The swing of things

Big professional golf tournament in Kelowna helps advertise the Okanagan

With the upcoming GolfBC Championship at Gallagher’s Canyon in Kelowna just around the corner, the spotlight is once again shining on one of the Okanagan’s biggest draws—golf.

With 19 courses in the Kelowna area alone, an average of 2,000 hours of sunshine per year and a golfing season that easily allows players to enjoy the game from late March to early October, golf has become a major attraction here for both visitors locals alike.

“Individuals and groups who come to Kelowna and area to enjoy golf contribute to our local economy creating revenue for local businesses and creating jobs,” said Chris Shauf, with Tourism Kelowna.

“Major events draw visitors, increase activity at local businesses, and generate significant exposure for Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley.”

While Shauf did not have figures for Kelowna specifically, he said golf contributes an estimated $2.08 billion to the province’s GDP and accounted for 44,000 jobs in 2009, according to a report on the economic impact of the sport in Canada conducted by SNG Solution Inc.

And in Kelowna, one of the biggest events is the annual GolfBC Championship. Next week will mark the third year in a row the championship has taken place at Kelowna’s Gallagher’s Canyon course.

According to organizers, the event is helping put this area on the golf map.

“I think it’s huge,” said Hugh Vassos, tournament director. “It brings Kelowna into the big leagues. Plus it puts the city in a whole new league of hosting major events.”

The GolfBC Championship will feature 156 top up-and-coming golfers from Canada and around the world, players who could one day be playing on the PGA tour.

Part of the McKenzie Tour—a feeder for the Web.com Tour and the PGA Tour—the GolfB.C. Championship’s four-day run will start June 14. It will be preceded by long-drive challenge on June 13 at Gallagher’s Canyon that will be open to all.

At $25 for three shots, golfers of all abilities will get the chance to tee off in a bid to see who can send a golf ball the farthest.

Vassos said the Kelowna tournament has an economic impact on the city of between $2.5 and $3 million. And it requires a volunteer force of 325 to stage each year.

Last year, an estimated 5,000 spectators turned out to watch the players live at Gallagher’s Canyon, and organizers say they are hoping to top that number this year.

But the event is not just about long drives, pars, birdies, eagles and putting the ball in the cup.

Money raised from this year’s event will also help the B.C. Cancer Foundation. In the first two years of the Kelowan event, organizers donated $300,000 to the the foundation, with another $50,000 donated last year to help local flood relief.

“It’s not only good for golf but also for the community,” said Vassos, adding the additional exposure Kelowna will receive through advertising, media coverage and social media helps spread the word not only about local golf, but also about what else this area has to offer.

And when it comes to marketing golf here, it’s not just the immediate Kelowna area that benefits.

Sam Samaddar, director of Kelowna’s airport—a founding sponsor of the GolfBC Championship, said the sheer number, variety and skill level of the many golf courses up and down the valley, means visitors looking to play here will often test their skills on more than one course during their stay in the Okanagan.

And that will take them to different parts of the valley where they will experience a variety of other attractions as well.

“Anchor” events such as the GolfBC Championship help tourism from a broader perspective. Samaddar said the weather herecreating the opportunity to play golf when hitting the links in other parts of the country would be unthinkable has helped tourism officials market what is now known as the shoulder seasons—spring and fall.

“It really has become a serious sell for us,” said Samaddar. “I look at it as when you grow the whole pie, everyone benefits.”

Golf, he said, is helping drive not only tourism here but other areas of the regional economy as well.

Back at Gallagher’s, it’s not just the organizers and volunteers who are ready to tee up this year’s event. The players are excited too.

One of them, Kelowna’s Conner Kozak, said he’s looking forward to playing in the tournament again, and this year aims to play all four rounds.

Kozak, an assistant golf pro at the Okanagan Golf Club, received an exemption to play in the tournament this year.

“This will be a really, really fun event for me and all the pros,” he said Wednesday during the tournament kick-off news conference. “For me it’s like a home tournament.”

RELATED: Second chance for Kozak at GolfBC Championship

With the championship winding up on Father’s Day, the organizers are using it to attract not only dads but their entire families.

“We say don’t just send your dad to the tournament, come with him,” said Vassos.

This year, a special Father’s Day brunch, along with tickets to the tournament are being offered as a package. Regular single day passes cost $15 each and a $35 pass is available covering all four days of the tournament.

Vassos said the GolfBC Championship is a great opportunity to see players who one day will be playing on the PGA tour up close and personal.

“These players are on a rapid ascent to the PGA Tour,” said Vassos.

Big name Canadian players who played on the Mackenzie Tour in the past and now competing at the highest level of golf—the PGA Tour—include Adam Hadwin, Graham DaLaet, Mackenzie Hughes and David Hearn.

As for the course, Gallagher’s’s Canyon general manager Peter Hopley said it is in great condition this year.

“We’re super excited about the course and feel it will show better this year than last year,” he said.

According to Hopley and Vassos, the Kelowna stop on the Mackenzie Tour has proven popular with the pros, and for the last two years has been rated one of the top tour stops by the players.

“It’s also one of the most picturesque golf courses and the pros love it,” added Vassos.

And that endorsement bodes well not only for golf in the Okanagan, but for local tourism in general.

In just three years, the GolfBC Championship has become one of the biggest advertisements for golf in Kelowna.

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Alistair Waters/Capital News Gallagher’s Canyon Golf Club general manager Peter Hopley (left) and GolfBC Championship tournament director Hugh Vassos speak to the media Wednesday prior to the start of next week’s four-day event.

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