[caption id="attachment_225332" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] One of the biggest draws all-day Sunday at the BMW Championship was fan favorite Rory McIlroy. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
WILMINGTON – After two long years of preparations, Tom Humphrey was walking down the fairway on hole No. 18 with the final groupings of BMW Championship players when he looked around at the sea of people who had come to his longtime golf course.“It exceeded my wildest imagination,” he said Monday afternoon. “It was amazing theater.”For Humphrey, the chairman of the committee at Wilmington Country Club that organized the production once the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship was landed in 2020, it was affirmation for a vision they laid out years earlier to showcase the spectacular, typically private course in Greenville.
[caption id="attachment_225343" align="alignleft" width="300"] Jon Rahm hits a tee shot on No. 7 on Sunday as a large crowd followed the top player. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
While final tallies on attendance won’t be available for a few weeks, at least 110,000 fans attended the tournament and festivities that ran from Aug. 16 to 21, including ticket sellouts on the final three days, according to the tournament’s host organization, the Western Golf Association. While that may end up falling short of surpassing the 2021 tournament that drew an estimated 130,000 to Caves Valley Golf Club near Baltimore, it would be more than double what the annual Firefly Music Festival draws in Dover and about what NASCAR once drew to the Monster Mile at its height two decades ago.Aside from attendance and tourism impact, Delaware got virtually unmeasurable amounts of marketing in live TV coverage on the Golf Channel and NBC over the four days of play, and even some earlier intrigue as famed golfer Tiger Woods dropped into Wilmington for an impromptu players’ meeting. It was the first time that the PGA Tour held a tournament in Delaware, and the First State got one of the few marquee non-major events that moves around the country.“We were excited to welcome golf pros and fans to Delaware for the BMW Championship – a historic event for the First State. There’s a lot to explore in Delaware, and we look forward to welcoming fans back again soon,” Gov. John Carney told Delaware Business Times on Monday. “This tournament was a big deal for our state, and it’s just another national event that put Delaware on the map. I’d like to congratulate the Wilmington Country Club staff and volunteers, the teams at BMW and Western Golf Association, state workers, and thousands of volunteers who made this a successful event. And congratulations to Patrick Cantlay on winning the championship title.”
[caption id="attachment_225365" align="alignleft" width="300"] Patrick Cantlay poses with the J.K. Wadley trophy following his one stroke victory in the 2022 BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
Cantlay brought some extra notoriety to Delaware’s spotlight, becoming the first player to defend a PGA Tour event title in the season-ending FedEx Cup Playoffs. He won the BMW Championship on Sunday evening with a 14-under par final score, but it made for a nail-biting finish as he approached the last hole ahead by only one stroke. His tee shot landed in a bunker, but he punched out close enough to the pin to save par and his victory.The tournament champion told the media that he enjoyed the PGA's first stop in the First State, commending the fans who turned out in droves."They were amazing all week. This golf course provided great theater, especially coming into the last hole where it's that amphitheater feel," he said Sunday. "They were cheering me the whole way, and I had a bunch of friends and family out here this week, so it was just a great feel and great energy all week."
[caption id="attachment_225348" align="alignright" width="300"] Andrew Putnam hits a putt on No. 8 as fans line the green Sunday to watch. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
The players found the course to be challenging and favorable to those who could hit longer drives. The greens were tricky though and confounded many of the world’s best players as they were attempting to earn spots into the big-money, season-concluding TOUR Championship this weekend in Atlanta.“The thing about Wilmington South is that with the greens being so large, the undulation can change the speeds. It's not easy,” Humphrey said of the greens that frequently saw three putts from players. “There was a lot of tension.”That drama is exactly what brought big crowds to the Wilmington area.Big PGA fans Mark and Carina Kolonoski, who are recent arrivals to the Philadelphia area from Florida, came to the BMW Championship as their first tournament in the mid-Atlantic after having attended the Valspar Championship in Florida a few times. They followed fan favorite Jon Rahm for his first nine holes Sunday and then started wandering the course to see the entire field.
[caption id="attachment_225362" align="alignright" width="300"] Adam Scott punches a shot out of the bunker at No. 18 to save his par and keep a place in the TOUR Championship. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
“The grounds are really well kept. The crowds have been great, and everything seems very well organized,” Carina said, with Mark adding that the shuttles were well run too.Mike and Chrissy Shertz, of Lafayette Hill, Pa., brought their daughter, Rory, to Friday’s and Sunday’s tournaments having seen the practice rounds of the BMW Championship four years ago at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia.The golf fans are members of Whitemarsh Valley Country Club, and now Rory is growing up to love the game too – she was named in part after PGA Tour fan favorite Rory McIlroy after all.“She’s pretty excited to be here and she got Jordan Spieth’s signature and didn't cry until afterward. So we’re very proud,” Mike said with a laugh.
[caption id="attachment_225355" align="alignleft" width="300"] Hideki Matsuyama hits a tee shot on No. 17 at Wilmington Country Club on Sunday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
The crowds over the last week got to enjoy some of the world’s best golf played largely in sunshine and warm temperatures right in Delaware. As for whether Wilmington Country Club may get the PGA’s top players back soon, Humphrey said the club would probably take some time to debrief and get feedback from members. The BMW Championship has already announced its sites through 2026, meaning it cannot return to Wilmington until at least 2027, but another tournament could come calling after seeing the past week’s show.“The sense I have is that Wilmington really showed itself in a very positive light and I would not be surprised if at some point down the road somebody might ask us to hold another event, because there aren't that many clubs and courses that are out there that can handle something of this size,” he added. “If the call comes, I'm sure we'll answer it but I don't know what the answer to that would be at this point.”
[caption id="attachment_225359" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] The biggest crowds of the day followed fan favorite Rory McIlroy, although suites at holes like No. 15 were well-attended by hospitality guests. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]