World Am attracts more golfers and dollars to Grand Strand

Thousands of visitors aren't waiting for Labor Day weekend to come to the Grand Strand. They're already here to play golf, at the 30th annual World Amateur Handicap Championship.

The World Am attracts amateur golfers from all over the world, including Down Under.

"My wife's brother came two years ago and was raving about how good it was and we, my wife and I, decided to come," said golfer Peter Goik of Canberra, Australia.

This year, 3,300 golfers signed up to play in the World Am, representing an 8 percent increase over last year, while last year's attendance was up 8 percent from the previous year.

After a recession that took a heavy toll on rounds played, two consecutive years of growth is like a hole-in-one for World Am organizers.

"One, we've worked very hard to market the event. Secondly, this is an event that's done very well with word of mouth. Our participants over the years have been extremely loyal and are really the tournament's best advocates," said Chris King, communications director for Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which operates the event.

King says a slowly improving economy has helped, too, resulting in the tournament's largest attendance since 2008.

All those golfers, plus their spouses and friends, will be busy this week, trying to drop dollars around the Grand Strand along with their golf scores.

"I expect that I'll probably drop a thousand dollars while I'm here and multiply that by 3300 participants, it's a substantial impact," said golfer Jay Strever of Billings, Montana.

King says the tournament has about a $5 million impact on the Grand Strand economy.

Still, that falls far short of what it was ten years ago, when World Am attendance easily topped 4,000 golfers.

King thinks the tournament can get back to those numbers someday, but it won't happen overnight.

"We picked up about 200 people each of the last two years. We believe we've got a great event on tap this year and that'll help again to provide us momentum to springboard with going forward," he said.

King says it helps that the Grand Strand has an aggressive kids-play-free program, to plant the seeds for the next generation of golfers.