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S.C., Kiawah Island buff up for 2012 PGA

The biggest sporting event ever to come to South Carolina might be two years away, but local preparation work unfolds daily where the road stops at the tip of Kiawah Island and a lush golf course hugs the sandy beach.

The PGA of America announced in 2005 that it would hold the 94th PGA Championship at The Ocean Course in 2012. That means welcoming names such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, business executives landing in corporate jets, plus 27,000 eager spectators and some 580 million households tuning in across the world.

Shortly after the announcement, the College of Charleston's Office of Tourism Analysis estimated the local economic impact at nearly $83.7 million.

The event frequently draws comparison to the 1991 Ryder Cup and its infusion of cash and recognition for the Lowcountry. But the world was less connected then, and Kiawah Island and its facilities were still maturing. The luxurious Sanctuary Hotel didn't exist, and neither did The Ocean Course's current clubhouse.

Organizers say the exposure to the island and to Charleston shown in 154 hours of live broadcast can't be quantified.

PGA of America installed a championship director, Brett Sterba, more than a year ago. It brought on Jeanne Jamme to manage hospitality sales in February. Without any advertisement beyond word of mouth, she said she has already has sold more than half of her packages for oceanfront suites on the 18th hole and has verbal commitments claiming two-thirds of them.

Corporate customers buy space at key positions around the course - some air-conditioned and all catered and decorated - where they can court clients over cocktails and sport. They range from single-day, single-person passes on the 17th tee for $700 to the $350,000 starting price for taking over the shop on the ground floor of the clubhouse, a building completed in 2007.

Sterba and Jamme say the PGA set a sales goal of $9.6 million and expects to sell about 80 percent of the packages to people and groups spending $25,000 or less.

The single-day, single-person option appeals to local property owners and small businesses with limited budgets. It's not something the PGA typically offers, according to Sterba. Plus, the target audience size of 27,000 people falls 30 percent short of the typical PGA Championship crowd.

Speaker of the S.C. House Bobby Harrell, a Charleston Republican and a leader of the tournament committee, said he sees CEOs coming to town not just as high-dollar tourists but as economic prospects. Harrell calls that possibility to lure new business to the area as the most important function of the tournament.

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