Despite attendance numbers that were lower than prior years, the executive director of the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn is “optimistic” the tournament will stay in Conover.
“All in all, it went extremely well,” said GHC Executive Director Jim Correll. “It was hotter than what we hoped or expected, but those are things you can’t control.”
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 “every day ticket sales were up from last year.”
“I think the heat had a major precursor on the crowds,” Correll said.
“It was just too hot to sit in the stands. We were hearing that from people.”
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 year’s tournament, Correll said the move was a “blessing in disguise.”
“In the fall, we were competing with football,” Correll said. “Now, 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.
“We are extremely optimistic that we will have a good future,” Correll said. “The players love this event. There wasn’t a single one of them that didn’t say, ‘We love this place and this course.’”
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.
“The tour is in our corner 100 percent,” Correll said. “They want this to remain and think it’s one of the best stops on tour. They are working very, very close to us.”
Throughout the past nine years, the GHC has proven to be a necessity for Catawba County’s economy. Whether it’s 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.
“The tournament is the only worldwide marketing and branding that this community has and is taking advantage of,” Hearn said. “We cannot afford to lose the marketing, the branding and the name recognition that this tournament gives us around the world.”
Hearn said worldwide marketing will bring business to Catawba County over time.
“Over 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,” Hearn said.
Conover Mayor Lee Moritz, Jr. said the GHC is also a great rallying event for the community.
“Well deserving local charities have benefited from gracious donations,” Moritz said. “Since 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 ‘most enjoyed’ event.”
A little playoff help
The GHC’s hopes of returning to Conover got a little help this weekend with one of the most competitive three-days of golfing in the tournament’s nine-year history. In addition to one of the “strongest fields top-to-bottom,” 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 “great champion.”
“I had a call from the tour this morning,” Correll said. “They 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.”