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Commerce department uses Greenbrier Classic to sell state

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - State Commerce Department officials are using this week's Greenbrier Classic to sell the state to tourists and potential business investors.

The state has paid nearly $1.8 million to become one of three "Presenting Partners" at this year's Classic - one of the highest levels of sponsorship available at the event.

The sponsorship allows the state to use several venues and participate in a host of functions at The Greenbrier during the week.

The state has sponsored the tournament each year since its inception and Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said he is still trying to find new ways to use it to promote the state.

"We have looked at this from every angle, and I'm sure there are angles we haven't figured out yet," Burdette said.

"This is a little trial and error," he said. "Every year we figure out something different, some that's better or smarter or how we can do something different."

The state's presence at the event has varied since 2010.

That first year the state simply - and controversially - cut a $1 million check to support the tournament's finances.

After Burdette was appointed Commerce Secretary in December 2010, he pushed for a different approach.

"When I became secretary, I said we ought to support this project, but we need to tweak this a little bit," he said.

He said if the state is going to be listed as a sponsor, it needs to act like one and take full advantage of the privileges offered other sponsors.

That includes making use of Greenbrier facilities, typically offered to other sponsors to host guests, to promote state business and tourism.

Burdette said using the Classic as an opportunity to encourage business investment and tourism has started to reap benefits for the state.

"We've turned it into something that I think ultimately pays for itself," Burdette said. "I've finally gotten to the point where I even tell Jim Justice, we're just using him."

Burdette said state Development Office officials have used golf's appeal with business owners and executives as a lure to attract potential investors and deal makers to visit the state.

"This is the sport that businessmen and women and decision makers gravitate to," he said. "This is the one they play, it's the one they watch on TV - it's a perfect fit."

The state invited more than 200 representatives from nearly 30 companies to meetings, receptions and events taking place at The Greenbrier Classic this week. Many representatives will visit the 18th green skybox that the state gets to use as part of its "Presenting Partner" status.

While it's a prime spot to watch golf, the game's pace of play also helps build relationships with power brokers.

"Golf is such a slow game," Burdette said. "You're only quiet for about 10 minutes as they're on the green in front of you. The rest of the time you're having a drink, telling a few stories, and talking about business."

Officials also get to use all the trappings of The Greenbrier and the celebrities the tournament attracts to help impress visiting investors.

People like Jerry West, Bob Huggins, Dana Holgorsen, and Tom Watson drop by, along with state political figures like Sen. Joe Manchin and former Gov. Gaston Caperton.

"I don't want to say we're name dropping, but those are some great names to drop to impress a client," Burdette said.

Aside from the business investment angle, officials also try to use the event to promote year-round tourism.

This year, the state is using the Howard's Creek Lodge, located between the 12th green and the 17th tee, as a central place to promote state tourism.

For the last three years, private sponsors have used the lodge. This is the first year it is open to the public.

The air-conditioned facility, with seating areas on the back deck, is an ideal spot for golf fans to cool off during the day.

As they do, state Tourism Division representatives will be available to discuss local attractions, hand out information packets or give out free WV lanyards, which can be used to hang Greenbrier Classic admission badges around your neck.

Then there is the free advertising the state will get during the event itself.

The CBS Sports telecast of the event is broadcast in more than 200 countries. While the state will pay for some commercial time, television crews will also highlight many state attractions during the tournament broadcast.

"If you listen to the CBS broadcasters and the Golf Channel broadcasters, they're effusive in their praise of what's here at The Greenbrier and in West Virginia," Burdette said.

"I used to joke that it cost me $230,000 to buy 90 seconds of network airtime for commercials - I get the rest of the weekend for free," he said. "You can't hardly buy this stuff, you can't create these kind of dynamics, so we milk it for all we can."

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-4836.



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