COVINGTON — Sounds of spring are back with the chirping of birds and buzz of insects, and next comes those little clicks signifying that spring surely has arrived in Georgia — the smacking of golf balls during Masters week.
Local golf courses, as well as hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses will enjoy an annual spike in revenue in the upcoming week as the Masters Tournament goes through practice rounds and opens in Augusta for the 79th edition of the professional golf classic.
Golf is a multi-billion-dollar industry in Georgia and the Masters Tournament annually creates an impact on the Georgia economy of more than $125 million, according to past economic studies.
Golf fans from around the globe will flood Augusta to see Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, and numerous other past champions expected to be in the field.
But golfers also will take advantage of the manicured fairways and attractive course packages that Newton-Rockdale County area golf courses offer during Masters week.
“It kicks off the golf season around the country, and especially here in Georgia,” said Dick Schulz, director of golf operations at The Oaks Course in Covington. Schulz said that every year as many as 750 to 1,000 visitors will play a round of golf at The Oaks during the week of the tournament.
“We have two or three foursomes who come here every year,” Schulz said. “They take turns playing here and attending the Masters. … We get our first calls for reservations for this week in October.”
The hospitality and tourism industries reap similar benefits from the Masters. Hotel rooms in Augusta usually sell out for next year’s tournament a month after the Masters ends, Schulz said. Covington is approximately 115 miles from the azaleas of Augusta National Golf Club, site of the tournament, and yet local hotels always sell out Masters week. It’s the same all along the Interstate Highway 20 corridor from Augusta to here.
Restaurants also rake in the business. Mayor Ronnie Johnston, co-owner of the Mystic Grill restaurant on the Covington Square, said a table of out-of-state golfers once told him they had found a favorable review of the restaurant on the TripAdvisor Internet site while planning their Masters vacation.
“They came back to eat the next three nights,” Johnston said. “It’s amazing how far that Masters reaches in economic impact.”
The dollars pour in as converted currency from across the oceans. The Oaks posts a world map in the clubhouse during the tournament for its players to place pins on their hometown, state or country.
“Last year we had people from 20 different countries,” Schulz said. “I think we’ve had someone from 49 states, every state except Hawaii — golfers from Alaska.”
Schulz speculated that since foreign golfers seem to be dominating the PGA major tournaments — the Masters is the first of four majors — international players and fans may be arriving in even greater numbers.
“We love to see that crowd,” he said. “When you’re on vacation you tend to spend money. You want to take something home to remember the trip.”
Schulz said The Oaks, which opened in 1990 by expanding an abandoned course designed by legendary golfer Bobby Jones, pioneered those Masters week packages that are offered golfers at area courses.
“We started it about 20 years ago,” Schulz said. “People liked it and other courses started doing it. Nothing’s new — I got it from the guys at Augusta.”
Masters packages available this year at The Oaks are The Green Jacket Special (36 holes, range balls, The Oaks hat), the Yellow Flag Special (18 holes, range balls, hat) and the Par For The Course Special (18 holes). Each special includes a complimentary green fees pass for a future round of golf.
Golfers playing at Cherokee Run Golf Course in Conyers will receive a continental breakfast, lunch, green fee, range balls, use of a golf cart, Cherokee Run hat and a Titleist Tee Gift Tin.
The Creek at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge offers golf rounds for people staying in cabins. A cabin for two nights for two people with four rounds of golf that goes for $425 regularly is $662 during Masters week. Fees for walkup golfers are available.
“Historically, we’re busy earlier in the week during the (Masters) practice rounds and then Friday, Saturday and Sunday it tails off,” said Karl Gross, head professional and manager at The Creek. The golfers either are heading home or attending the tournament, he speculated.
Or they are watching it in nearby hotel rooms.