Doral on PGA Tour backing out: ‘I will survive’

For years, the PGA Tour has put Doral in the international spotlight, branding the city as a go-to golf destination.

The illustrious golf tournament — which announced Wednesday it was breaking up with the city and will relocate to Mexico — brought in tons of free publicity and millions of dollars since 1962.

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But even though the event generates tens of millions a year in the city, according to a Doral economic development official, the PGA Tour’s withdrawal may not dent the local economy.

“It’s certainly an event you don’t want to lose, and it undeniably brings economic activity to the area. However I don’t see the impact being as drastic as people believe it is,” said Manuel Armada, chief of Miami-Dade County’s research section. “We have a $178 billion economy. If you look at the economy altogether, I don’t see it making a catastrophic impact.”

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The 2009 event generated about $24 million in direct spending across Miami-Dade County and drew roughly 110,000 attendees, according to the most recent economic-impact study, which was commissioned by the tournament.

Among the impacts: a loss of charitable donations. Last year’s tournament generated more than $970,000 for South Florida charities, primarily United Way of Miami-Dade, First Tee Miami-Dade and First Tee Broward. Doral’s Parks and Police 4 Kids Foundation also got a big donation, $62,500.

What began in 1962 as the Doral Country Club Invitational grew into a global event that brought in thousands of people from out of state and out of the country, spurring business at local hotels, restaurants and retail shops.

“The mom-and-pop businesses in the immediate Doral community will feel an impact. However, being that this is a once-a-year event, hopefully they will have ways to work around it,” said Jose Sotolongo, spokesman for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “In the grand scheme of things, we have a large tourism industry and we have have a constant influx of tourists that come to Miami year round that will offset the loss of tourists for that one event.”

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J. Antonio Villamil, founder and principal of the Washington Economics Group in Coral Gables, said the loss of the PGA Tour goes deeper than money.

“You have what I call the publicity effect,” Villamil said. “People see the city, people see the golf course, which increases the image of Doral and Miami-Dade. That is free publicity that will cost millions of dollars otherwise. It’s what tends to reenforce the image of the city and what I call global branding in terms of entertainment and sports.”

Villamil said the loss of such a prestigious event, despite bringing in millions, will most likely be a short-term blow rather than a long-term one.

“Truth is, it will eventually be replaced by something else,” he said. “Doral will be fine. Doral has grown...It’s not dependent on golf by itself like it used to be. Twenty years ago, even 10 years ago, the impact would have been much greater. But now Doral has many other industries that can pick up the slack. The city is now known more as an international trade business center than it is for golf. It is an import and export center, its real estate activity is strong. This is what I call a temporary loss.”

Doral’s economic developer, Manuel Pila, said the city is working on bringing in music, arts, culture and sports events to fill in the economic gap, which he estimated in the tens of millions.

“We believe the lost revenue will come back in other ways,” Pila said. “You either put all your eggs in one basket or spread your eggs in various baskets. In a few years this will be something we probably won’t even be talking about.”

For now, Doral isn’t crying a river.

“The Blue Monster is still the Blue Monster and it’s still going to attract golfers who want to play there,” said Doral spokesman Evan Owen. “Wasn’t it Gloria Gaynor who sang ‘I will survive, I will survive?’ 

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan