embassy Suites next to the convention center that recently had its groundbreaking, are currently being built or are in the planning stages. Some panelists mentioned AirBnbs and short-term rentals, which are currently being examined to see if they are acceptable under City of Wilmington ordinances.
Another big aspect of the Wells Fargo Championship are their contributions to charity. Education is a big recipient of their donations in Charlotte, and local education efforts will also reap the benefits of having the golf event here.
“All the charitable contributions will remain in this area,” Hougham said to a loud round of applause. He also added that due to Wilmington’s unique location near major military bases, officials are also looking to donate money to military and veterans’ causes.
As the greater Wilmington area starts to prepare for the major sporting event, ground work has already begun at Eagle Point, more than a year before PGA golfers will tee off. According to Eagle Point Golf Club President Bobby Long, they’ve brought the course’s original designer, Tom Fazio, to make the necessary adjustments.
“We had to put some length in,” said Long, saying some trees had to be taken out and some tees set back on the par-72 course. “We had to put some teeth into the golf course.”
Long said he and his staff are doing their best and giving an “A++” effort to make the facility the best they can and hopefully entice big name players and other tournaments to come back. He and the other panelists challenged locals to also take advantage of the global spotlight in whatever way they can.
“It’s up to the community to make sure this is our event and put our spin on it,” said Majure-Rhett.
“You’ve got that one minute to shine – shine!” Long said.