The city of Lake Forest, Ill., is about to see an economic boom event the likes of which it has never seen before.
The BMW Championship golf tournament takes place at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest Sept. 9-15, and the surrounding communities are gearing up for an explosion of temporary guests.
Susan Kelsey, the economic development officer for the City of Lake Forest characterized the tournament as “a first for Lake Forest.”
“From the city’s standpoint, we have certainly never seen anything like this,” said Susan Banks, the communications manager for Lake Forest.
Major sporting events coming to new locations send nearby communities into a frenzy of activity to take advantage of the economic opportunity. In the case of a major golf tournament like the BMW Championship, it’s almost two years worth of planning for five days of exposure.
Lake Forest, a quaint and tony suburb north along lakeshore from Chicago, is the host city for the tournament, which is the former Western Open that for years was held at Cog Hill Golf Club in Lemont, a suburb south of Chicago. Now, the tournament is part of an end-of-season multi-tournament FedEx Cup championship, and will be held at Conway Farms for the first time.
As the Lake Forest officials indicated, this is a big deal for the suburb of less than 20,000 residents. The Western Golf Association estimates the tournament will bring in $25-30 million in revenues to the surrounding communities over the week.
“It’s going to be a very exciting time here in town,’’ said Lake Forest Mayor Don Schoenheider.
When a major golf tournament site is determined, it has a huge, if temporary, impact on the communities surrounding the golf course. It is almost as if someone has decided to throw a really big party, and they tell you that you are hosting the event.
The tournament directors, in this case the Western Golf Association, let you know that the party is going to huge, and hopefully beneficial to the host city.
“We certainly feel that we are going to have some positive impact on the businesses in those areas,’’ said Vince Pelligrino, Vice President of Tournaments for the Western Golf Association.
There are two communities that will be most affected by the tournament’s arrival.
Lake Forest is east of the golf course and sits on the shore of Lake Michigan. There are two commuter train tracks that run through the city, the Union Pacific Line that goes through the downtown area and the Milwaukee North Line that is on the west side of town. Shuttles will run between the train stations and the course, about a five-minute ride from the west station and a 15-20 minute ride from the downtown stop.
The hope is that golf fans will A) take the train and B) do a little shopping either coming to or leaving the tournament. Both train stops offer attractive shopping and eating options.
“Having two lines running with multiple lines running throughout the day going into and out of Chicago is huge,’’ Pellegrino said. “We can defray some of the automobile traffic into public transportation, which is what we have been trying to do this year.”
“We are going to be putting information cards in kiosks at the train stations, where a lot of the fans will be launching from,’’ Kelsey said. “We also have plenty of parking in Lake Forest, lots of places to go for shopping and eating. I have recommended to all of our businesses to update all their social media sites, to make sure they can be found electronically, and maybe add a golf theme to their menus.”
The Market House, a restaurant across the street from the downtown train station, is keeping its summer staff on duty until tournament end in anticipation of higher-than-usual traffic for post-Labor Day September.
“This time of year traditionally is a slower period for us, but we expect it to be a very busy week,’’ said restaurant general manager Larry Flam. “We have been working the phones, booked a few parties, and Discover Card is doing a buyout of our other restaurant, The Fish House. In the summer, we increase our staff by about 30 percent, and we haven’t ramped down quite as much as we normally do to keep staffing a little higher for the week.”
“We are running a wine special,’’ said Market House owner Mark Westcott. “Ernie Els is a big wine guy, and Luke Donald is a local favorite, having played at Northwestern University. So they got together with (a nearby winery) and so we are offering the Luke Donald Chardonnay and the Ernie Els Big Easy Red Blend.”
From the Milwaukee North station, it is a very short walk to Lovell’s, a pleasant 300-seat restaurant owned by the family of famed Apollo 13 astronaut Captain James Lovell.
“We think this thing is going to be big,’’ said restaurant owner Darice Lovell. “We have had lots of phone calls about reservations that weekend. We have blocked off those days and aren’t having any parties so we can accommodate everybody.”
There is going to be a crowd in the area for the full week of the tournament, including the three practice days prior to the start of the tournament on Thursday. There will be more people in the Lake County area then there has ever been.
“We have been meeting with the city executive staff, department heads, police and fire departments, and the city manager for almost two years,’’ said Banks. “We expect to be adding approximately 7,500 extra hours by fire and police personnel with a cost estimate of $90-100,000. This expense will be reimbursed by the WGA. “
To the west of the tournament is the Village of Lincolnshire, which has its own adorable downtown shopping area as well as the very busy Milwaukee Ave. corridor that is host to almost every sit-down and fast food restaurant you can think of.
“We have been working on promoting this event for almost a year,’’ said Brad Burke, village manager of Lincolnshire. “We are sending letters to all of our restaurants in the community, encouraging them to embrace the tournament and welcome the golf fans.”
Lincolnshire and the surrounding area are home to 60 hotels with 8,600 rooms available to golf fans who want to spend the weekend near the golf course.
“We have seen a lot of activity at the hotels,’’ said Maureen Riedy, the President of Visit Lake County, the area’s Chamber of Commerce. “We have built a special page on our website that houses a lot of information on nearby communities and their accommodations. Everything seems to be ramping up now.”
Lake County is home to Six Flags Great America, the largest amusement park within a 300-mile radius of the city of Chicago. It brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, but it has its own community of hotels and a huge shopping mall as entertainment, so the Lake Forest/Lincolnshire/Lake Bluff communities don’t get a lot of business from that attraction.
This golf tournament is a whole new world for the people who are hoping to take advantage of it.
“We have not had anything to compare to what is going to happen here,’’ Flam said.
“When you think about the TV exposure, it is very exciting,’’ Riedy said. “For a single event, I would say this is the biggest thing ever to come through Lake County.”