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What to expect at Wilmington’s BMW Championship

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Officials expect more than 100,000 spectators to attend the first-ever BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – Preparations are well underway for the largest sporting event to come to Delaware in decades, or perhaps ever, as the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship arrives at the Wilmington Country Club from Aug. 16-21.

The club will host at least 100,000 spectators, with ticket sales running about 10% ahead of 2020 levels as of Aug. 10, officials said. Some tickets ranging between $85 to $950 per day are still available for purchase at BMWChampionship.com.

For those not in attendance, the tournament will be broadcast live Thursday and Friday on the GOLF Channel and Saturday and Sunday on NBC.

Who’s playing?

Fan favorite Rory McIlroy will make the BMW Championship this month after finishing in the Top 10 heading into the Fedex Cup Playoffs. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA

As the penultimate tournament of the season-ending FedEx Cup Playoffs for the PGA Tour, the BMW Championship features the Top 70 ranked PGA golfers, with the Top 30 making the final Tour Championship in Atlanta later this month. Notably, big names like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, and Brooks Koepka all won’t be playing in Wilmington due to insufficient ranking or participation in the rival LIV Golf league.

The players sure to make Wilmington’s cut include recent Major winners Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Smith, Justin Thomas and Matt Fitzpatrick, along with stars like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and Collin Morikawa. The final Top 70 will be determined after this weekend’s FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tenn.

The players will be competing for a piece of a $15 million prize purse, with the last place finish guaranteed at least $175,000 for four days of play. They will tee off in pairs this year rather than threesomes to speed up play and elongate the tournament days, said Vince Pellegrino, senior vice president of tournaments for the tournament host Western Golf Association.

Few players are likely to know the course, with Wilmington Country Club having only hosted amateur tournaments in the past, which should test the resolve of the golfers after course architects have redesigned pieces of the tournament’s South Course.

What to do?

The Trophy Club features stadium seating, concession and an air-conditioned area that overlooks several holes on the course. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Grandstands have been erected across the course for the viewing of play. The Trophy Club, situated near the sixth green, will feature air-conditioned indoor space along with a terrace to watch at least four different holes at once. The 15th hole also features large stands behind a par 3 that features a water trap in front of the green, while the largest set-up is behind the 18th hole, where a champion will be crowned Sunday afternoon – anticipate getting to the course very early Sunday for a chance at those first-come, first-serve seats.

Merchandise available at the BMW Championship will feature the host Wilmington Country Club and its ram mascot, Don Pedro. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Meanwhile, the BMW Fan Experience Zone will greet visitors with concessions, games, merchandise and an exclusive look at BMW prototype electric vehicles. Small Delaware touches will bring the First State to the competition, including hats featuring the iconic, sought-after black-and-white license plates and food by locals like Burgers by Wildwich and Gotta Lotta Gelata. Much of the merchandise sports 1901 in honor of the founding year for Wilmington Country Club or Don Pedro, the ram once owned by E.I. duPont that has become a club mascot. Eastside Golf, a golf apparel brand co-owned by Wilmington native collegiate golf champion and former Wilmington Country Club golf pro Earl Cooper Jr., will also be on site to sell their polos and other items.

Parking and traffic

With large crowds in the area, state transportation and police will be directing crowds and vehicular traffic along Kennett Pike over the tournament week, which officially starts Tuesday, Aug. 16, with a practice round for players followed by a pro-am tournament on Wednesday.

Notably, there is no parking available to the average spectator at the country club itself, and the host Western Golf Association has organized shuttle services from designated parking lots.

Spectators are encouraged to park at tournament-organized lots at Delaware Park Casino in Christiana or at Longwood Gardens in Chadds Ford, Pa., to catch a shuttle to the club. Registration for either is required and costs $10 per car. A preferred complimentary parking site for BMW owners is set up near the intersection of U.S. Route 202 and Naamans Road near the Pennsylvania border, but registration is again required.

Meanwhile, some nearby landowners are already looking to capitalize on the tournament. The former Twin Lakes Brewery site at 4208 Kennett Pike is charging $50 a car for a walkable distance.

Local impact?

As the preparation enters its final days, Wilmington Country Club Tournament Chair Tom Humphrey said Wednesday that he “feels like a kid in a candy shop.”

“Golf has been my passion forever, so to be at a place like this where you have the opportunity to watch the best players in the world come play your golf course … is just so exciting for me,” he said.

Membership interest at the private country club has already grown as they prepared to host the first PGA Tour event in state history, and Humphrey expects that enthusiasm, especially from nearby Pennsylvanians who may not have considered the Greenville-area course before, to continue after the conclusion of the tournament.

Meanwhile, the overall economic impact of the event – likely to draw twice as many as the annual Firefly Music Festival in Dover – could surpass $50 million, as was the case in the greater Baltimore area where Caves Valley Golf Course hosted the BMW Championship last year.

To help promote New Castle County during the tournament, the county, city of Wilmington, and the state Division of Small Business in partnership with the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitor Bureau are hosting a discount program and digital map to be promoted via QR code at the tournament and a Small Business Night Market at the Riverfront on Aug. 19 and 20.

“We really want to capitalize on the opportunity to showcase the hundreds of small businesses to our thousands of out-of-town guests the weekend of Aug. 18-21,” County Executive Matt Meyer said in a statement.

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