Rain couldn’t dampen Skins success 

Two day golf event sells out in final days while international media keyed in on Jack Nicklaus

If Whistler was counting on the Telus Skins Game to show off the beauty of the valley, two days of clouds and rain put an end to that angle. But from a public relations perspective, in terms of media coverage and the support of fans, organizers at IMG Canada are chalking up the event as perhaps their most successful yet.

"It was probably one of the best events that we’ve had," said Dave Haggith of IMG Canada. "The Whistler event in ’97 certainly rates highly, too, but every time we come to Whistler we just get great support.

"I didn’t think the rain hindered anything at all, the crowds came out, the course looked spectacular – without umbrellas you wouldn’t even know that anything was wrong."

The fact that Jack Nicklaus took part, making it his last pro event in North America – he retires after the British Open next week – attracted more media attention for the Skins Game than usual. It didn’t hurt that Nicklaus, one of the greatest players in golf history with six Masters titles, also had a stellar game and finished second on the money list by winning seven holes.

IMG Canada is still measuring the media coverage and response to the event, but based on their initial findings they believe this was the event’s biggest year.

"The media was through the roof, I don’t think this event has enjoyed such huge coverage. Especially internationally, with everybody tuning in to see Jack Nicklaus in one of his last games," said Haggith.

"We usually get some coverage from the major sports networks, but the Telus Skins Game typically wouldn’t be on CNN or any of the news networks like we were this year."

There were periods when the mountains were visible through the rain, and at least two of Whistler’s black bears were caught by cameramen over two days. All of the golfers tipped their hats to Nicklaus North for the condition of the course and greens, and touted the hospitality and support of the Whistler community.

According to Jeff Ciecko, the general manager of Nicklaus North, the response so far has been overwhelming.

"We’re sold out today," he said, referring to the post-Skins shotgun tournament that took place on Wednesday using the same set up as the Skins Game. "We think this will have both short and long-term effects. We’ve talked to the other courses in town and they’re busy, and the Skins Game definitely brought a lot of people to town in what was really not the best weather.

"Looking down the road, our bookings are strong for this year and we’re getting inquiries into the 2006 season as well.

"It’s been a while since Whistler got to show the world why we’re one of North America’s number one golf destinations. This was a great opportunity, and I think we made the most of it."

Ciecko also didn’t think the rain was a factor in how the event will be seen – "The course really showed its colours and looked great on television," he said.

Nicklaus North spent six months preparing for the Skins Game, meeting with IMG and Telus in the winter, and making a few minor modifications to the course this spring to lengthen some holes and increase the level of difficulty. The rest has been maintenance, and Ciecko says his crews did an excellent job in that department.

"We have a great crew here and they did an outstanding job ensuring that the golf course played as Jack (Nicklaus) designed it," he said. "The feedback from the players was even better than we hoped for."

IMG Canada will be following up with organizing partners in the next few weeks to put together a full assessment of the event in terms of its value as a draw to Whistler and as a magnet for media coverage.

"I think you’ll find that this event was good for everyone. It was good for the sponsors, for the players, and great for Nicklaus North and Whistler," said Haggith. "Our charity, KidSport, did particularly well with $125,000 coming from Telus."

The few remaining tickets sold out just days before the event, which Haggith expected. "People watch the weather and make these decisions last minute, especially coming off a long weekend like this, so we expected there to be a rush in the final days," he said.

As for the television audience, the Skins Game was broadcast live on TSN then rebroadcast again later in the day. Because of the time difference, the Skins Game was broadcast in prime time in Eastern Canada and the Eastern states.

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