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Viking Classic’s economic impact resonates around town

When PGA players roll into Mississippi for the Viking Classic Golf Tournament, they will be hoping to ring up birdies. And area business will be hoping to ring up something else — sales.

According to Doug Garner, the tournament’s sales and charity coordinator, the Viking Classic, which will be played September 24-30 at Annandale Golf Course in Madison, annually brings an economic impact of $15-$20 million. With many new events and attractions added to this year’s tournament for the first time, organizers feel the 2007 gallery could be the largest ever. And businesses across the greater Jackson area are eagerly anticipating sharing in the “purse.”

A good barometer to gauge just how many visitors may be headed to the tournament is hotel bookings, and most area hoteliers contacted, especially those located in North Jackson and up toward Madison/Ridgeland and Canton areas, report a healthy up-tick in reservations. Five hotels in those areas reported brisk business.

“We have seen reservations increase in the past, and we’re seeing the same thing this year,” says Katie Robinson of the Fairfield Inn by Marriott-Jackson located on I-55 North.

Lindsay Hamm, director of sales at Hilton Garden Inn of Madison, says, “The Hilton Garden Inn Madison is looking forward to a great week with high occupancies during the Viking Classic Classic. We are fortunate to be working with Viking Range Corporation and to have such a great event in Madison.”

Mende Malouf of the Old Capitol Inn says her bed and breakfast has not seen an increase in reservations. Located in downtown Jackson, she feels the inn is a little too far from Annandale for visitors. That is not to say that Old Capitol Inn ignores the tournament’s gallery. In the past, she has worked the tournament, marketing the inn in the hopes of luring those visitors should they return to the area.

With all these increased bookings, retailers and restaurateurs are expecting a bump in sales. Melinda McLaurin, marketing director of Highland Village in Jackson, says the shopping complex definitely feels the impact of the tournament each year.

“Yes, we do see an increase in traffic, and our restaurants have really seen an increase in diners,” she says

Eye catching

In addition to the dollars-and-cents impact of the tournament, it also provides an opportunity to promote not only the area but the state to the fans, players and media. It’s a captive audience the tourism industry finds attractive indeed.

Jo Ann Gordon, executive director of the Canton Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), says, “The Canton Convention and Visitors Bureau supports the Viking Golf Classic to the area in offering unique shopping, dining and lodging for the visitors. We are proud to be in Madison County where such an esteemed event such as this takes place.”

“The Viking Classic is a premier annual event for our metro area, and is very important to our tourism product in that it is the only regular PGA Tour event in the state,” says Mara Hartmann, spokesperson for the Jackson CVB. “It attracts a lot of attention from the media and the public, and gives us a great opportunity to showcase our Southern city and to introduce it to people who many not know much about us.”

The Jackson CVB is a longtime sponsor of the Viking Classic, and is again in 2007. But its efforts do not stop there. It provides personnel for registration assistance at the tournament, and will have a booth there to promote the greater Jackson area’s events and attractions.

The state also casts a hungry eye on the throng that gathers at Annandale. The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) is a major sponsor of the 2007 edition of the tournament, and its Tourism Division works the crowd each year to spotlight Mississippi’s attractions, events and quality of life.

One quality-of-life component the state has promoted extensively of late is Mississippi’s golf industry. And since some of the state’s highest-rated and most-played golf courses are owned and operated by casinos, the MDA’s more recent marketing efforts have often focused simultaneously on golf and gaming.

“Golf travelers are discovering Mississippi offers great golf, great gaming and much more,” says D. Craig Ray, MDA Tourism Division director. “Mississippi has worked hard to entice avid golf-and-gaming travelers to visit our great state, because we knew if we got them here once, they would come back.”

Ray points to rising sales figures from the state’s golfing industry as proof the efforts have been effective. According to data supplied by the MDA, Mississippi public golf course sales in fiscal year 2006 were approximately $16.2 million, yielding tax revenue of $642,726. The earliest figures supplied are from fiscal year 1993. That year, sales were approximately $3.83 million and the tax revenue was $267,863.

A cause for playing

While all Mississippians feel the trickle-down effect of the Viking Classic, the state’s most needy citizens are perhaps the biggest beneficiaries. One important component of all PGA events is charitable giving, and the Viking Classic is no exception.

Birdies For Charity is a fundraising program for any 501(c)3 charity, church or school. It is designed to give participating charities the opportunity to generate contributions for their organization based on the number of birdies made by the PGA Tour players during the Viking Classic.

At press time, 75 charities had signed on as participants. Garner says that number should grow in the weeks just before the Viking Classic, and expected this year’s number of participating charities and nonprofits to surpass last year’s.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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