Originally created 04/08/06

Masters impact is felt beyond Augusta area



Ninety miles due west of Augusta sits the cozy town of Madison, Ga.

Madison doesn't have a Tiger, Hootie or Magnolia Lane.

But it does have plenty of Masters Tournament guests spending money in town.

"We consider the Masters a local event. We truly do," said Marguerite Copelan, the director of the Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Many surrounding towns, though hours away, reap the benefits of the annual golf extravaganza.

Visitors stay as far north as Athens, Ga., as far south as Swainsboro and everywhere in between Atlanta and Columbia, said Jeannie Buttrum, the senior regional tourism representative for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

In the 17 Georgia counties she represents, almost all of the hotels are "solidly booked," she said.

The monetary impact is hard to tell, tourism officials say, but hotels' rates increase in neighboring cities, and restaurant business is up.

One of Madison's big draws is its proximity to Lake Oconee, Ms. Copelan said. With nine golf courses in the area, it gives Masters guests a chance to flex their own driving muscles.

In addition to added golfing, all Madison's restaurants feel a boost, whether it's a chain burger joint or gourmet Southern buffet, Ms. Copelan said.

To stimulate development, Washington, Ga., actually coordinates a major event at the same time as the Masters - its annual Spring Tour of Homes.

"We like to think the Masters is reaping the benefits of our tour of homes," teased Donna Hardy, the executive director of the Washington-Wilkes Chamber of Commerce.

The weekend before the tournament, thousands of travelers visited the city and took the tour, she said.

The hope is they will love Washington so much they'll want to make it their home.

"We have lots of people who retire from the Atlanta area and move to Washington and Wilkes," she said. "They bring lots of money to the area, and we appreciate that."

A bit closer to Augusta, Aiken ramps up its historical tours, sells out its hotel rooms and sees restaurant revenues jump, said Barbara Gassman, the tourism supervisor for the Aiken Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

"It's a wonderful event we're certainly glad for," she said. "It adds to the economic impact of our springtime - the highest revenue months for our tourism."

And all that extra business doesn't just come from visitors going to the Masters, Ms. Buttrum said.

Plenty of Augusta residents fleeing the hoopla also stay in the surrounding communities.

Reach Tony Lombardo at (706) 823-3227 or tony.lombardo@augustachronicle.com.