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Local businesses, airport reap benefits of golf's first major

The crowds of visitors stopping in McDuffie County on the way to the Masters golf tournament have headed home, winding up a busy and successful week for the area.

Visitors flew into the McDuffie County airport, stayed in local motels and patronized local restaurants and stores during the past week, said Gerald Baygents, director of tourism.

It was the best year ever for White Columns Inn, and Holiday Inn also reported an increase of up to 20 percent over past years.

"These are our benchmark properties," said Mr. Baygents. "I'm sure the restaurants did better than in the past, too."

White Columns filled up completely the final four nights, many of the patrons returning from previous years to enjoy the relaxed ambience of Thomson with its easy access to I-20.

"One thing we enjoy about the Masters is we get a lot of the same people back year after year. They book for the next year before leaving," said Epp Wilson, White Columns owner.

"They have a comfort level here. It's such an easy drive that the folks who want to be in all the hustle and bustle of Augusta can be down there, but the ones who like being out here come year after year and they tell their friends," he said.

Regular patrons like the little extras -- like the nightly wine and cheese gatherings -- and enjoy the fact there was no waiting in line even for the elegant dinners, Mr. Wilson said.

Not having to wait also appealed to the visitors who flew into the McDuffie County airport, said Keith Bounds, fixed base operator.

After disembarking, they found ample parking spaces and plenty of other necessary services right away. Although hundreds of planes flew in, there was not one customer complaint all week.

"Things went very smoothly here this year," he said.

"We had no problems at all. We had some customers who hadn't visited the terminal who were very impressed. I think that will be in the back of their mind next year when they decide when to come and where to come."

Local businesses helped visitors feel the southern hospitality of the area through welcome signs and billboards, and volunteers from the tourism board and the Chamber of Commerce did their part by hosting a hospitality table. After exiting their planes, passengers were greeted with area maps, information, bottled water and Georgia peanuts.

"Those were very popular. We had to work to keep up with the demand," Mr. Baygents said.

Sunday, the final day of the tournament, was the busiest at the airport. Now that the bustle is over, "We are back to normal operations," Mr. Bounds said.

Officials say all the work from the clean up effort in town to the red carpet treatment of visitors has paid off.

McDuffie County was able to showcase some attractive local sites and events, visitors enjoyed efficient travel operations, and the tourism board is already discussing some marketing techniques for next year's tournament.



Web posted on Wednesday, April 13, 2005











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