Two Saturday nights ago, the tell-tale sign that something big was about to happen in Rochester appeared in the sky above downtown.
Richard Craven of Show Low, Ariz., and Rieoberto West of New York City take down a tower on the 13th hole at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford on Monday. TINA YEE/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Anyone who happened to be at Frontier Field that warm summer evening saw the MetLife blimp hovering over the ballpark, and fans in the stands pulled out their smartphones and began taking pictures.
Monday afternoon at around 2 o’clock, the blimp was back in the sky, only this time it was headed out of town, off to its next big sporting event.
The 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club has come and gone, and it was certainly a financial bonanza for winner Jason Dufner, who pocketed a first-place prize of more than $1.4 million. But the big winner was the Rochester region, as the tournament and all that goes along with it generated a projected $78 million economic windfall that benefited businesses throughout Monroe and even surrounding counties.
“I think that’s a conservative number,” said Don Jeffries, president and CEO of Visit Rochester. “You think about the number of people who came to town, all those hotel rooms, the restaurants, even things like dry cleaners, gas stations, all that stuff.” And given Visit Rochester’s stated mission — to recruit meetings and conventions to the area, as well as promote all the great vacation opportunities and activities the region offers — the PGA was a tap-in for birdie.
“It gave Rochester a chance to show off,” said Jeffries.
Hotel rooms were impossible to come by as they were booked long ago, and restaurants and bars were bustling all seven nights the tournament was operating, combining practice and actual play days.
“We had seven bartenders working every night,” said Andrew Columbe, a manager at The Pittsford Pub, which is located less than two miles from Oak Hill. “It probably almost quadrupled our normal business for the week. The bar was busy every night, right up until 1-2 o’clock in the morning.”
Columbe said there is nothing that affects the local restaurant/bar industry like a major golf championship.
“The Bills camp and the LPGA helps us, but it’s not even remotely close to what this does for us,” said Columbe, a Pittsford Sutherland grad who has worked for owner Brad Sluman at the Pub for 11 years.
“I wish it came every year.”
With most of the visitors long gone, lunch was a bit slow at The Pub on Monday, but it was a tremendously busy day at Oak Hill.
The huge merchandise tent was open to the public from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a half-price sale and hundreds of people came in to shop for bargains on shirts, hats, and T-shirts, though quantities were severely limited.
Mike Quirk, senior director of merchandise sales for the PGA of America, said sales at the golf shop were the highest at a PGA Championship in at least seven years, possibly more, as the numbers are still being tabulated. Quirk said more than 80,000 transactions were processed during the nine-plus days the 32,000-square-foot tent was open.
“We’re ecstatic,” said Quirk.
“We had sell-through across all categories, which is our main goal. Sometimes you have a great year with shirts, or head wear, but we did well with everything. We couldn’t be more happy with how Rochester embraced it.” Out on the famed East Course, work crews — many of the laborers hired locally — were everywhere as the teardown of the structures began. The concession and merchandise tents, the corporate chalet villages, the two-story executive suites building, the media center, and miles of fencing must be dismantled and packed up. Tractor-trailers were set up like a convoy on Chapin Way hauling loads away, a job that will take more than a week to complete.
In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle on the main road that leads to the clubhouse, the neighborhood streets around the club that served as shuttle bus routes were perfectly serene. As for the golf courses, there are indications that Oak Hill members will be able to play the West Course as soon as the fencing that was used to cordon off the practice facility is taken down, perhaps in a day or two.
The East Course, where the tournament was played and where an outing for corporate guests and media was contested Monday, won’t be ready for at least a couple of weeks.
The playing area is pristine, but cleanup outside the ropes will be long and laborious. Grass trampled by 30,000 people daily, much of it currently covered by wood chips, likely won’t rebound until the spring growing season.
For many among those 30,000, last week was a rare chance to walk the private club’s fairways — one that comes only at tournament time. When the next such opportunity will come wasn’t immediately clear. PGA of America officials were vague when asked whether Oak Hill will be awarded a future PGA Championship.
The tournament is already booked through 2018, so Oak Hill will get a lengthy break unless rumors come to fruition that the President’s Cup — a Ryder Cup-style tournament that pits a team of United States players against those from all countries outside of Europe — is coming.
There have been whispers that the PGA Tour — which runs the President’s Cup —may askOak Hill to host in 2017, but that’s all speculation and no one has gone on record to even acknowledge talks have been held.
For now, Oak Hill will bask in the glory of another magnificently run tournament, one that turned a positive light on everything that is Rochester.
“Golf is our major league sport,” said Jeffries.
“That message got out worldwide for us. It was a huge win for us.”
Susie and John McGraw of Galesburg, Ill., take down a portion of the fencing at Nicklaus Village at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford on Monday. TINA YEE/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER