ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. -- Tiger Woods' decision to compete at the Honda Classic has residents from across the Treasure Coast clamoring for tickets and some area hotels seeing a spike in reservation requests.
One of the Treasure Coast's newest residents, the Jupiter Island golfing great said he wants to support the golf tournament within a short drive from his new home.
"I've heard a lot of good things about the event and the golf course and I'm looking forward to playing," said Woods of the Honda Classic.
Interest in the Honda Classic already was running ahead of last year, but once the tournament got a "Tiger in the tank," the afterburners kicked in, with people from throughout the Treasure Coast planning on attending.
Even hotels up in St. Lucie County that might not otherwise see any impact from the Palm Beach Gardens event were seeing increasing bookings the weekend of the tournament.
Honda Classic Executive Director Kenneth Kennerly said advanced sales for this year's event already were running about 34 percent ahead of last year — even before the announcement Tiger Woods was going to play in the tournament at the Champions Course at the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens. Activities start Monday with the tournament played March 1-4.
For the second year in a row, more than 100,000 people attended the weeklong event last year.
While Kennerly said he hasn't sought any long-term commitment from Tiger Woods to play in the tournament, Woods said he wants "to play in the tournament when I can. This is my home, and my family and I love it here," said Woods of his new home base. "I want to support the tournament that helps the community."
Kennerly said the tournament, which also features a number of family activities, already has seen steady growth throughout the past six years.
"And then you throw Tiger into the event, then boom," said Kennerly.
Woods' appearance has created a buzz for the event that has spread throughout the Treasure Coast.
Sebastian Municipal Golf Director Greg Gardner said he has taken a number of calls from people interested in attending the tournament, even though he has no connections to it other than an indirect one as a "pace of play" official during the Wednesday Pro-Am. Gardner said his role will be to assist the amateurs playing in the Pro-Am event and make sure they don't slow down play, although he noted the amateur players are very good about not holding up their playing partners.
"I have had people calling me left and right to see if I can get them tickets," Gardner said.
A pair of fractures in his left leg couldn't stop Woods from winning the 2008 U.S. Open and a planned surgery on Craig Moran's leg isn't stopping him from coming to the Honda Classic to watch Woods play.
Moran's mother, Brenda Moran, who lives by the Eagle Marsh Golf Club in Jensen Beach, said her son decided to postpone the surgery after hearing Woods was going to be playing in the Honda Classic.
"He needs to come down (from Boston) and see (Woods)," said Brenda Moran.
Vero Beach resident Daniel Stump said he had never traveled to the Honda Classic before but decided to go this year because: "I want to see Tiger Woods."
"He's a very intelligent golfer," said Stump in explaining his interest in seeing Woods. "I like his dedication to the game."
While it is the busy season for hotels along the Treasure Coast and it is difficult to tie in attendance to a specific event, some hotels in St. Lucie County believe Woods' presence at the tournament have helped their sales, said Jeff Michael, president of the St. Lucie County Hotel and Lodging Association.
"I have heard from a few other hotels that they have gotten a pickup in business because of Tiger being in the tournament," said Michael.
Michael, the general manager of Hilton Garden Inn PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, said calls to his hotel for the tournament dates also have been pretty brisk even though they are more than 40 miles away from the tournament site.
Normally, he added, the impact from the tournament wouldn't stretch into St. Lucie County.
Rozeta Mahboub, executive director of the Martin County Convention and Visitors Association, said Martin County hotels and restaurants already are having a good season, "but obviously something like that can only make it better."
Both Mahboub and Michael both said their counties offer more attractive rates for hotels and golf than the Palm Beach area and they are hoping this will lure some of the tournament visitors north.
"I do think we will be a more appealing destination with the availability and the rates," said Mahboub.
Mahboub also noted tour boats leaving out of Port Salerno give visitors a chance to view Woods' Jupiter Island estate. She is quick to point out that Woods' home is in Martin County rather than Palm Beach County.
Even without the presence of Woods, the tournament was expecting a strong field, including U.S. Champion Rory McIlroy and budding superstar Rickie Fowler. After Woods' announcement,
PGA Champion Keegan Bradley committed to the tournament as did former major winner Jim Furyk.
"People are thinking about the Honda as a must-play," said Kennerly. "I think the future for us is very bright."
Vero Beach resident Matt Manley said he has been to the tournament twice before, but is especially looking forward to the strong field this year.
Bradley, Fowler and McIlroy, as well as former major champion Padraig Harrington and Woods, are among the players he is looking forward to seeing at the event.
"I think that Tiger being in the field always makes an event more special," said Manley. "When Tiger is in the field post-divorce era, I am always tuning in to see if he can make a full comeback to the player he once was, or if his mental toughness has completely left him in the dust."
Vero Beach resident Ryan Wykoff, who is going to the tournament with a couple family members including his stepfather — former Dodgers outfielder Rick Monday — said a lot of the other golfers, such as Jupiter resident Keegan Bradley, attract good followings. He thinks Woods, however, will draw even more people to the event."The way the crowd responds to him is different," Wykoff said.
He saw Woods at other events and said "you can tell (the crowd) wants him to do well. They all root for Tiger."
Where: Champions Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens.
When: Pretournament events begin Feb. 27. The tournament is March 1-4.
Tickets: Visit the tournament websitethehondaclassic.com or call 1-866-846-6328. Tickets for the Gosling's Dark 'n Stormy Bear Trap at the 16th Green were close to being sold out earlier this week.
Parking: General parking is $10 per day or $50 for the week. It is t Dyer Park on Haverhill Road North at Bee Line Highway. Hondas park free in general parking area. Preferred and volunteer parking is next to Mirasol Elementary School, a mile north of PGA Boulevard on Jog Road. Valet parking at PGA National Resort & Spa requires a valet parking pass.
Tips: Wear headgear and sunglasses and use sunblock. Drink plenty of water. Stay behind gallery ropes and kneel or sit down if in front row. Remain still through each shot and don't move until all the players in the group have completed the hole. Do not stand behind or in line with golfer's lie or line to the pin. When course marshals raise their hands in the air stop and be quiet. Only cross fairways at designated crossover areas marked by signs.
Source: Honda Classic Tournament website
Honda Classic events, activities
The Honda Classic, said Executive Director Ken Kennerly, is more than just a golf tournament.
He thinks it's one of the best bargains around for families.
"For a kid it's just a fun event," he said. "It's like Christmas."
Here are a few of the events and activities youngsters can enjoy at the event:
Feb. 28: Junior golf clinics on the Champions Range with PGA Tour players sharing tips and stories.
March 2, 3: Fireworks will light up the sky at the 18th hole beginning at 6:30 p.m. each day.
March 3: First 1,000 children will receive an oversized golf ball they can use in obtaining autographs.
March 3: MetLife Kids Club — From 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. children can enjoy interactive games, contests and win prizes at the Honda Pavilion.
Miami Children's Hospital Nicklaus Outpatient Center Kids & Autograph Zone: Kids boxes are at the Champion Range and the 17th and 18th greens. Parents and children can obtain get autographs at the Autograph Zone behind the 18th green.
Family Golf Challenge: A long drive and putting competition allows teams of one adult and one junior to compete for prizes in 17 categories. Cost is $10 per team/per challenges ($5 for re-entries).