NAPLES — he best players in women's golf will drive more than golf balls this week as they play in a season-ending LPGA tournament in North Naples.They're expected to propel millions into the local economy, as they compete for a $1.5 million purse and $500,000 first-place check in the CME Group Titleholders tournament.
A high-profile tournament like this can be a grand slam for the local economy, with as much as a $10 million impact, according to Octagon, the Connecticut-based company that's managing the event. It will drive business for hotels, restaurants, shops and other companies, big and small.
"The tournament is expecting a great turnout based on advance sales and feedback from the community. We think the area is very excited about having the LPGA return, having been missed since 2001," said Lesley Baker, tournament director.
The three top players from each LPGA Tour tournament this season qualified to compete in this week's event, although not all of them made it here.
The two Ritz-Carlton resorts are packed this week. Rooms are filled with players, sponsors, tournament officials, attendees and media, said Bruce Seigel, sales and marketing director for The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples.
The business is coming into play at the start of Southwest Florida's busy season, which is not yet in full swing.
"It's a game changer for the season," Seigel said of the tournament. "It's a new event coming to Naples, and any time we get the opportunity to host new business that just expands the employment base, the tourism base. The revenues from this event impact so many."
The timing of the tournament is ideal.
"It's late November, and it's a need period. It's late fall, right before the Thanksgiving period, which is traditionally a slow week of business. So to get a nationally publicized major sporting event in our community is just an incredible business opportunity for Naples and the surrounding community," Seigel said.
More than 70 media representatives will be here for the event, including national writers from the Associated Press, USA Today, GOLF Magazine and Golfweek.
The tournament will also get the international spotlight, with media coming from Germany, China and Japan — and live coverage every day on the Golf Channel that will reach 127 million homes in 158 countries.
Collier County's tourism bureau is running TV advertisements to promote both the LPGA tournament and the upcoming Franklin Templeton Shootout, which is hosted by Greg Norman and pairs PGA Tour stars.
The tourism bureau's ads include commercials on the Golf Channel and targeted spot TV advertising in Florida, New York and Chicago. They come ahead of a winter campaign that will tee off in mid-January.
Jack Wert, Collier County's tourism director, said both tournaments will bring visibility to the destination without much cost to the bureau, which has a limited marketing budget that doesn't allow it to market year-round.
It's hard to estimate the economic boost the local tourism industry will see from the LPGA tournament, Wert said, but he expects it to be a hole-in-one for the Naples economy.
"It is a new event. We will measure it after the fact," he said.
The event is filling hundreds of hotel rooms. The two Ritz-Carltons have 750 rooms, which are sold out through the weekend.
Other hotels are getting business from the tournament and from other big events this week, including a national lacrosse championship that typically attracts nearly 100 teams, traveling from as far afield as Massachusetts, California and Oregon.
"It's a very robust weekend for all of the community in Naples," Seigel said. "All of the hotels are quite busy this weekend, which is just fantastic."
The PGA Superstore in Naples, the official ticket outlet for CME Group Titleholders, has seen an upswing in traffic because of the tournament. On Tuesday, it hosted an event with LPGA Tour star Morgan Pressel, which attracted about 50 fans, said Ed LaPierre, the store's general manager.
"It has been a very positive impact. I think overall in general, I think things are up so far," he said.
Last year, the tournament was held in Orlando, but the Central Florida Sports Commission, which solicits and supports sporting events in that area of the state, didn't have any economic data to share on the impact of the event there. CME Group doesn't release ticket sales or attendance numbers, but they're likely to be in the thousands.
"We expect a large majority of our spectators to come from the Southwest Florida area, however we have had tickets purchased from fans from over 25 states, Canada and the United Kingdom," said Baker, tournament director.
Earlier this week, the CME Group hosted its fifth annual by-invitation-only Global Financial Leadership Conference at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples beachfront resort. The conference, with big-name speakers that included former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and political strategist Karl Rove, drew about 300 attendees, many of whom are staying in town for the LPGA tournament.
FOX Business Network's Liz Claman hosted a live special in Naples on Tuesday from the conference, talking to CME Chair Terry Duffy and several of the high-profile speakers, including entrepreneur Richard Branson. In her coverage, she also spotlighted Naples to a national audience.
"To have this gathering of quite an incredible brain trust descend on Naples is testament to how important the state of Florida is to the U.S. and, frankly, global economies," she said.
The season-ending LPGA tournament is being played at TwinEagles Golf Club off Immokalee Road. It's giving the developer, The Ronto Group, a chance to show off the community, including its golf club and its newest golf course. Since acquiring the development about two years ago, the developer has made big investments.
"This is going to be shown all over the world," said Anthony Solomon, executive vice president of The Ronto Group, of this week's tournament. "I think it's a great opportunity for the international community to become familiar with Naples and the beauty that is here and the lifestyle that is here."
And, of course, he said, "anyone who comes to Naples loves it."