THE MASTERS Tournament brings with it well-known economic benefits to the greater Augusta area. Not as widely known is that the community experiences positive impacts from sports tourism the other 51 weeks of the year.
Our wealth of sports clubs and associations, recreation departments, multipurpose venues and the Greater Augusta Sports Council provide a strong foundation for hosting sporting events and activities.
Historically recognized and now tracked in the same way other tourism is measured, sports travel and tourism is understood as an economic engine that drives communities toward healthy economies.
By nurturing existing resources, improving and enhancing facilities and encouraging appropriate new venues, we can bring healthy returns on investments.
EVERY YEAR, TENS of thousands of sports tourists descend upon this area for competitions in rowing, rugby, equestrian events, bowling, softball, swimming, tennis, boxing and basketball. These sports enthusiasts appreciate the advantages of our climate, feasible housing and lodging and friendly volunteers.
I have been approached many times this week and asked, "What can I do this afternoon when my friend is using my badge? What else is there to see and do?"
My mind quickly identifies several sports-related opportunities: 18 holes of disc golf, several mountain bike and passive trails, fishing charters at Lake Thurmond or canoe or kayak trips on the Augusta Canal. While the menu of other entertainment options are enhanced during Masters Week, sports offerings are steady year-round, providing a consistent enhancement to our quality of life and cushioning the local tax base.
In addition, having three professional sports leagues guarantees there is almost always a ticket to be had for baseball, ice hockey or Arena football.
The Augusta sports scene continues to develop with new opportunities. During the past two years, we have hosted and strengthened contacts in the bass tournament field, while identifying venue expansions.
The Augusta Disc Golf Association has also seen exciting growth in a sport that is ideal for the entire family. This throwing-disc sport parallels the original game of golf with 18 holes, requiring a driver and putting disc to play through scenic fairways and challenging wooded terrain. Augusta hosts successful national and world events and has earned a reputation as a leader in this sport, which has a strong local following. As this sport grows, we will see greater demand for additional disc golf courses.
IN 2000, THE Greater Augusta Sports Council launched the Ray Guy Award, presented live on ESPN to the nation's top collegiate punter of the year each December. Joining the National College Football Awards Association, we are now promoted as part of a family of awards that include the Lombardi and the Heisman trophies.
Establishing the Ray Guy Award as the centerpiece of our annual youth Sports Award Gala, we launched Augusta into the center of college football fans and media.
Come July, the eyes of Georgia will be on Augusta as we host for the second time the state's largest sport competition, the 2002 Georgia Games Championships. Athletes of all skill levels and ages are invited to compete in an Olympic-style multi-sports festival July 12-21. Entry forms will be available in May but we need volunteers to make their selections now, as we will be processing more than2,500 volunteer applications to assist with the 43 sports events and an opening ceremonies production.
Prior to the 1996 Summer Olympics, Georgia was home to only two full-time sports councils - Augusta and Atlanta. There are now more than a half dozen cities organized with some fashion of sports-marketing initiative. Nationally, more than 200 cities will send representatives later this month to the National Sports Commission Annual Sports Symposium.
MUCH FOCUS WILL be directed this year to securing long-term funding that will allow us to better compete regionally and nationally in this increasingly competitive industry.
I would like to thank the many companies, media friends and thousands of passionate volunteers who have recognized the importance of the sports council's mission and supported it throughout the past decade.
We're good sports. Join us.
(Editor's note: The writer is the executive director of the Greater Augusta Sports Council.)