Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum
Buddies Ray Greene and Bob Luther of Wisconsin enjoy a round of golf at The Oaks Course in Porterdale Thursday afternoon.
COVINGTON -- Augusta may be more than 100 miles away, but Newton and Rockdale counties are reaping the benefits of the Masters Golf Tournament.
The wildly popular tournament, which started Monday and runs through Easter Sunday, is giving a boost to area golf courses, hotels and restaurants.
Serra Phillips, event and sales coordinator at The Oaks Course in Porterdale, said out-of-town golfers are turning out in record numbers to play the course this week. They've had visitors from as far away as Australia, South Korea, Bermuda and Austria. The Oaks is averaging around 100 players a day and had 190 on Sunday alone, she said.
Friends Ray Greene and Bob Luther flew into Atlanta from a town near Milwaukee, Wis., on Sunday. The men were playing a round of golf at the Oaks Thursday afternoon before heading home later in the day. Greene said they tried to book a room at the Covington Holiday Inn Express several months ago, but it was already booked out, so they wound up staying in Griffin.
"Hotels are booked all the way from Atlanta down I-20 to Augusta," he said.
Laurie Pellegrine, her husband Lee Eddy, and their friends Lisa Hathaway and Pete Ingwersen, all of Chicago, are staying in Conyers after attending the Masters Wednesday. They planned to spend Thursday and Friday playing golf and said they might try a local restaurant for supper.
Many out-of-town guests said they found the local golf course and hotels simply by doing an Internet search.
The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce is taking advantage of the tourist boom by handing out brochures to golfers listing shopping, dining spots and other local attractions.
The Oaks staff is also making an effort to promote other businesses, recommending restaurants and even other golf courses to customers.
"We're trying to get people to eat local, stay local, buy local. That's one of our main goals for Masters week," Phillips said.
Oaks owner Dick Schulz said he's been referring his customers to Cherokee Run Golf Club in Conyers, and Cherokee Run General Manager Tommy Moon has been returning the favor.
"People don't want to play at the same course two days in a row. I try to find one that's in good shape and the management is friendly," Schulz said.
Tommy Moon said business at Cherokee Run has increased by about 50 percent this week, with visitors from England, the Ukraine and Canada. Moon said he is working to rebuild the golf course's reputation. Now owned by the city of Conyers, the golf course had fallen into disrepair under the previous owner, he said.
"Everybody is very pleased and overwhelmed with what we've done," Moon said.
Hoteliers in Conyers are reporting less bookings than in previous years, said Harriet Gattis, tourism manager with the Conyers Convention and Visitors Bureau. Gattis said many were sold out or nearly sold out Monday and Tuesday night and occupancy has decreased as the week has worn on.
Gas prices may have Masters attendees trying to find hotels closer to Augusta, she theorized, and, many regular guests aren't showing up this time around, possibly due to a change in the way tickets are sold, offering more opportunity for first-time attendees, she said. Nevertheless, the tournament is bringing in additional revenue for the city and county.
"This helps in these economic times take the burden off the taxpayer. It's almost an instant tax that can be brought in," she said. "Even though it's 122 miles to Augusta this shows what an impact an event can have to surrounding communities."
Hotels in Covington were also booked out earlier in the week with occupancy falling off in the latter part, said Ron Carter, assistant director of tourism.
"We do have quite a few people that choose to stay in Covington and drive to Augusta, even though it's a little over an hour and a half drive down," Carter said. "The biggest thing is trying to keep them here instead of going into Atlanta to eat."
Both Carter and Gattis said local golf courses are offering package deals that include rounds of golf, hotel stays and meals.