SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic comes back to town in late March. This will be the third year the tournament has been held at the Beau Rivage's Fallen Oak golf course.
It's a great sporting event for our region, but it's a lot more than that. Just ask tournament organizer Steve Neiman.
"I have always talked about this tournament, as golf is the backdrop to so many great things that we get to do. It is becoming kind of the biggest block party on the Coast," Neiman told WLOX during a recent interview.
Former British Open winner Tom Lehman easily won last years tournament. Like all the rest of the golfers, Lehman had high praise for the event, as well as, Fallen Oak. An estimated 35,000 people came to last years tournament.
For golf fans, it is an opportunity to see some of the games greatest players over the last several decades. But, you might be surprised to hear that not everybody who attends the tournament, is a fan of the game of golf.
"I think we are seeing the demographic change a bit," Neiman said. "For instance, we are getting a lot more female fans. We are getting a lot more people who just want to come because there is so much fun to be had out there."
At last years event, tournament organizers had USM Long Beach's Business College do an economic impact study. It came back with some very impressive numbers.
The tournament had an economic impact of at least $8.5 million.
"We know on average, the person coming in as a visitor is spending about $135 a day. We know a local person is spending almost $100 a day because the golf tournament is here," Neiman said.
Don't forget the media coverage the event gets. WLOX provides a nightly recap of the tournament.
Also on hand is the Golf Channel, and this year they will have several hours of live coverage. That coverage showcases not just the golfers, but also everything this community has to offer.
Neiman is hoping to convince the two biggest names on the Champion's tour to play here this year. Both Tom Watson and Fred Couples, have skipped the classic. Now, there is a full court press on to get both here in 2012.
"We have put a great deal of effort this year, if you will, into recruiting Mr. Couples and Mr. Watson," Neiman said. "In fact, we started a week before Christmas. They are sitting down and deciding where they will play. Trust me, we will do everything we can to get them here."
The classic won't likely have an answer from Couples and Watson, until just before the tournament starts in late March.
This is the last year of a three year commitment from the 14 different sponsors of the classic. Which begs the question, will it come back?
Neiman said that there is every indication this will be an event that stays here for a very long time.
He ended his interview by speaking passionately about the many volunteers who make it all possible.
Neiman pointed out, there is no way to thank them for all they do and will continue to do, for the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic.