The Senior PGA Championship brought thousands of spectators and 156 golfers from around the world to Benton Harbor, but some business owners are disappointed by the lack of foot traffic into their stores and restaurants.
About 6 weeks ago, city leaders told WSBT they expected 12 to 15,000 spectators each day of the tournament. The PGA doesn’t release official numbers, but the tournament director said they saw somewhere between 8 and 12 thousand people each day.
“It was very, very busy,” said Senior PGA Championship Director Jeff Hintz. “Busy enough that we had to add to our trolley system, our tram system that we had moving people around the golf course.”
But many business owners told WSBT they saw less of that success than expected.
“I was hoping it would be a little better,” said Linda Sprague, owner of State Street Antiques.
“It wasn’t near what we expected, but compared to this week last year, [it was] about the same and we didn't have the PGA last year,” added Charlie McGee, owner of Piggin’ N’ Grinnin’ Barbecue in Benton Harbor’s Arts District.
He said his best weekend business came from catering graduation parties.
“Regular customers probably didn’t come because they thought it was too crowded, hard to get down [here] and no parking,” McGee added.
Most of the people who went to Benton Harbor to watch the golf tournament parked a couple miles away at Lake Michigan College and were bused to the tournament at Harbor Shores, but McGee said those buses never stopped in the Arts District or downtown St. Joseph.
“I don’t know what would bring them to this particular location if the buses go past here and they don't stop here. And it's a long walk, they're not gonna walk out in the middle of a game,” McGee said.
“We worked with those local businesses, we had a community showcase committee to try and capture many of those individuals that might be going out for dinner, and I can tell you there were quite a few restaurants that were busy in the area,” added Hintz. “[We're getting a lot of feedback,] especially in the immediate area and I know there's going to be a lot of chatter in the next week or so with those business owners that had a successful week. I can tell you I drove to downtown Benton Harbor Friday night at 10 o'clock and it was buzzing.”
But even if this huge event was somewhat of a practice swing until the Senior PGA Championship comes back to Benton Harbor in two years, it’s certainly putting Southwest Michigan on the map.
“I think the investment is going to last far beyond this weekend,” said Benton Harbor business owner Aaron Jones.