Business and community leaders, not to mention the host Wilmington Country club, are poised to super-size the economic impact of the 2022 BMW Championship
By Bob Yearick
If all goes according to plan, the 2022 BMW Championship, scheduled for Aug. 16-21 on the South Course of the Wilmington Country Club, will be more than just a golf tournament. Both the club and the area’s movers and shakers are hoping it will register about an 8 on the economic Richter Scale.
The penultimate stop in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, the tournament will bring the top 70 players in the FedEx Cup standings to Wilmington to determine the final field of 30 for the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
That lineup of top pros is expected to attract 130,000 spectators for the six-day event. Some 2,100 volunteers will be on hand to help assure that the tournament runs smoothly. Four hundred credentialed local, regional, and national media cover the championship each year, and NBC and the Golf Channel will televise it.
All of this will pump an estimated $30 million into the area’s economy. With the Hotel Du Pont serving as tournament headquarters, that includes $3 million in lodging, or 30,000 room nights. According to publicists for the tournament, the media coverage represents about $28 million in advertising and public relations value. Jennifer Boes, executive director of the Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau (GWCVB), puts a higher figure on it: “Priceless.”
“While the primary focus of coverage will be golf, many of those media outlets will be looking for travel and recreation-related footage and information to feature on our area as well,” says Boes. “That will put Greater Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley as a destination in front of literally millions of potential visitors.”
Super-Sizing the Impact
“It’s going to be a great revenue generator for our hotels and restaurants,” she says. “I also think our museums and retail businesses will see increased foot traffic. It’s our hope that the tournament can serve as an introduction to our area for the tens of thousands of golf fans that will be in our region for the event, and we can entice them to return as visitors. It is all very exciting.”
Boes and her five-person staff have marshalled all their technology and know-how to super-size the impact of the BMW Championship. During the tournament, the GWCVB will run a digital display campaign that targets visitors via geo-fences surrounding the WCC and several Wilmington area hotels. Visitors inside these virtual fences will be served ads on their mobile phones, designed to drive clicks to a BMW Championship landing page on VisitWilmingtonDE.com. The landing page will be a one-stop location for visitors to find area dining, attractions, itineraries, golf courses, and other activities.
The page also will promote the GWCVB’s new Wilmington & the Brandywine Valley Discount Pass, a digital coupon book containing discounts at area restaurants, attractions, and retail locations. The pass is free and delivered by text message — no apps to download. The GWCVB also will promote the pass via its social channels during tournament week.
Rounding out this fusillade of promotional initiatives is a press kit, distributed to the 50 media outlets who attended the June 27 media day, which tees up an extensive list of story ideas. The pitches cover local restaurants, museums, and parks, and, of course, area golf courses. In addition, the kit touts some significant facts about Delaware – e.g., no sales tax; 67 percent of Fortune 500 companies are incorporated here; there are 3,054 acres of public gardens in Greater Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley.
The hub of all this activity, of course, is the venerable Wilmington Country Club and its South Course.
The WCC was established in 1901, with its original 18 holes covering 135 acres. After relocating in the 1950s, the club brought in renowned golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. to design the South Course, which opened in 1959. Playing over 7,500 yards from the championship tees, the course has been recognized by Golf Digest as one of the best in the U.S.
While the BMW Championship is the first professional event to be held at WCC, the club has hosted several amateur competitions, including five other USGA events: the 1965 and 1978 U.S. Junior Amateur, the 1971 U.S. Amateur, the 1978 U.S. Girls’ Junior, and the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur. The club also hosted the 2013 Palmer Cup competition between Europe and a United States team that featured Justin Thomas, who would go on to win the 2019 BMW Championship.
This year’s BMW came to Wilmington through a serendipitous confluence of history and the WCC’s well-earned reputation. The club is a member of the Golf Association of Philadelphia, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary. To help recognize that milestone, the GAP asked Western Golf Association, which runs the BMW Championship, to hold the tournament at a member club. Western agreed, and WCC was on the short list of candidates.
“Western Golf came to tell us about the event, and they looked at us and we looked at them and decided that it was a go,” sums up Tom Humphrey, chairperson of the tournament and vice president of the WCC board. “Because it was the BMW Championship and is so prestigious, it was hard to say no. And when we learned the economic impact on the county and state, we decided it was something we needed to do.”
