Tournament Town: Anderson, South Carolina

What makes a tournament town? Discover a benchmark definition in Anderson, South Carolina.

For starters, the town is launch site for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. For the third time in a decade Classic competitors will fish on Lake Hartwell.

Anderson, population 27,544, has much more going for it than a place to launch bass boats into Lake Hartwell. What sets Anderson apart is how tournaments benefit the economy the year round.

Competitors return as vacationers. Media coverage brings first timers drawn to the appealing hospitality and great fishing. A fishing industry career seminar attended by hundreds of high school bass club anglers is an annual wintertime event. 

Needless to say, the folks around Anderson get it. Proof is $30 million of economic impacts in just three years following the opening of the showpiece Green Pond Landing & Event Center in 2015.  

“What makes Anderson a tournament town is how we localize everything we do,” said Neil Paul, executive director of Visit Anderson. “Bringing a hometown experience to our visitors is what we do best.” 

What else is done well is the marketing partnership between Anderson and nearby Greenville, the Classic host city for a third time since 2008.

For a convention-hosting city like Greenville the Classic once brought a unique challenge. That was a launch facility capable of accommodating large crowds and parking for thousands of fans.

Anderson barely passed the test in 2008. Seven years later it succeeded beyond expectations. Here is the story behind how a small town dreamed big to become a premier tournament town.

Launch epiphany

Matt Schell remembered the dock straining from the weight of people watching the Classic launch in 2008. Parking lots were overflowing. Schell was a county parks and recreation department land planner. His mind began to wander toward a solution.  

“People couldn’t get close enough to the anglers, they were too far off,” he recalled. “Something was missing, we had a great opportunity, and there had to be a better way.”

Everyone wanted the Classic to return, including B.A.S.S. Like anything else, all it would take was money.

Dream big

Schell applied his geographic information systems (GIS) expertise to map out potential locations for a lakeside tournament super site.

“Other than 1960s-era boat ramps we had nothing new here, and it was like a slow death for fishing on the lake,” said Schell, now parks department manager. “When you are in design work you dream big and so we did.”

Parking for 200 trailers and vehicles. Multi-lane and extended boat ramps for low and high water use. Weigh-in, service yard and outdoor event spaces. The wish list went on and on.

Coincidentally, the most favorable site was on 30 acres around a 1960s-era, single lane boat ramp called Green Pond Landing.

The visionaries of Anderson County were unfazed by the $3.1 million price tag for developing the site. Everyone recognized the long-term potential of how the Classic and tournaments could benefit tourism.

The financial turning point came while Green Pond Landing was on the drawing board in 2010. Industrial PCB contamination of Lake Hartwell resulted in an $11 million court settlement for improving public access. Anderson County applied $1.2 million of its share with state and federal grants to fund Green Pond Landing.

Anderson County, the little community that could, joined Greenville in submitting a Classic proposal and B.A.S.S. accepted. In 2015 the Classic would return.

“We signed the contract before work even began,” said Schell. “We knew that making the Classic our first tournament at Green Pond Landing would be a game changer.”

He would be correct. Construction began in 2013 with the Classic returning two years later.

Built it, they came

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other state and federal interests worked with Schell during the design process. So did an unlikely panel of experts. They represented all levels of the bass fishing community, from high school and bass clubs to national tournament organizations. 

“Having Green Pond Landing ultimately designed by users was our intent,” explained Schell. “We wanted to know from them what the future looked like.”

On the B.A.S.S. wish list was a drive-through amphitheater with staging area for weigh-ins. The B.A.S.S. Nation representative persuaded Schell to avoid building on the existing ramp site known to make launching difficult in high winds.

The amphitheater is in the future. Priorities became roadways, parking and most of all, large boat ramps and courtesy docking for attracting high profile tournaments.

Three lanes of boat ramps measuring more than 285 feet long were built for launching in high and low water. Three more are planned. So are unusually wide courtesy docks for temporary mooring. Those will be floating in time for the 2018 Classic. 

Phase I of Green Pond Landing was completed just in time for the 2015 Classic. It was deemed an overwhelming success. Anderson County wanted more and it came quickly after the Classic. 

Tournament organizers began scheduling tournaments. Room nights increased and businesses experienced the good fortune to come.

“Everyone wants to come where the Classic was held,” said Paul. “We knew it and that is why we put all of our eggs in one basket with Green Pond Landing.”

Local touch

An international contingent of anglers experienced Anderson’s local hospitality last October. That happened at the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors.

Patricia Yokeum, owner of the Barnwood Grill in Anderson, arrived prior to the daylight launches to prepare made-to-order breakfast burritos from a makeshift kitchen erected in the service yard. There was no cash register. Anglers, sponsors, volunteers and B.A.S.S. staff were served with a smile.

Marty Walker moved his Palmetto Boat Center to be closer to Lake Hartwell. Taking it another step, Walker sponsors the B.A.S.S. High School Nation sanctioned tournament trail that averages 200 boats.

Embracing tournaments as a business opportunity are commitments made by Yokeum and Walker. They are not alone. The impact of tournaments has spread throughout the community. All recognize what is to come when out of state vehicles and boats arrive in town.

Classic rebound

Green Pond Landing closed in December for a three-month upgrade on target for completion for March. The improvements are part of a $1.5 million next phase paid for by $650,000 from federal Sport Fish Restoration Program funds, with the balance coming from county hotel taxes.

Increasing dock space, ironically an original need identified by Schell, is a main priority. By Classic time an additional 350 linear feet of floating courtesy dock will be installed in addition to the existing courtesy docks. That will allow the full field of 52 boats and anglers to simultaneously tie off prior to takeoff.

Bright future

Green Pond Landing is the centerpiece of the now churning tournament tourism machine in Anderson County. That can only mean more is on the way. To come in the future are the drive-through amphitheater, more parking, weigh-in staging area, bathroom facilities, pavilions and three more deepwater launch lanes.

What else could be on the drawing board? It’s going to be fun to see how this tournament town will grow the sport.

Originally posted on Bassmaster Go to Source
Author: Craig Lamb

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