Legion of golf fans create a profit surge for Ozaukee County businesses
Whistling Straits Golf Course in the Sheboygan County town of Haven is far more than a tee shot away from the Ozaukee County line, but businesses throughout the region reaped the benefits of last week’s 97th Professional Golfers Association Championship.
The tournament drew thousands of spectators each day, generating plenty of extra traffic on I-43 and creating a week-long surge in business for hotels, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.
According to organizers, the tournament provided more than 1,000 temporary jobs and is expected to have a regional economic impact of nearly $100 million.
Accommodations from Milwaukee to Manitowoc were highly sought after by out-of-area golf enthusiasts.
Assuming that many of the fans attending the last major tournament of the professional golf season weren’t familiar with the area, the PGA’s website offered a plug for hotels in what it called the Brown Deer/Grafton area — about 40 miles from Whistling Straits.
“If your goal is to be as close to the venue as possible, the hotels in this area will hit the mark,” the online advisory said.
A large contingent of PGA staff members spent the week at the Holiday Inn Harborside in Port Washington, according to Kathy Wilger, the downtown hotel’s director of sales.
“We had people from the PGA here for between four and seven nights, and the food service people who were working the tournament were here for two weeks,” Wilger said.
“The demand for hotel rooms was high from Chicago to Green Bay. Even though we were booked up from Aug. 4 to early this week, every morning the front desk made daily calls to see where rooms were available, so we could let people know their options.”
Wilger said major racing events at Road America in Elkhart Lake have also filled the 96-room hotel.
“It is good for us, but having our rooms full is good for all businesses. When our guests ask where they can go to eat, we ask them what kind of food were they in the mood for. There are so many choices and people really seemed to appreciate being able to walk to any place downtown,” Wilger said.
“I had a number of downtown business people tell me they could tell the golf tournament was going on because there were people with PGA jackets and patches at Harry’s (restaurant).”
Wilger said the booming hotel business benefits the entire community, because guests are charged a room tax that is turned over to the city.
Wilger said national events, such as the PGA tournament, also introduce a lot of people to the charms of the area.
“I heard a number of our guests say they planned on coming back with their wives,” she said.
Lisa Crivello, executive director of the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce, said the golf fans visiting the town seemed to follow a different clock.
“My observation for last week was that we had many visitors, but they were here either first thing in the morning before they went to the PGA or they came later in the day after coming back,” Crivello said.
“Everyone who stopped in seemed to be enjoying themselves and having a good time.”
Popular dining spots, such as the Charcoal Grill in Grafton, also saw a tournament windfall.
“It didn’t have much impact during the day, maybe 10%. But at night, when everyone was going home, we probably saw our business double during the week,” said Gregg Andersen, restaurant manager.
“We were prepared for the extra business, being located right off the interstate, and had extra staff on hand. We love these kinds of events.”
While the professionals had the Pete Dye-designed Whistling Straits to themselves — and their gallery of cheering fans — golf enthusiasts also flocked to many area courses to see if they were up to their own fairway challenges.
“I don’t have the exact numbers, but we did see a lot more golfers all week,” said Andrew Hein, who works at the pro shop at Fire Ridge Golf Course in the Town of Grafton.
“I know several courses in the area had an up-charge on their rates because the demand was so high, but we offered special rates to play on the high interest in the PGA.”
The course also asked golfers if they were in the area because of the tournament, and where they were from.
“We had people from all over,” Hein said. “Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. They all said what great shape the course was in and how much they loved playing it.”
Whistling Straits and its surrounding communities also made a favorable impression on PGA officials, according to Wilger.
She was told a return visit is likely a few years down the road.
Imgae information: WHILE THRONGS OF golf fans headed to Whistling Straits Golf Course last week to watch the 97th PGA Championship, there was plenty of business spillover in Ozaukee County. Most local hotels and restaurants did better-than-usual business, and even area golf courses felt the benefits. Above, Tom Grabow of Grafton, who got some practice in Tuesday at Fire Ridge Golf Course, said he passed up the opportunity to go to the tournament because of the heat. Still, many visitors who did spend the week at the pro tournament also tested their golf skills on the Town of Grafton course. Photo by Mark Jaeger