Making the event a reality meant overcoming two major, unexpected hurdles. First, there was COVID-19. The two sides held their initial meeting in the first week of March 2020, and the pandemic shutdown hit the next week.
“We were able to conduct most of our discussions by phone,” says Humphrey, “but the PGA Tour still needed to come in and look at our golf course.”
Then, in August, a tornado tore through the area, sundering 350 trees, some of them two centuries old, and destroying bunkers on the South Course. The club shut down the course, removed the damaged trees and repaired the bunkers, then put in eight new tees and 12 bunkers.
The PGA then was able to inspect the course and grant its imprimatur, and the two parties signed the contract in October of 2020.
Having established his bona fides in both the corporate world and on the golf course, Humphrey seems an ideal choice to head up the tournament. During a 28-year career at DuPont, he served as president of DuPont Asia Pacific LTD and later as president of Dupont Health and Nutrition. After retiring in 2002, Humphrey found more time to hit the links. A one-handicap, he has finished second in a few national senior tournaments and won the Delaware Senior Championship in 2018.
So he speaks with some authority when he calls the South Course “stern.”
“The fairways are narrow, and the greens are large and undulating, with bentgrass,” he says.
But Humphrey and the committee knew that even the South Course would not be especially challenging for the big hitters that would attack it in August.
“They hit it so far that they would just blow over what we had,” he says. “So we added back tees and those 12 bunkers, most at about 325 yards from the back tees, to give them something to think about.”
A temporary driving range was another addition, because, says Humphrey, “the one we had just wasn’t long enough.”
The course was closed from March 2020 until May 1, 2021, and it will be closed again, of course, during BMW Championship week, but club members have responded positively to all of this privation. They were given first shot at volunteering to work the event, and 450 of the club’s approximately 750 members stepped up, according to Humphrey.
Adding to the appeal of the tournament is the fact that all proceeds benefit the Evans Scholars Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to award full college tuition and housing scholarships to deserving youth caddies. Since 2007, the event has raised more than $35 million for the scholarships.
Frank Yocum, of Garnet Valley, Pa., a caddie at WCC and a Penn State sophomore, is an Evans Scholar. The scholarship is especially providential for Yocum and his family; he is a quadruplet, and his three siblings are all at four-year universities (his two sisters at Penn State, his brother at Temple), thus representing a potential national-debt-sized dent in their parents’ bank account.
“The Evans Scholarship has allowed me to pursue a world-class education and is giving me so many opportunities that I could not even have dreamed of,” Yocum said at the tournament media day. “I plan to receive a five-year integrated master’s in accounting while obtaining enough credits to sit for my CPA exam.”
Yocum will be among 30 Evans scholars who will caddy at the pro-am event on Aug. 17. Pairings will be announced at a party in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory the night before. (The party is closed to the public.)
Humphrey and the committee are hoping for good weather and a course that is “firm and fast” for the pros. As for the potential winner of the four-day main event, Humphrey mentions Daniel Berger, Patrick Rodgers, and Thomas, the 2019 BMW champ who played the course during the Palmer Cup nine years ago.
With the club and area businesses poised to make a great impression on all who participate in or attend the event, Humphrey was asked if the tournament might return to the WCC sometime in the future.
“We won’t know until it’s over,” he says. “First off, we want to find out if the members enjoyed it and had fun. Was it worth giving up the course for a week? Then Western Golf will have to decide whether it was good for them. And certainly BMW, too.
“My sense is everybody’s going to feel really good about it. So at some point in the future they might want to come back.”
The 2022 BMW Championship joins a growing list of recent developments that have amped up the region’s nationwide profile. The comings and goings of President Joe Biden have provided a significant bump, of course, but the list also includes the burgeoning downtown dining scene, the once-again-resurgent Riverfront, and events such as the Firefly Music Festival, which returns next month to The Woodlands at Dover International Speedway.
So, while the return of the BMW Championship in the next few years would be gratifying, for right now, Wilmington and environs are basking in the national spotlight and bending every effort to take full advantage of it.