RBC Heritage

Survey of tournament fans intended to pin down event's economic muscle

USCB and Clemson University teamed up to conduct a survey to help gauge the Verizon Heritage's economic impact on the area and the state. Above, Billy and Miriam Thomas fill out the touch-screen survey form on Tuesday as Trey Hagins, a senior hospitality management major at USCB, looks on at Harbour Town Golf Links.
USCB and Clemson University teamed up to conduct a survey to help gauge the Verizon Heritage's economic impact on the area and the state. Above, Billy and Miriam Thomas fill out the touch-screen survey form on Tuesday as Trey Hagins, a senior hospitality management major at USCB, looks on at Harbour Town Golf Links. JAY KARR | The Island Packet

Verizon Heritage organizers often speak of how the PGA Tour golf tournament on Hilton Head Island boosts the local and state economies.

To put more precise numbers behind that claim, they commissioned a team of about 20 clipboard-wielding researchers this week to query spectators. Using laptops, participants will be asked how much they spend on lodging, eating, drinking and the like, as well as how they heard about the tournament to extract indications of how well the tournament promotes itself.

Students and professors from Clemson University and the University of South Carolina Beaufort are orchestrating the survey, the results of which could help the tournament improve its marketing efforts and demonstrate the tournament's significance to a potential new title sponsor. Verizon will not return as the tournament's title sponsor next year.

Organizers emphasize they want as much public input as possible for a more comprehensive, accurate study.

"The more you feed the model, the better it gets," said Bob Brookover, executive director of the Clemson International Institute for Tourism Research & Development.

To encourage participants to complete the survey, which should take six to 12 minutes per party, organizers will draw names after the Heritage for several sets of free clubhouse passes to next year's tournament, Brookover said.

This is USCB's first time participating in a tournament study, but Clemson conducted similar studies in 1999 and 2005. The last study estimated the tournament's economic impact at $84 million.

Researchers plan to project the tournament's impact through 2014.

They set up shop Monday in two tents, one beside the clubhouse at Harbour Town Golf Links and the other in the Heritage Expo Village between holes 1 and 9. Other team members are roaming the course.

The researchers will continue the survey through Sunday. They need about 750 surveys to make the study's results statistically significant but are trying for at least 1,200.

On Wednesday alone, they had 300 respondents by mid-afternoon, and some of those came from as far away as Germany, said Adrian Gibbs, a junior hospitality management major from Columbia, Md.

The data will be sorted by zip code to separate visitors' nput from that of local residents.

The marketing portion should enable tournament organizers to more effectively market the tournament, said John Salazar, director of the Lowcountry & Resort Islands Tourism Institute and an associate professor of hospitality management at USCB.

Results should be available in mid- to late May, he said.

Salazar said it's important for all involved to realize what the large investment required to put on the tournament yields.

By conducting regular research, the tournament is adhering to a key strategy of the corporate world, said Don Calhoon, vice chairman of the Heritage Classic Foundation, which runs the tournament.

Calhoon is especially eager to implement the results of the survey's marketing analysis. Now retired, he worked for Wendy's for 27 years and spent most of his last decade there as the fast-food chain's chief marketing officer.

"The best companies in the world are those that spend a great deal of time understanding their consumer," he said.

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