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Despite attendance numbers that were lower than prior years, the executive director of the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn is âoptimisticâ the tournament will stay in Conover.
âAll in all, it went extremely well,â said GHC Executive Director Jim Correll. âIt was hotter than what we hoped or expected, but those are things you canât control.â
Correll said the extreme heat heavily contributed to the lower-than-usual turnout. He added that the missing presence of professional golfers Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer, who both played last year, also added to a smaller turnout.
Despite the smaller crowd, Correll said âevery day ticket sales were up from last year.â
âI think the heat had a major precursor on the crowds,â Correll said.
âIt was just too hot to sit in the stands. We were hearing that from people.â
The GHC, historically held in the fall, was held in June for the first time this year. Despite being originally concerned about a 6-month turnaround time from last yearâs tournament, Correll said the move was a âblessing in disguise.â
âIn the fall, we were competing with football,â Correll said. âNow, we are in golf season. We are after The Masters and a week before the U.S. Open. The players are all in better health, as well."
Because of this, Correll said he is hopeful for the tournament in the future.
âWe are extremely optimistic that we will have a good future,â Correll said. âThe players love this event. There wasnât a single one of them that didnât say, âWe love this place and this course.ââ
The GHC will know by early fall whether the tournament will return to Rock Barn next year, and the Champions Tour will announce its new schedule in November, Correll said.
âThe tour is in our corner 100 percent,â Correll said. âThey want this to remain and think itâs one of the best stops on tour. They are working very, very close to us.â
Throughout the past nine years, the GHC has proven to be a necessity for Catawba Countyâs economy. Whether itâs an increase in local business or a public arena for community partnership, the GHC has become a benefit to the area over the years. Catawba County Chamber of Commerce President Danny Hearn said benefits of the tournament stretch far beyond increased hotel and restaurant business.
âThe tournament is the only worldwide marketing and branding that this community has and is taking advantage of,â Hearn said. âWe cannot afford to lose the marketing, the branding and the name recognition that this tournament gives us around the world.â
Hearn said worldwide marketing will bring business to Catawba County over time.
âOver a period of time, that economic impact and name recognition builds, and people will start to relate it back to the tournament, to Rock Barn, to places to live, to start a business,â Hearn said.
Conover Mayor Lee Moritz, Jr. said the GHC is also a great rallying event for the community.
âWell deserving local charities have benefited from gracious donations,â Moritz said. âSince the GHC inception, over $900,000 dollars have gone directly to organizations helping our citizens in the Catawba Valley. The community really steps forward to volunteer their time making this stop on the tour the players âmost enjoyedâ event.â
A little playoff help
The GHCâs hopes of returning to Conover got a little help this weekend with one of the most competitive three-days of golfing in the tournamentâs nine-year history. In addition to one of the âstrongest fields top-to-bottom,â the three-day GHC was a leaderboard-shuffler that ended in a riveting three-hole playoff.
Champions Tour golfer Mark Wiebe ousted James Mason eventually to win the Greater Hickory trophy, a winner Correll deemed a âgreat champion.â
âI had a call from the tour this morning,â Correll said. âThey said it was the most exciting finish on the tour this year. The tour felt that the Golf Channel numbers will be higher than what it is traditionally on Champions Tour events.â