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Masters visitors fill local hotels, boost economy

Some McDuffie businesses need a break after the busy Masters week. Thousands of people bring their spending dollars to the area for the golf tournament in Augusta each year, and many of them come to Thomson.

"It's put-it-back-together-week now," Christi Munns said Monday. Ms. Munns is the manager of White Columns Best Western Inn.

Ms. Munns said the Best Western's 134 rooms were full Monday through Saturday night, as were all the other hotels in McDuffie County. She said all of the hotels along Washington Road worked together and called each other to see who had rooms available for overflows.

"Even on nights the rooms weren't all booked, we ended up filling them up," said Kelsea Benson, a front desk clerk at Holiday Inn, which has 80 rooms. "So, we ended up being full every night. It was a good week."

Because hotel/motel tax dollars are the operating budget of the Thomson-McDuffie County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Director Elizabeth Vance seized the opportunity to woo the large audience in her backyard. The CVB partnered with Ms. Munns to host welcome tents on the side of Washington Road in front of Best Western. Members of the CVB were at the tent every evening from 5:30-7:30 to answer questions and pass out information to newcomers to the community.

"All the area hoteliers enjoyed it because it gave them a way of entertaining their guests, too," Ms. Munns said. "The tents worked out real well, and we'll probably have those again next year." White Columns served wine, cheese and other refreshments under the tents, which seemed to give visitors a chance to unwind after their long day at the Augusta National.

"It was a good time for people to come out and have a drink, a little bit of cheese and crackers to whet their appetite to have a meal," Mrs. Vance said.

And that presented a slight challenge for those answering questions. The number one request was a recommendation for a good, local restaurant. But by the time the golf guests returned to Thomson, local restaurants had closed, with the exception of fast-food chains. Mrs. Vance said she hopes to find some restaurateurs willing to remain open next year. "We actually had the ability to get the information into the people's hands, and there was no where to send them," she said.

That was a problem Ivery's Restaurant managers noticed. Shirley Duckworth, cashier at Ivery's, said their business didn't really increase during Masters week.

"We still had our regulars," she said. "But no new visitors. I guess there needs to be a way to advertise around the I-20 area. They don't find us unless they specifically ask."

But all was not lost. Members of the CVB passed out visitors guides and give-aways, pamphlets and Georgia Travel Guides. Through that gesture, some visitors learned of the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson later in May, and expressed a desire to return for it.

"That was the whole point, while we have visitors staying here in the county with us, to let them know we have other things going on in the county at other times," Mrs. Vance said.

A few visitors ventured to downtown Thomson during the practice rounds of the Masters. Big Dipper Ice Cream Parlor Owner Pete Paulson said he had new out-of-town customers Monday and Tuesday, but only locals the rest of the week.

"I don't know if that has anything to do with the type of clientele staying in Thomson for the practice rounds, or what," Mr. Paulson said, adding that he can't compare business this year with last year. Masters week was his first week to be opened last year. "But I was busier this week than normal, I guess with school being out and lots of people visiting family."

Restaurants closer to I-20 and the hotels varied. Matthew Owens, manager of Waffle House next to Wendy's, said his restaurant didn't have any increase, just business as usual.

But Zaxby's managers wish Masters guests came every week -- they reported an increase in business of at least 25 percent.

"A lot of them were wearing Masters badges and stuff, too," Assistant Manager Lance McGee said. "Business definitely was a lot better."

As it has done consistently in the past, business at the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport increased over the year before, according to Sonya Hardin, of Spirit Aviation, Inc.

"It was better and busier than last year," Ms. Hardin said Monday. "Now, I'm busy doing all the paper work. It'll take me another week to do that."

Web posted on Thursday, April 15, 2010

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