PGA Championship to Drive $75 Million into Wisconsin Economy

By WisBusiness staff

HAVEN — Wisconsin’s enthusiastic reception for the 86th PGA Championship this August at the heralded Whistling Straits course complex on Lake Michigan is helping to make it one of the most anticipated sporting — and economic development — events in this area’s history.

There’s business in golf, and it’s much more than the deals and relationships forged on the course. That’s why state and local officials are eagerly cooperating with the PGA and course owner Kohler Co. to make the internationally televised tournament a success. And that’s part of the reason Kohler Co. chief Herb Kohler and Gov. Jim Doyle were part of the media day hype Monday at Whistling Straits, just north of Sheboygan and Kohler.

Kohler, whose passion for golf and friendship with designer Pete Dye led to the creation of two windswept links course at the site, cited the “raw enthusiasm” of Wisconsin golfers and the “tremendous support” of the Doyle administration in the years-long planning for the Aug. 9-15 event. Kohler said daily tickets sold out in two days (83 percent from Wisconsinites) and a record 52 corporate tents have been sold; in additions, volunteer applications slots flowed in — thousands more than the available slots. The Doyle administration, in addition to engineering traffic flow and control, is promoting the tournament and golf in general through the Golf Wisconsin program, which promotes junior and family golf as well as play on courses for the serious students of the game

The PGA Championship, which will draw some 300,000 people to Wisconsin’s “golf coast” this summer, is estimated to generate some $75 million. And then there are the favorable impressions to be made on a TV audience estimated to be 371 million viewers. Doyle, an avid golfer who played Monday, said it’s all part of an effort to tell the world “what a great place Wisconsin is to play golf, raise a family and do business.”

The tournament will take place on the Straits course, which will measure nearly 7,600 yards at par 72, making it the longest in golf major history. The walking-only course just opened in 1999, highlighting Kohler’s fairly recent — and successful — entry into the golf business. The company, known for making quality plumbing and other products, now runs an internationally known golf resort boasting four top Dye-designed courses.

The media day press conference took place in an open-air barn-like stone shelter, which allowed a view of the dunes, sand traps and high grasses that will test the world’s best golfers like they’ve never been tested before. One former PGA Tour player, TV commentator Bobby Clampett, offered that if the wind blew like it did Monday, the winning golfer would register “double-digit over par” after four rounds. Defending champ Shaun Micheel attested to the difficulty after his round of 77. “I don’t think Bobby’s out on a limb at all,” Micheel said, adding that if the wind doesn’t blow hard, the winner still likely would end up with a winning score of about 6 over par.

One area legislator, state Rep. Robert Ziegelbauer, D-Manitowoc, who carries a 4 handicap, calls the economic development promise a “first in a lifetime opportunity to make an impression on 300,000 people, many of who are going to be corporate high rollers” who probably will say “I didn’t think Wisconsin looked like this.”

Said Ziegelbauer, “We’re going to wrap our arms around them and make a good impression.” One of the extras will be a Saturday night tournament weekend concert at a Manitowoc park featuring Hootie & the Blowfish.

Ziegelbauer said he thinks the economic impact will be more than $75 million. “It’s like having a Super Bowl every day for a week,” he said, adding that hotel rooms in the region already are booked and that homes are being rented.

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