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Published: Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Page: 1A

With the second annual Greenbrier Classic just over a month away, local officials are once again hoping to capitalize on the golf tournament's success.

Last year, more than 41,000 people wandered the Old White course at the resort to watch the final day of the PGA tournament.

With an expanded concert lineup featuring the Black Eyed Peas and the addition of prominent golfers like Phil Mickelson this year, hopes are that even more people will line the course this year.

"It's going to be bigger and better than ever," Greenbrier owner Jim Justice said during the tournament's media day on Monday.

"I just want the world to see how great this state and the treasure our people really are," he said. "To me, it's a quest to put on the greatest event the world and the PGA tour has - period."

Justice said event ticket sales were running well ahead of what they were at this point last year.

That's good news to Kara Dense, executive director of the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau, who said the county already has seen a boost in tourism thanks to last year's event.

The community also is seeing interest following Lewisburg's recent distinction as Budget Travel Magazine's "Coolest Small Town in America."

"The past 12 months have just been incredible," she said. "It's just a great time to be in the Greenbrier Valley."

Now officials are trying to use some of the lessons they learned from last year's inaugural tournament to figure out the best way to market their corner of the state.

"It was really a learning experience for us," Dense said.

Last year they tried to promote events going on in Lewisburg and White Sulphur Springs during tournament days. That didn't pan out exactly as planned.

"I think some of the downtown areas might have expected more people in the downtowns," Dense said.

While there was a definite boost in business during the tournament, it wasn't at the level some had hoped for.

"I think we really learned that if people come to the area, they want to see golf," Dense said.

So this year county officials are retooling their message.

"Our goal is to expand the economic impact the tournament has on our county and state from that one week into the other 51 weeks of the year," she said.

Recent marketing surveys show the No. 1 thing visitors to the Greenbrier Valley want to do is relax, Dense said.

She said officials want to show off not just how The Greenbrier can help them accomplish their goal, but also how other local attractions such as skiing, hiking and cave exploration can fill the bill.

"We're such a great four seasons area that you can make four or five trips a year and do different things because we do have so much to offer," she said.

They're also reevaluating the tactics used to spread the message.

"Last year we had a booth on site," she said. "This year we decided not to do that because we know that when people come in, they don't want to carry around our visitors guide with them all day."

Instead, the group will air 30-second video ads in the buses transporting tournament attendees from the parking lots to the golf course.

"It's really a captive audience," she said. "Everyone who attends has to ride those buses."

Dense said local officials also will take advantage of the PGA's revised cell phone policy.

Last year people were not allowed to bring cell phones into the event.

However, this year the PGA Tour has relaxed those regulations. Attendees will be able to use cell phones so long as they are on silent or vibrate.

People will be able to make and receive calls as long as they are in designated calling areas away from the field of play, such as around concession stands.

Spectators also will be able to send and receive text messages and use other data networking applications like Facebook and Twitter as long as they are away from play on the golf course.

The only restriction is attendees cannot record video or take pictures with their phones.

Dense said that allowing cell phone use inside the course is a benefit.

She said the restrictions last year made it less likely that couples or other groups would split up while attending the tournament because they couldn't keep in touch with one another.

If a wife wanted to go shopping in town, she had no way of keeping in touch with a husband who probably wanted to stay close to the action on the golf course.

Since they can do that this year, Dense said members of the Convention and Visitors Bureau will focus on social media tools to help keep spectators aware of all the events and amenities.

"We're going to be working there as press and really using the social media aspect - working Facebook and Twitter - keeping folks up to date and asking people and players what they think of the area," she said.

The group also is trying to come up with several different prize packages featuring local businesses.

"For us, it's really about marketing the entire Greenbrier Valley and Greenbrier and say, 'Look how amazing it is to spend time here for a golf tournament - now come back and spend a weekend with us.'"

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-5148.

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