Barbasol Championship to make big economic impact in Lee County

Barbasol Championship to make big economic impact in Lee County
Barbasol PGA Championship is underway through July 23. (Alabama NewsCenter/file)

WESTLAKE, OH – JUNE 14: Patton Kizzire watches his tee shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Web.com Tour Rust-Oleum Championship at the Lakewood Country Club on June 14, 2015 in Westlake, Ohio. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Auburn-Opelika area is expected to benefit from a $25 million economic boost this month, thanks to the Barbasol Championship. The PGA TOUR’s first event in Alabama – a premiere domestic tournament featuring top players including several major winners – will be held July 13-19 at the Lake Course at the Grand National site along the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

The field is made up of 132 professional golfers – with many names recognizable to golf fans, including David Toms, Stuart Appleby, Lee Janzen and Mike Wier. These players will be competing for $4 million in prize money, and the event will draw more than 50,000 fans throughout tournament week.

Local officials are understandably excited about a prestigious event of this size.

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA - MARCH 07: Patton Kizzire of the United States waits to putt on the 2nd green during the third round of the Cartagena de Indias at Karibana Championship at the TPC Cartagena at Karabana on March 7 2015 in Cartagena, Colombia.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA – MARCH 07: Patton Kizzire of the United States waits to putt on the 2nd green during the third round of the Cartagena de Indias at Karibana Championship at the TPC Cartagena at Karabana on March 7 2015 in Cartagena, Colombia. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

“I’m convinced that the absolute crown jewel of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is Grand National, which happens to be located in Opelika,” Mayor Gary Fuller said. “We look forward to welcoming the PGA Tour and Barbasol.”

Many others are also included in this welcome.

“You’ve got a pretty good crowd just with the players and their caddies,” Fuller said. Add to that the tour officials, organizers and several hundred volunteers.

“There will be a lot of folks involved in either playing or running the tournament.”

Impact beyond the golf course

Then take the fans into account.

“I think 50,000 is a conservative estimate,” Fuller said of projected attendance. As for the economic impact of $25 million, he added, “That’s of course more than just the hotels.” Those here participating, organizing, facilitating or watching will eat in restaurants, fill gasoline tanks and shop in local stores.

John Wild, who heads the Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau, points out that the week of the event tells only part of the economic impact. Much has already taken place in the buildup, including work on the course, people arriving for planning meetings, and contractors coming in to prepare the infrastructure.

“That’s the preamble for the tournament that we’re going to see,” Wild said.

He said that his organization has been helping match up different needs to hotel rooms. For starters, the players and their families are in one hotel, the caddies are in another, and the manufacturers and equipment personnel are in another. He noted anecdotally that they helped place electricians who had arrived weeks earlier. “Somebody like that’s living in our community for a month,” Wild said.

Importantly, Wild added, “Not everybody will check out on that last day.”

The volunteer infastructure

Though the community is very familiar with large sporting events at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Wild said, “There’s a whole infrastructure that’s much larger than what I have seen.”

He has been particular impressed with the size and scope of volunteering and the organizational structure in place to fill these slots. “I was shocked at the depth of the service that is needed for an event like this,” he said.

Wild cited as an example the fact that the PGA Tour’s ShotLink scoring system requires three to five people on each hole each day using a laser pointer to collect statistics on player shots. Volunteering is “a lot more technical” than for other events he’s seen, Wild said.

Though the tournament is officially located in Opelika, Auburn is fully connected to the event as well. Auburn’s Mayor Bill Ham said he and Mayor Fuller were both thrilled that the PGA Tour event would be highlighting Lee County.

“Both of our economic development departments are involved, and hundreds of volunteers,” Mayor Ham said. “We see it as a great opportunity to showcase both of our cities.”

The tournament will be televised live on the Golf Channel all four official tournament days. Barbasol, known as “America’s #1 shaving cream,” is the title sponsor of the event.

“From our perspective, we want as many people here watching,” Wild said. “We love that they can see it on TV, but we want them here on a personal basis to interact with those golfers.” Hotel rooms are still available, he noted.

Get more information on the Barbasol Championship here.

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