County shoots for the green

Howard officials use Senior PGA event as development tool

July 04, 1999|By Zanto Peabody | Zanto Peabody,SUN STAFF

During an ESPN broadcast of the second annual State Farm Senior PGA Classic golf tournament in Columbia this weekend, hush-voiced announcers proclaimed to viewers nationwide that they were coming "live from the Washington, D.C., area" and sometimes "between Washington and Baltimore."

To Howard County officials, ESPN is missing the point. For them, the name game is the essence of the off-the-course play.

They're using the tournament at Hobbit's Glen -- which ends today -- to promote economic development. For the second year, Howard County joined corporations such as Pepsi-Cola and Brita in the high-dollar, soft-sell game of pro golf marketing.

"We market this to two different types of businesses -- those who are already growing and prosperous in Howard County and those prospective businesses that are on the verge of making a decision," said Richard W. Story, Howard County Economic Development Authority executive director.

Story shared a county-financed $18,000 box suite with representatives from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Bell Atlantic. He also used the opportunity to show off Columbia's sporting side to dealmakers from Ohmeda Medical, a baby-incubator manufacturer considering adding a 120,000-square-foot facility to its operations in Howard County.

"We were in Boston recently, visiting biotechnology companies," Story said. "I invited the people we talked to there. None of them came, but they know we got [the tournament].

"It's the intangible benefit of the tournament. It says we're a major league community that can host an event like this."

The real green

Last year, the inaugural year for the tournament, 93,000 fans attended and brought about $15 million in revenue to the area, according to Senior PGA figures. The winner of the tournament bags about $180,000 of the $1.5 million purse, but the real green for Howard County and the Baltimore area is in the stands.

Corporate chiefs from companies such as Cadillac and 7-Up -- some of whom paid $2,500 to play alongside a tournament pro in the Pro-Am tourney and up to $100,000 for prime seating -- rub elbows with each other within sales-pitch-shouting distance of Howard County's economic development director, county planner and recreation and parks director. The Columbia-based tournament directors also bring together many of the people they are approaching about sponsoring other major sporting events in the area.

Lee Corrigan, tournament co-founder and director, said the nonprofit Fore Baltimore Foundation and its for-profit arm Emcee Sports -- hosts of the tournament -- have a Baltimore marathon in the works next. Corrigan and Fore Baltimore partner John Mathews have more golf work to do, though, before the marathon gets off and running.

Looking to the future

When the foundation's three-year sponsorship deal with State Farm closes next year, so do deals with ESPN and Hobbit's Glen. Corrigan said the tournament is eyeing land in Howard County to build a course with modern amenities. When the current course was built more than two decades ago, it did not need a layout for automated teller machines, portable television studios or more skyboxes.

The top-dollar seats offer a prime view of the 18th hole at Hobbit's Glen. Twenty-three skyboxes in a semicircle are all that could fit at the final hole, Corrigan said. The contours of the course keep the gallery standing beyond the skyboxes from seeing the hole, putting a cap on how much money the tournament can earn.

`A little in the red'

"Yeah, right now we're operating a little in the red," Corrigan said, "but I've learned things that will help us next year at this course and help us if we move to a new course."

For example, while watching the Kemper Open, Corrigan saw a new way to sell medium-priced VIP tickets.

Across from the Howard County seats, George Dardamanis and his brother Christos, both of DPI Solutions in Hunt Valley, clutched plastic cups of beer in each hand under a skybox awning before taking trips to the complimentary Outback Steakhouse buffet.

They had discovered the essence of pro golf, at least the off-the-course game.

The Dardamanises and partner Matthew Deets were guests of the Baltimore Business Journal.

`They remember it'

"When you set somebody up with nice seats like this," Christos Dardamanis said, "they appreciate it and they remember it."

Howard County officials hope so.

"The success of this tournament," said Howard County Chamber of Commerce President Mike Riemer, "is a feather in the hat of Howard County."

Pub Date: 7/04/99

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