Open a hole in one for economy

Ernie Els has a laugh as a trantula cruises by before he hits approach shot on the 4th hole Sunday afternoon.

For the third year in a row, South County businesses are eager for the boost that the Open Golf Tournament will bring this week, where upwards of 60,000 golf fans will gather on the rolling hills on the CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, many with expendable green in their wallets.

The worldwide televised event, which, for now, is part of the PGA Tour’s Fall Series, features 132 professional golfers competing for $5 million in prizes, said Duke Butler, tournament president.

Ernie Els, who is back for a second straight appearance, the 2012 United States Ryder Cup team captain Davis Love III, defending champion Bryce Molder and gallery favorite and 2010 Open champion Rocco Mediate are in the field. In all, 10 former major tournament winners will test their chops on the local links – including Love, John Daly, Justin Leonard, Mike Weir and Lee Janzen.

Butler said the event also hopes to rake in about $1 million to support several local charities, such as the American Heart Association, the American Institute of Mathematics, and Special Olympics of Northern California.

John Fry, owner of Fry’s Electronics, plans to eventually move the tournament to his course on Foothill Avenue in Morgan Hill.

Meanwhile, for local hotels, restaurants and retail stores, it’s time to amp up for the influx of business expected through Sunday.

“It’s a very positive impact on the community,” said Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce board chair Lorraine Welk, who noted that in previous years local restaurants and hotels have seen a noticeable boost during the Open.

Numerous chamber board members, former directors and business owners will be volunteering for the Open, and Welk said if they get a chance they are likely to spread the word among fans about ideal places to eat dinner or go shopping in Morgan Hill after the golfers turn in their score cards.

The tournament started with practice rounds Monday, with a pro-am round scheduled for Wednesday. Competition play will continue Thursday through Sunday.

Mayor Steve Tate is one of the volunteers who would clearly like to see an economic development boost spilling over to Morgan Hill from the tournament. Tate is one of the 100 or so volunteers running the “hospitality suites” at the event, coordinating and assisting other volunteers. That gives him and other volunteers a chance to talk to a lot of attendees, and use that opportunity to promote local businesses when possible.

He has volunteered at the tournament each of the last two years as well, and has overheard many positive comments from spectators about downtown Morgan Hill restaurants they visited after watching golf all day.

“They also go to Gilroy, so we try to send them north” to Morgan Hill, Tate joked.

The Holiday Inn Express in Morgan Hill has already scored a hole in one. The hotel is fully booked for the week, according to manager David Dworkin. He said his hotel and others on Condit Road – and from Gilroy to San Jose – have seen similar boosts in business during the week of Open in previous years.

“This is a fabulous event. We’re thrilled that it’s in San Martin,” Dworkin said. “It’s definitely a big boost to our local economy.”

The hotel also plans to do its part to promote the event among locals, with signs advertising the tournament outside the hotel. Dworkin is also excited for Clos LaChance, a “fantastic” winery that will serve as a backdrop for the Open and host events during the week.

Gilroy’s economy expects to see a surge in activity as well this week, as it has in previous years.

“We hope to see a lot of trickle down for the local economy,” said Susan Valenta, Gilroy Chamber of Commerce director. “They come for golf, but they stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, fill up at gas stations. There are such a number of ways that having this many people come in can affect us.”

Managers at the Best Western Inn on Leavesley Road, and the Hilton Garden Inn on Monterey Road were not available for comment Monday morning about whether they’ve seen a spike in room bookings this week, but Jane Howard, Gilroy’s Welcome Center director said that they “certainly” will have a busy week.

“The Golf Channel staff are staying at the Hilton Garden Inn, and I know they’ve booked a nice number of rooms just by themselves,” Howard said.

Butler said about 100 members of the media have signed up to attend the event, along with as many as 1,200 tournament volunteers.

The volunteers, who pay $75 (or $50 for returning volunteers), dedicate three six-hour shifts during the four-day event, and get access to the event along with breakfast and lunch each day.  

“Without the volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to make such a donation to charity,” Butler said.

Howard said last year, she saw a spike in business for local wineries, the Gilroy Premium Outlets and for restaurants.

“If I recall right, I remember a lot of wives, whose husbands came for the tournament, came here to spend a day at the Outlets last year,” Howard said, laughing.

Howard described the event as one that “really puts Gilroy on the map.”

“We always try to make sure that these visitors know there is so much that our region has to offer, with Gilroy Gardens, and the wineries, and world class shopping, that they just have to come back and stay again,” Howard said.

Cheryl Durzy, co-owner of Clos LaChance, CordeValle’s on-site winery and tasting room, said she plans to go through “well over” 1,000 bottles of wine over the weekend.

The winery, which will remain open to the public over the weekend, will host live music Friday night until 9 p.m.

“People are more than welcome to come and drink wine and experience some of the excitement of the tournament without having a ticket,” Durzy said.

Although the tournament is expected to bring more traffic to the Watsonville Road area, authorities are not expecting significant congestion. The California Highway Patrol will employ an overtime detail to control the entrance to one of two parking lots on Watsonville Road, ensuring shuttle buses have a clear route in and out of the venue, according to CHP officer Erica Elias. Open organizers will be offering shuttle service to the event from two parking lots – one on Watsonville Road and one near San Martin and Murphy avenues. Motorists are asked to exit at Tennant Avenue off U.S. 101 if they plan to park on Watsonville Road, and exit at San Martin Avenue if they play to park at the Murphy Avenue lot.

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Where: At the west end of Highland Avenue, San Martin
When: Tournament is Thursday through Sunday, gates open at 6:30 a.m.
Weather: Sunny with temperatures in the mid 70s.
Watch: The Golf Channel, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Replay the same evening
Follow the tournament on Twitter @theWeaveGilroy and on all week.

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