Whenever tourists from China, Sweden or other parts of the world stop by the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce, executive director Rayna Palmer said she now has to wonder if their interest in the area was piqued by last year’s LPGA tournament coverage.
"This year it seems like we’ve had a lot more international visitors here," Palmer said.
It’s impossible to quantify lasting effects of the worldwide attention Gold Canyon and the East Valley are receiving as a result of the Safeway International tournament, scheduled to run at least through 2006 at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, she said.
Still, there’s no doubt the Ladies Professional Golf Association event, with participants and media coverage from all over the globe, has introduced the area to many who otherwise would not have seen it.
"I think it’s hard for us to grasp that kind of exposure," Palmer said. "We’ve got these people looking at us, and they’re going to come and visit us."
That exposure is only going to increase, according to Karel Schliksbier of the Orlando, Fla.-based Golf Channel, who is producing the network’s four-day coverage of the tournament.
Schliksbier said the Golf Channel has an exclusive contract to televise the event and will air footage on a three-hour delay, Thursday through Sunday evenings. This is the network’s first year providing extended coverage of the tournament, he said.
The Golf Channel is available in about 70 million homes across the United States, Schliksbier said. Cable networks in other countries, including Golf Channel Japan, also can access the footage.
Sandy Painter, in charge of media relations for the LPGA tournament, said other print and broadcast outlets scheduled to attend the tournament include USA Today, ESPN, The Baltimore Sun, Britain’s Sunday Times and television networks from Sweden, Australia and Japan.
Although only the Golf Channel can broadcast the entire event domestically, Schliksbier said other networks such as ESPN can air tournament highlights.
While long-term effects of the tournament are bound to be positive, they don’t come without some inconveniences for area residents. Already at the height of its seasonal population surge, Gold Canyon roads will be even more congested than usual this week, and booking a hotel room nearby is likely an impossibility.
Still, Sgt. Randy Stone of the Arizona Department of Public Safety said DPS officers will assist with traffic near the event, and that last year things ran pretty smoothly.
Mark Kizziar, chief executive of Lyle Anderson Golf Ltd., which owns and operates Superstition Mountain, said the tournament does prevent club members from playing their own rounds of golf during the week, but nobody seems to mind.
"They like to watch these great players play on their golf course," Kizziar said.
Apache Junction officials say they are excited about the area’s increased visibility but don’t seem to know yet exactly how to capitalize on it.
City spokesman Pat Brenner said he hopes the mountain vistas shown on television and seen by visitors will enhance the public’s appreciation for the desert and underscore the importance of preserving open space.
Palmer said the chamber intends to develop ways of tracking the economic effects of the tournament, but she said it might take a while to figure out how — and how much — the Safeway International will help the community.
"I would think we’d have some tangible results in probably two years," she said.
schedule Today and Tuesday: Cheerios Pro-Am Tournament, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday: Professional practice rounds, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday: Tournament first round, 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday: Second round, 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday: Third round, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday: Final round, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Golf Channel coverage Thursday-Sunday: 6-8 p.m. Arizona time