Correction: This version of the story has been updated to correct the number of households likely to view the tournament.
The greater Wilmington community should prepare for what will be a major opportunity to showcase itself to an international audience: the Wells Fargo Championship, to be played at Eagle Point Golf Club the first week of May 2017.
That was the consensus of four panelists at Tuesday morning’s Power Breakfast about the upcoming PGA Tour event, organized by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and held at the Wilmington Convention Center.
About 600 people heard perspectives on the importance of the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship from panelists Kendall Alley, Wells Fargo’s regional president; Kym Hougham, executive director of the Wells Fargo Championship; Bobby Long, president of Eagle Point Golf Club; and Connie Majure-Rhett, president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.
“The amount of media coverage will be unparalleled,” Alley said, suggesting the need for the area to get involved as a community and identify resources, such as the expanding Port of Wilmington, to showcase. “Show business leaders what you have here. Use the golf tournament as a catalyst.”
Not only will tens of thousands of tournament participants and spectators be on hand at Eagle Point Golf Course, but millions of households around the world will view the tournament on television. The usual venue of the Wells Fargo event, Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, is hosting the PGA Championship next year and needs to prepare for it.
Majure-Rhett noted that the area wants to attract mobile workers and knowledge workers. “This event matches perfectly. We’ve never had this kind of exposure before. It’s the visibility we need to capture” such professionals, she said.
Long said he believes North Carolina is poised to become the next Silicon Valley, and that hosting the Wells Fargo Championship can help Wilmington emerge as a tech hub.
“You have friendly people, natural resources, a good climate, and you’re close to academia, which is a source of ideas,” he said. “All those thoughts are not being commercialized. Venture capital is scarce here. Top venture capitalists are eyeing North Carolina. The tax system [in the state] is improving. Your timing is impeccable.”
Achieving the “A-plus-plus” experience for tournament attendees that Long said is his goal might even position Wilmington for future such events. “Is [the tournament] a one-off or will there be other opportunities like this?” he asked the audience. “You do your part, and you will be flabbergasted at the results.”
Hougham said that it’s hard to predict how many people will attend the week-long event, but his organization hopes for 30,000 people a day, and, based on the experience of similar tournaments, he believes that is feasible. Ticket prices range from $30 for a three-day practice pack to $165 for a week’s pass. About one-third of available tickets have already been sold, he said.
As part of the Wells Fargo Championship, the tournament’s charitable arm, Champions for Education, makes grants to nonprofit organizations in the area. Hougham said that all the charitable giving resulting from the Wells Fargo Championship in 2017 will stay in eastern North Carolina. While the organization’s primary focus is on education, he said the organization is currently evaluating where the money should go and may expand its view with an eye to helping veterans as well, because of the large military presence in this part of the state.
Panelists discussed the logistical planning and improvements underway – from lodging to roadway improvements to golf course upgrades – in preparation for the event. Transportation will be an important element in guaranteeing a first-class experience for everyone, Hougham said. He emphasized that shuttles will be used extensively to get people to and from the golf course, which overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway in Porters Neck. The idea is to keep as many cars as possible off two-lane Porters Neck Road.
Majure-Rhett said that traffic officials will be situated at major intersections to help the flow of traffic during tournament days.
Julie Wilsey, director of Wilmington International Airport, said her team is talking with American Airlines and Delta Air Lines about the need for more airplane capacity during tournament time, and is determining how many corporate jets the airport can accommodate. Obtaining help with air traffic control is another consideration.
“We want to present the best first and last impression” of Wilmington, she said.