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Masters Week: Annual tournament brings more than one kind of green to McDuffie

The deep green of the Masters Championship jacket matches the hue of the Augusta National's grass. But that's not the only green generated by the season's first major golf tournament, located just half an hour west of Thomson.

Local businesses have an influx of visitors making their way to the golf Mecca. There is plenty of money in the Augusta area during the first week in April, and McDuffie County gets its share of that boon in many different ways.

From restaurants to hotels and from gas stations to golf courses, business is good in McDuffie County this week. And it's a draw local leaders are glad to have.

"Clearly the hotel/motel tax (revenues) go up quite significantly," said McDuffie County Manager Don Norton. "...And then the sales taxes increase by probably 12 percent or something like that. It's pretty significant."

Last year's average monthly hotel/motel tax revenue - money used to help fund tourism efforts in the county - was $17,000, Mr. Norton said. During the month of April it was $41,000, nearly two and a half times the average.

That number is demonstrated by the fact that many Masters regulars book hotel rooms at places like White Columns a full year in advance, making it their one big vacation for the year.

"At this stage of the game, we're the most booked that we've ever been," White Columns owner Epp Wilson said last Thursday. "It's going to be another busy week, another good Masters Week."

Mr. Wilson said the Plantation House Restaurant tables don't usually turn over quickly in the evenings this week, but that lunch is sparse with most patrons at the tournament and locals fearful of overcrowding.

Another local fixture that remains full during Masters Week is Belle Meade Country Club. Head Pro Gregg Hemann told The Mirror last year that the club pre-books many visitors' tee times while protecting tee times that members want as well.

"So not only is it a big week for us as far as out of town golfers, it's a little bit busier from the standpoint that our members are going to play more this week also." Mr. Hemann said.

But one place that experiences an even greater proportional increase in business is the Thomson-McDuffie County airport.

Many visitors with private aircraft land in Thomson late in the week rather than deal with crowded Augusta airports and traffic.

The airport's Fixed Base Operator Keith Bounds said arrivals typically begin heavily on Wednesday afternoon. He said the best time to watch planes is Friday afternoon and Sunday evening when tournament-goers leave.

"Clearly, things get a lot busier around here in terms of the streets and the roads and whatnot, having a little more traffic on them and that type of thing," Mr. Norton said. "The airport, it's a major event out there. We fully believe its going to be every bit as busy this year as it has been, probably more so."

And one way both locals and visitors alike can make it back and forth to the tournament without having to fight the traffic from Thomson to Augusta is the shuttle service sponsored by the tourism board.

The service is open to public, and round trip tickets are $25. Call White Columns (706-595-8000) to make a reservation.

The shuttle departs White Columns at 8 and 10 a.m. and returns at 4 and 6 p.m.

Web posted on Thursday, April 05, 2007

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