While former PGA tournaments at Firestone Country Club’s famed South Course leaped in with a tiger’s roar as large crowds snarled traffic and packed the grounds, last weekend’s successor senior golf event, while fun and with name players, drew a relatively tamer response.
Anecdotally, attendance was down significantly for the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship compared to the previous PGA Tour.
How many people attended the tournament hasn’t been released yet, said Jim Mahon, vice president at the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“The crunching of the numbers has not happened yet,” he said. “It’s always glass half full from our perspective.”
The tournament was well received by people who went there, Mahon said.
And Akron remains the envy of many other communities across the United States for hosting major golf tournaments going back more than 60 years, he said.
Retief Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open winner, got $420,000 and the Sam Snead Trophy for winning the Akron tournament by two shots on Sunday, the South African’s first victory on the Champions tour.
Firestone received a four-year commitment from the Champions tour after the PGA moved its annual Akron event to Tennessee.
While the Champions tour brought it older golfers with name recognition, the change also meant Akron no longer hosted the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and others in their prime.
The change in tournaments matters in large part not just because of the national exposure they provide but also because of the contributions they make to Northern Ohio Golf Charities, which has raised $28 million over more than 60 years with the money distributed to local organizations. The organization also provides about 1,000 volunteers each year to the event.
The charity last week said it was hoping the senior tournament would generate about the same amount of money as the previous PGA Tour events have at Firestone.
Based on senior PGA tournaments elsewhere in the U.S. this year, Akron was expecting as much as a $15 million economic impact from visitors booking local hotel rooms, eating at restaurants and the like.
There was indeed a boost but not a boom, based on a sampling of comments from local restaurants and one hotel.
“It was a good week,” said Kerry Janke, co-owner of 35° Brix restaurant in Green. “But if it had been the regular tournament, it would have been a grrreat week.”
There were fewer golf fans ordering up food and drinks at the Green eatery, Janke said. The Bridgestone Senior Players Championship did not draw the crowds of the previous PGA events, he said.
Janke said the restaurant on Massillon Road was a hangout for some of the senior players, as it was in previous years for golfers in the now-ended Bridgestone Invitational contests.
Roger Stewart, co-owner of Bistro of Green, said business at his restaurant "was a tick down from what we typically would have experienced" during the previous PGA tours.
The weekend tournament did bring in customers, including players, he said.
The tournament also benefits the community at large, Stewart said.
"It's just a nice event to have here locally for our community to be able to enjoy."
The senior tour didn't draw as much business to the Cambria Suites hotel in Green, near the Akron-Canton Airport, as previous PGA events had, said Robin Wenger, vice president of corporate operations for hotel owner American Hospitality Group in Wadsworth.
Television ratings for the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship were not available Monday. The tournament was broadcast on the Golf Channel.
According to Nielsen, the final round of the former Bridgestone Invitation drew 2.66 million to 3.46 million viewers in recent years.
The Beacon Journal on Monday also reported that residents along Warner Road near Firestone noted significantly smaller crowds this year. The residents said they parked far fewer cars for visitors near their homes and also lowered the cost for parking.
Staff writers Katie Byard and Clint O’Connor contributed to this report. Jim Mackinnon covers business. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