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Mid-Am tourney a boost for shops, hotels, eateries


They began arriving last Wednesday – the 264 players, accompanied by their wives or girlfriends, parents and caddies, as well as the 75 United States Golf Association officials needed to run the tournament.

Most of them stayed through Monday, occupying local hotels, renting local houses or condos, dining in local restaurants and shopping in local stores. Many of them stayed longer. Some are still here for today's 36-hole, match-play final.

And based on what these folks have been saying throughout the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur Golf Championship at John's Island, everyone seems to be having a wonderful time.

"For both John's Island and the surrounding community," Tournament Director Mark Mulvoy said, "the Mid-Am is doing exactly what we wanted it to do."

Not only were local hotels booked – some of them to capacity last weekend – but local restaurants have seen a bump in business as the first USGA major championship played on Florida's Treasure Coast provided an early start to the usually busy winter season.

In fact, Vero Beach's new Hampton Inn, located in the Miracle Mile area, had a deal in place to partner with the tournament long before the hotel opened in April.

"With our commitment to the golf tournament," Hampton Inn Sales Manager Jacquie Thatcher said, "we weren't able to offer rooms to the Special Olympics."

For the 10th consecutive year, Special Olympics Florida's Aquatics Championships were held last weekend at the North County Aquatics Center in Sebastian.

"Even after we were full, the calls kept coming, and our overflow went to other hotels in the area," Thatcher said. "So this has been great for everyone."

Two Sebastian hotels – Capt. Hiram's and the neighboring Best Western – also served as partnership sponsors of the Mid-Am and were booked solid from Wednesday through Monday.

"We got quite a bang from the golf tournament," said Robin Miller, sales manager for both hotels. "We had about 65 rooms reserved for four to nine nights at Capt. Hiram's and another 25 rooms at the Best Western. Some of the guys who didn't make the cut checked out early, but we still have quite a few here.

"We tried to put our best foot forward, so, in addition to offering a great rate, we gave the golfers the best rooms with waterfront views as much as we could," she continued. "We also handed out more than 400 cards that offered a 10-percent discount on food and beverage at Capt. Hiram's.

"All in all, I'd say the tournament brought in about $30,000 in revenue," she added. "So it was a great boost, especially during the week. It's always nice to see the parking lot full."

Although the Holiday Inn Oceanside was not a partnership sponsor, Manager Matt Tedder said the hotel has taken in some of the overflow demand and had more than a dozen golfers staying there last weekend.

Some of the USGA officials, meanwhile, were staying at Costa d'Este on the island. Most of them were at the SpringHill Suites on Indian River Boulevard, near Grand Harbor.

"A lot of them are staying with us, and they've been here for more than a week already," said Amy Selby, the SpringHill Suites sales director. "Most of them won't be checking out until Friday, so we've definitely seen an impact.

"Between the golf tournament and Special Olympics, we've been sold out," she added. "It feels like the season has started already."

Local restaurants also reported an increase in business, though managers said it was difficult to determine which diners were connected to the tournament.

Many of the Mid-Am golfers, however, said they enjoyed sampling the local restaurants and bars. Several of them named Bobby's Restaurant, saying they had heard it was once popular with the Los Angeles Dodgers during spring training. Others mentioned the Ocean Grill, Citrus Grillhouse, The Tides and Avanzare.

Some of the younger golfers said they spent time at the Riverside Cafe and Vero Beach Hotel & Spa.

"We try to go to a different place every night," said Charlie Blanchard, a Rhode Island resident who played in his fourth Mid-Am. "This is a terrific town with very friendly people."

Sammy Schmitz, a Mid-Am competitor from Farmington, MN, spent his first few days at the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa – he loved the ocean – before switching to the Hampton Inn.

"The first few days, I was either playing practice rounds or on the beach," Schmitz said. "This is my first time here, and it's been a real good experience."

That's exactly what John's Island, especially the local organizers who donated their time and money, wanted to hear.

Their goal wasn't only to showcase the club's under-appreciated West Course – site of the Mid-Am's four rounds of match-play – it also was to introduce the golfers and officials to the Vero Beach area.

"There's a message we wanted to send to the USGA, as well as to the people who came here for the Mid-Am," said Mulvoy, the former Sports Illustrated editor and publisher who has been wintering at John's Island for more than 20 years. "There's an identity to Vero Beach that's different from the other places they've held the tournament.

"Our job was to show them what Vero Beach is and what makes this community so special," he added. "And they're seeing it – the ocean, the serenity, the small-town charm, the quality of life. Of the 264 players, only about 50 had ever been to Vero Beach before. They're seeing that we've got a pretty good life here.

"So with the exposure the golf course is getting, the introduction to our community and the economic impact the tournament is having throughout the area, I'd say we've been successful.”