Officials from McDuffie County, the City of Thomson and the McDuffie Regional Airport are gearing up for a flood of visitors who will begin flying in for the Masters golf tournament in Augusta next week, the busiest time of the year in the CSRA.
"We want to be of service to visitors, and be neighborly and welcome them here," said Gerald Baygents, director of tourism who helped coordinate a hospitality table at the airport. Staffed by members of the tourism board and the Chamber of Commerce, the volunteers will greet visitors with maps and information about the area as hundreds of guests begin arriving to attend the Masters April 4-10.
Lenny Schaeffer (from left), McDuffie County Tourism Director Gerald Baygents and Bob Wilson -- all members of the Thomson Rotary Club -- pick up trash along Washington Road Saturday.
The convenient location of the airport, along with its premier accommodations, attract fans headed to the tournament at the Augusta National Golf Course, said Keith Bounds, fixed-base operator at the McDuffie Regional Airport.
Most of the planes flying in will be Citation and Falcon jets which hold six to eight passengers, although the airport can handle an aircraft as large as a corporate Gulfstream G5 jet which has a capacity of 10-16 people.
"Our facilities are first class and rival those found at large metropolitan cities like Atlanta and Nashville. It's a wonderful facility and staff, and visitors are getting service convenient down to the Masters," Mr. Bounds said.
Approximately 200 to 300 planes will be flying in and out of the McDuffie airport during the week, and many of those planes will be repeat customers from previous years.
However, a marketing effort has been underway to attract new customers.
"We work on awareness -- to get people to understand who we are, where we are and why they should try us.
"We are convinced that once they stop here, we will have a repeat customer," Mr. Bounds said.
One thing that keeps customers coming back is the efficiency of the operation which allows planes to land quickly and visitors to be on the way to Augusta within minutes. Although the airport is a bit farther away than Bush Field in Augusta, the process of landing in McDuffie County and driving to the Masters can take less time because of the intense traffic congestion around the city during the tournament.
Plenty of rental cars are available, and a quality caterer will offer meals. Tourism and chamber officials will be on hand to offer help or advice. This may give them a chance to showcase the Thomson McDuffie area, and possibly attract the attention of corporate visitors who might want to look at the area for locating some future business or industrial plants.
"The people that come out of the jets that land here are movers and shakers of the U.S. business economy," Mr. Bounds said.
This is the third year officials have arranged red carpet treatment for visitors for the Masters through a hospitality booth at the airport. As part of the warm welcome, bottled water and Georgia peanuts complete with a McDuffie County label will be available. There will also be information on things to see and do in McDuffie County.