Corporate sales push is on for the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island

Corporate-sponsored hospitality suites such as these ones used at the 2007 Senior PGA Championship at the Ocean Course will be set up for spectators during the 2012 PGA Championship.Sales of the corpoate packages, which help defray the costs of the event, have lagged individual ticket sales. (Staff/File)

The 2012 PGA Championship is less than three months out, crunch time for Kiawah Island Golf Resort chief Roger Warren.

So there he was early Wednesday at Halls Chophouse in downtown Charleston, chatting up a small group of prospective business clients. He opened with a plain-spoken disclosure.

“This is a blatant sales opportunity, from me to you,” he said.

Warren wasn't pushing individual tickets. Those have been snapped up at a blistering clip. The weekend rounds are long sold out, and all but 6 percent of the ground passes for the other days at the resort's famed Ocean Course are gone.

No, Warren was looking to find buyers for the unsold corporate hospitality packages. About 30 percent of those offerings were still available as of last week, at prices ranging from $700 for a one-day, two-person combo to a $59,000 four-day networking extravaganza for 20 overlooking the treacherous 17th hole.

One reason corporate sales are lagging individual ticket sales is that many recession-scarred businesses are still putting off spending decisions until the last possible moment.

“We have to close it out so I can keep my job going forward,” Warren joked.

The jovial pitch masked a deeper thought, one about seizing opportunity and making hay while the sun is shining. That is to say, the level of corporate support behind this year's PGA will surely help dictate whether more of these high-profile, big-money events will come to town in the years ahead.

“This is a big deal,” Warren said.

Warren isn't exactly a disinterested observer. The high-end oceanfront resort he runs is the host property for the 2012 PGA and stands to gain long-term benefits from its involvement.

But he also has a fair degree of insight about how big-tournament organizers pick and choose their sites. After all, from 2005 to 2006, he was president of the PGA of America, the same organization that runs the PGA Championship.

His lofty position with that group didn't mean the Ocean Course was a shoo-in when the 2012 event came up for grabs.

Warren said various tournament organizers have been eyeing Kiawah for years. But, inevitably, they all raised the same concern in the form of a question: Could a relatively small market such as Charleston, with no big corporate headquarters to speak of, drum up enough interest backing from area businesses to help offset the costs of a major international sporting event?

In the case of the 2012 PGA, that question hasn't been fully answered.

In fact, the owners of Kiawah Island Golf Resort had to put up a “financial backstop” should the event fall short, Warren said. He later added that he is “very confident” the championship will hit all of its revenue targets.

The economic punch of the 2012 PGA is projected to be huge.

A College of Charleston study put the overall impact figure at about $195 million. The event, the last of pro golf's four big “majors,” is expected to draw a strong international field and 210,000 paying spectators to The Ocean Course. It will yield 154 hours of live television coverage and reach 580 million households in 200 countries and territories worldwide.

“This will be South Carolina's largest sporting event in the last 20 years,” he said.

He actually meant 21 years, being that his point of reference was the 1991 Ryder Cup, also held at The Ocean Course.

It was that dramatic, memorable U.S.-against-Europe competition that gave the cup the cache it enjoys today. It also helped drum up quite a bit of business for area real estate agents.

While the impact of the “War by the Shore” still lingers more than two decades later, Warren predicted the PGA Championship will make an even bigger splash on the state and local economy.

In the meantime, he's determined to book as much corporate business.

The sales pitch goes like this: The golf will be great. The camaraderie will be cherished. And the setting will be spectacular.

Contact John P. McDermott at 937-5572.