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A whole new game: Hotels fill up as park prepares to host softball series

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Twenty softball teams and an estimated 6,000 spectators start arriving in Georgetown County this week, putting lodgings in high demand and hopefully spending money in local restaurants and stores.

“From what I understand, the hotels are basically filled or filling and I know some teams are renting condos and beach houses,” Beth Goodale, the county’s director of parks and recreation said on Tuesday.

It’s the second weekend in a row that tournaments at the county’s recently-opened Eight Oaks Park outside Georgetown have brought an influx of visitors to the area. A state baseball championship last weekend brought 16 teams and coaches, and about 3,000 spectators to the park. The 2012 Dixie Softball Angels and Darlings World Series, which starts Saturday, is twice as big and should bring twice the crowd, “if not more,” according to Goodale.

“We don’t really know what to expect, but they’re coming from all across the southeast,” she said. “We feel like there’s a lot of them traveling that the entire family will come with them, whereas with the state tournament maybe just dad or mom came down from Lexington or Florence. This is more of a vacation type event and we hope they’re bring aunts and uncles and cousins too.”

Players on the Angels teams are ages 9 and 10, and the Darlings are 7 and 8. While parents may not opt to take a troop of energetic 7- to 10-year-olds to upscale restaurants, the series is set up so parents will have some opportunities to head off on their own for dinner and exploring while their kids are occupied.

Goodale also suspects there will be plenty of opportunities during the day for families to explore, shop and visit the beach together. By the time the week is over, they might be ready to make Georgetown County the destination of their next vacation.

“The idea is for them to discover it, love it and come back,” Goodale said. “We do know from experience with this level of play when they were in Sumter there were families and teams driving down here to show kids the ocean.”

All the teams have to be in town in time for a coaches’ meeting on Friday night, right before the opening ceremony. County staff and volunteers will start immediately gathering information about where folks are staying while they’re in town, how long they’re staying and activities outside the tournament they’re participating in.

The county will continue working to bring in more tournaments at Eight Oaks and other facilities opening around the county, and wants those details to get an accurate picture of the impact on tourism such events have.

However, it will be at least a few days after the series closes on Wednesday before they have a chance to start evaluating and putting together a report on the information.

Similar data was collected after the state tournament, but staff will look at that after the world series too. There was no time after the tournament.

“We went straight into getting ready for this one,” Goodale said.

In the meantime, a Facebook page set up for the World Series offers a glimpse at the accommodations situation.

“It’s become sort of a clearinghouse for ‘we need X more rooms’ and ‘we have X rooms,’” Goodale said. She reported all the Georgetown hotels were mostly full by the end of last week when only half the teams competing in the series had been announced. As they finished the playoffs through the weekend, more teams were booking property on the Waccamaw Neck and up into southern Horry County.

The Facebook page reported a limited number of rooms at the Hampton Inn in Georgetown when they became available on Tuesday.

Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort was booked solid, but suites at Pawleys Plantation could still be reserved through the resort, the page reported a week ago. That information was confirmed by Sally Hogan, tourism coordinator for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce. She started working on the tournament with the recreation department two years ago, when Georgetown made its bid for the event.

“If we don’t have the accommodations, then we won’t get them back,” Hogan said. Paul McCullough, the county recreation manager, “told me teams were starting to have trouble.”

The page also referred teams to True Blue, Inlet Sports Lodge and Marion Manor, a new Georgetown bed and breakfast.

Hogan contacted vacation rental companies last week, looking for beach houses for teams. If not beach houses, then condos should be available at area golf courses, said Helen Benso, who chairs the county’s Tourism Management Commission.

The problem with renting vacation properties in the summer for a weekend during the tournament rather than the traditional week is that it blocks a weekly rental before or after the tournament, said Matt Giltmier, a tourism commission member who works at Pawleys Island Realty.

But if a beach house is not booked, “we’ll take them,” he said. “It can be affordable.”

Once the teams arrive, demand at restaurants could be another issue, Hogan speculated. “The restaurants are going to be overwhelmed,” she said.

But with the county collecting a local tax on both short-term rentals and restaurant meals, there’s no question it’s a good problem to have.

As part of the process for being selected to host the world series, officials with the series had to visit Georgetown County and verify there are enough lodgings, restaurants and activities to accommodate an event of its size. The county was also required to provide information about places to stay, eat and visit. Using information from the Chamber, the county compiled a handbook and visitors package that was sent to the coach of each team participating in the series.

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