Sporting events attracting Beaufort County visitors during slower tourism times

tbarton@islandpacket.comMarch 1, 2014 

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HANDOUT — Dallas Morning News

New sporting events in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island are putting more heads in beds and fueling the growing appeal of the region as a travel destination during winter and spring, according to local businesses.

About 1,400 runners and walkers from 32 states and eight countries participated last month in the inaugural Hilton Head Island Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K.

Turning the event -- which has donated more than $31,000 to area charities in its 11 years -- from a half to a full marathon and making it a qualifier for the Boston Marathon led to a three-fold increase in the number of guests at The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, compared to the same time last year, said Gail Wargo, director of sales and marketing.

"The expansion from half to full brought in a much larger group of visitors from out of state," Wargo said. "We were booked and saw a lot of added ancillary business from dinner reservations ... and sales of golf and tennis packages."

About 650 runners and walkers from 26 states and two foreign countries are expected to participate March 9 in the second annual Palmetto Bluff Half Marathon. About 500 participated last year.

"The event certainly helps our business," said Bluffton Jim 'N Nicks Bar-B-Q owner John Haire. "Not so much helping us with a banner weekend, but getting the word out that we support the community and appreciate the way it has supported us."

The company will cater an after-party with live music and beverages provided by River Dog Brewery in Ridgeland.

Proceeds from the race benefit BackPack Buddies, a local nonprofit that provides food to children in low-income households.

"The event has grown, and people plan weekends around it, ..." Haire added. "I do believe the race will continue to grow, and I feel like this will continue to be a great partnership, bringing in more and more people from outside the region, which helps us get the word out that we're a place people can feel good about spending their money."

Area golf courses, as well, are hoping for a needed boost in business this weekend from the inaugural Hilton Head Golf & Tennis Festival that began Thursday.

The two-day tournament features a round of competition at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines, home to the island's annual PGA Tour golf tournament, the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.

For those wanting a more relaxed golf style, the festival offers play-and-stay golf packages at local courses and lodging.

About 120 people are expected to attend a fashion show that's part of the festival, along with a selection of tennis events.

"It's a great time of year to play golf or tennis on the island," festival president and local golf pro Keith Bach said. "You can still take advantage of some outstanding off-season rates for golf, tennis and accommodations -- and the weather is great."

That activity has spurred growing interest among meeting and convention planners looking at the island as a destination for corporate retreats, according to Wargo.

She said the Westin has seen a 300 percent increase in the number of inquiries to host conferences and meetings, which accounts for about half of the resort's business.

"We haven't seen that type of activity since our high-water year in 2007," Wargo said. "These events are providing new reasons for people to come to the island outside of the high season, which gives us the perfect opportunity to bring meeting and conference planners to see what we have to offer."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom

Related Content:

Half Marathon -- Palmetto Bluff

Hilton Head Island Golf & Tennis Festival

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