The 2015 PGA Championship, one of the four Major tournaments in men’s golf, tees off this week at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. The facility, which also hosted the 2004 and 2010 events, features two championship golf courses that mimic the grandeur and greenery of those in Ireland.
The event is expected to be a huge moneymaker. Spectators coming to see golfers, including young stars like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy as well as veterans like Tiger Woods, will help the Badger state generate over $100 million in revenue, according to estimates by the PGA of America.
The PGA generated its estimate from an economic impact study about the 2013 PGA Championship, which garnered $102.1 million for Rochester, N.Y. The 2014 Championship in Louisville, Ky. made about $100 million, according to the PGA. While those sums look impressive, compare them to the $500 million estimated economic impact of this year’s Super Bowl and an estimated $730 million economic impact from the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing, Queens.
The PGA’s estimate for Wisconsin includes ticket sales (the organization expects at least 200,000 sold), transportation costs, hotel and restaurant spending, and merchandise sales. The event is expected to employee about 1,100 people, whose wages are included in the calculation, too.
“Throw all that into the big jambalaya and that’s how you come up with $100 million,” says Steve Mona, the CEO of the World Golf Foundation, an organization that runs golf’s Hall of Fame and facilitates discussions among a myriad of organizations to promote the sport’s growth in the U.S. and abroad.
There are other economic impacts on top of that $100 million figure, Mona says, including long-range tourism, such as later travel to the state thanks to the tournament. There are even opportunities for executives to relocate or open up an office in the new market thanks to visiting the region and networking, he says, noting that plenty of elbow-rubbing occurs when the world’s golf execs and corporate sponsors come together.
To be sure, there’s no shortage of critics who are skeptical of organizations that profess to predict the amount of money a major sports event truly earns for a local community. The Olympics is a prime example of an event that has forced countries into massive debt. After the Athens games in 2004, Greece found itself $11 billion in the red. More recently, the 2012 Sochi Olympics reportedly cost millions more than planned due to unforeseen construction issues. Then take a recent report that blasted the $500 million estimate for what LeBron James would supposedly bring to Cleveland by rejoining the Cavaliers from Miami. And then there’s the argument that sports stadiums have little economic effect on their cities. The list goes on.
But unlike many Olympic host cities that have to build an infrastructure from the ground up, Wisconsin already has a strong golf community in place, which boosts the chances of this year’s PGA Championship delivering on that $100 million promise.
Whistling Straits has already hosted two other PGA Championships, and the state boasts a $2.4 billion golf industry (admittedly a sliver of golf’s total $70 billion impact in the U.S.) with 643 golf facilities, along with 510 PGA professionals who teach lessons at the golf courses dotted around the state.
“Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota have significantly higher participation rates than the rest of the country,” says Mona. Accessibility to golf courses, which are sometimes built on farmland, and affordability are two big factors that make Wisconsin a great place for golf.
Ironically, its northern climate adds to the sport’s popularity there. “It’s almost counterintuitive,” Mona says, but less time to enjoy golf in Wisconsin than, say, Florida, leads to a more enthusiastic constituency. “When it’s time to play golf, they play golf.”