Clemson, USCB to study Heritage's economic effect on Lowcountry

dburley@islandpacket.comApril 13, 2014 

A golf course worker manicures the storied 18th green of Harbour Town Golf Links on Thursday as preparations continue for the annual RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament. The festivities begin at the 18th green today with the tournament's opening ceremony.

JAY KARR — (Hilton Head) Island Packet — staff photo

— A study planned for this week’s RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing will shed light on the economic punch the PGA Tour event brings to Hilton Head Island.

With two years left on contracts with tournament sponsors RBC and Boeing, such information could be critical to brokering a new deal, tournament officials and study organizers say.

“With this, we’ll be able to glean what demographics, what kind of people come to the tournament,” said John Salazar, a professor of hospitality management at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. “And that’s a picture many companies are interested in knowing.” Salazar is one of two academics leading the study.

More than 40 students from USCB and Clemson University will greet fans at this week’s tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links armed with iPads. The surveyors will ask questions to paint a more detailed picture of the types of visitors who come to the tournament.

They’ll find out where the visitors are from, how much they make, how long they visit, and — most important to tournament sponsors — how much money they bring to the area.

The figures will not include spending by Beaufort County residents or the players, caddies, agents, their families, media, major sponsors, vendors, club manufacturers or tour officials.

With the information, Clemson professor Bob Brookover and his graduate students can calculate the financial effect of the event, he said. “We can get down to specifics ... but everyone wants to see that one number,” said Brookover, the director of Clemson University’s International Institute for Tourism Research & Development.

Four years ago, that number was $81.9 million. Though it was down slightly from an overall $84 million impact in 2005, it was enough to impress potential sponsors courted by the nonprofit Heritage Classic Foundation, which runs the tournament.

The 2011 Heritage was played without a title sponsor, but the foundation signed deals later that year with sponsors to help keep the tournament on the island. Those sponsorships, which provide funding essential to put on the tournament, expire in 2016.

“(The economic study) was a wonderful way for us to sell the event,” said Angela McSwain, the tournament’s marketing director. “When we were searching for that title sponsor, information from previous economic studies was key.”

McSwain said the survey has other uses. For example, she tailors her marketing campaigns to the areas where most visitors are from, such as the Upstate, Atlanta and Ohio.

Brookover hopes to collect 1,600 to 1,800 responses, he said. He plans to have preliminary results completed by June. Though this is his fifth time leading the survey, he’s reluctant to predict results.

Asked if he thinks tournament revenue will surpass 2010 figures, Brookover said: “It did pretty well then, and that was near the bottom of the recession, so I think it has a good shot.”

New security requirements for Heritage: The following new security rules will be in force at this week’s Heritage, according to marketing director Angela McSwain: • Security personnel will screen all spectators at tournament checkpoints, including the shuttle-bus parking lots, the main entrance and several golf-course access points. • No bags larger than a 6-by-6-inch purse are allowed. That includes carrying cases, backpacks, camera bags or portable chair bags. Prohibited items are not allowed on shuttle buses or at Harbour Town Golf Links. Clear plastic or vinyl bags smaller than 12-by-6 inches are allowed. • Tickets and badges must be displayed from lanyards at all times. Security officers will check to make sure everyone on the golf course is wearing a tournament badge or ticket. Source: PGA Tour

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