In the swing of things

Golf course, businesses keep last year's lessons in mind as they prepare for contest

June 04, 2006|By REBECCA LOGAN | REBECCA LOGAN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

This year, Dan Lee is ready

He vividly recalls pro golfer Natalie Gulbis sauntering into his restaurant in Havre de Grace last June and chiding him about the decor.

"I was showing her around and she asked, `Where's all your LPGA stuff?'" said Lee, owner of McGregor's Restaurant. "She said, `Next year when I come in, I expect there to be LPGA on the wall.'"

Now the tavern at his restaurant features a wall with golf hats and a menu autographed by players, and some photos, including one of Gulbis.

With the McDonald's LPGA Championship returning to Bulle Rock Golf Course this week, Lee's redecorating is just one of the many examples of changes - on and off the course - inspired by lessons learned from last year's maiden go-around hosting a major tournament.

"We've got a year under our belt, so things are a little easier this time around," said Richard D. Rounsaville, general manager and director of golf at Bulle Rock.

About 150 golfers will compete this week for $1.8 million in prize money, with $270,000 going to the winner. Last year Annika Sorenstam, who has more than $18 million in career earnings, won the championship by three shots over Michelle Wie, who at the time was 15 years old.

In the year since, Rounsaville and his staff have focused on finer details such as shrinking the logo on event merchandise (to make it more appealing to women) and making minuscule adjustments to the course landscaping (to offer clearer shots for TV cameras).

Those tweaks come in addition to the myriad compulsory tasks, such as making sure the rough is 3 inches high, in accordance with LPGA standards. Had last month's dry weather persisted, that could have been a problem, Rounsaville said.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association reported that attendance during the week at Bulle Rock last year was 97,500. That topped the turnout at the tournament's previous home in Wilmington, Del. And more than 1 million viewers tuned in for the last two days of the 2005 tournament.

Numbers like that quicken the pulses of residents of Havre de Grace - population about 11,000 - who are involved in preparations for this year's event.

"It's exciting to play a part in something so big," said Amanda Didomenico-McFadden, who owns Amanda's Florist in Havre de Grace and was hired to provide flowers for the event again this year.

With memories of sweltering heat last summer, Didomenico-McFadden is selecting high-endurance blossoms, especially for arrangements headed into corporate hospitality tents set up around the course. Access to the tents comes as part of sponsorship packages that can cost as much as $48,000.

"This is not like the flowers at the Preakness [Stakes]," Didomenico-McFadden said. "Those only have to make it one day."

Her flowers must hang in for several days, which could present a challenge if temperatures settle into the 90s, as they did last year.

"Last year it was so ungodly hot and I felt bad for the poor staff and volunteers," said Mary Pat Koscher, director of sales and marketing at the Wingate Inn in Aberdeen.

Many volunteers, plus a few of the players, stayed at the Wingate, making for what Koscher described as a considerably quieter crowd than the young baseball teams that often stay while playing at nearby Ripken Stadium.

For Koscher, the second time around means some key additions to the hotel shopping list.

"We're going to buy cases and cases of water ... and bananas," she said. "Oh my gosh, they couldn't get enough bananas. We'll go through hundreds of them."

The golfers also will devour gallons of peanut butter and jelly, according to Jackie Gabrysh, director of tournament services. Sandwiches and other snacks popular with the competitors will be at the ready near the clubhouse's two locker rooms, both of which will be designated as women's facilities for the week.

Last year, the tournament translated into a $5.5 million impact for Harford County, according to county tourism officials. But not everyone felt a jolt.

"We didn't know what to expect last year but honestly it didn't do us any good," said Charles Lawson, owner of Java by the Bay, a coffee shop in Havre de Grace.

"They parked everybody over at Ripken Stadium and then bused them in, so there wasn't really any way for them to get downtown," he said, adding that he hopes business for local merchants will pick up this year.

But he and others are not simply assuming that it will.

"That, I think, has been our learning curve, realizing that it's not just something that's going to happen," said Brigitte Layton, tourism manager for the city of Havre de Grace. "We have to give [volunteers, players and spectators] the tools if we want them to come here."

This year, she said, one such tool is a card distributed to 1,700 volunteers and players featuring about 30 Havre de Grace merchants that have agreed to donate a percentage of sales to the Ronald McDonald House and other children's charities supported by the tournament.

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