The winner of this weekend's U.S. Open will receive more than $1 million in prize money, but the biggest winners could be Montgomery County businesses.
County officials expect business owners and local government to rake in as much as $140 million in sales and tax revenue from the weeklong golf event, which began with practice rounds Monday at Congressional Country Club, in Bethesda.
About 250,000 spectators are expected to pack Congressional's Blue Course, starting with the first round Thursday. As visitors prepare to spend millions at hotels, restaurants and other establishments, officials hope the event will pay immediate and long-term dividends for the county.
"It puts a spotlight on the county, and it kind of rubs off on businesses," said Kristina Ellis, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Business and Economic Development. "We want people to think that beyond the golf event, maybe they could open a business here."
This is the third time the county and Congressional have hosted the U.S. Open — one of golf's four major tournaments along with the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship. The club, known for its famous members and six-figure initiation fees, also played host in 1964 and 1997, and was home to the 1976 PGA Championship.
Montgomery County courses hosted PGA Tour events every year from 1980 to 2009, with the long-running, now-defunct Kemper Open followed by the AT&T National — an invitational tournament hosted by Tiger Woods and held at Congressional from 2007 to 2009. The event is expected to return in 2012.
The 2009 AT&T National drew 195,000 spectators and generated nearly $30 million in direct and indirect revenue, according to a state analysis. The revenue includes money to local businesses as well as taxes paid on tickets, hotels and other items.
County officials are expecting to make far more from this week's Open — an event that likely will draw many more out-of-town visitors and command higher prices on everything from tickets to the county's 10,000 sold-out hotel rooms.
"People come from all over the country and all over the world to watch," said state Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery Democrat whose home district includes Bethesda. "It brings in a great deal of tourism, and it's a lot of free advertising."
The county has based its $140 million revenue projection on the $142 million brought in by the 2008 U.S. Open, held at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego.
Local businesses already are seeing a boost in sales, said Dan Pollock, an operating partner at BlackFinn American Saloon, in Bethesda. He said the restaurant — about five miles from Congressional and near several hotels — began receiving an influx of tourists Sunday night that wasn't seen even on the AT&T National's busiest days.
"It's actually night and day, the number of people we can see even at this point today," he said Monday afternoon. "We're hoping that will continue throughout the week."
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