In its very first at bat with organizing and hosting a major national Pro/Am archery tournament, the Foley Sports Tourism group knocked it out of the park.
Or in this case, success of the four-day event was center-bullseye on target.
By Sunday morning tournament officials with the national Archery Shooters Association (ASA) confirmed the Foley event had drawn the single largest competitor field in the organization’s tournament history. ASA’s official final total of registered shooters: 1,925.
That figure surpassed a previous high participation mark set last year at the ASA Pro/Am tournament in London, Kentucky.
The event — titled the ASA Hoyt Archery Alabama Pro/Am — was staged Feb. 25-28 at the City of Foley’s sister outdoor recreation facility, the 500 acre Graham Creek Nature Preserve. The venue proved optimal for drawing that record participation, as well as drawing two-tumbs-up reviews from competitors and organizers.
“This is the best tournament I’ve been to,” said seasoned tour archer Rocky Reimer, of Peachtree City, Georgia. “We’d like to come back here.”
ASA President Mike Tyrell said, “This is the best tournament we’ve ever had. Don Staley and Leslie Gahagan are the most professional and prepared site managers I’ve worked with.”
Staley is the Executive Director of Foley Sports Tourism, while Gahagan is the Graham Creek Preserve manager as well as the city’s Environmental Manager.
Tyrell admits his organization’s desire to make the Foley tour stop an ongoing venue, or at least for an extended term of multiple years.
Staley, the former University of Alabama soccer coach and long time sports tourism executive, was the city’s initial hire as director of its new Sports Tourism division. Under construction now, also under Staley’s direction, is the city’s massive 16 field soccer and lacrosse complex, located a short ways up the Beach Express from the Graham Creek facilities. The group is terming the complex its new ‘megacility’.
“We brought them (ASA) here, to Graham Creek,” said Staley, “but Leslie Gahagan and her staff made this happen. The entire City of Foley made this happen. All departments played a role and our volunteers all week were fabulous.”
The Foley tour stop is part of the national ASA series known as the McKenzie Pro/Am Tour.
McKenzie makes the 3D targets, authentically depicting big game wildlife, which are used for these tournaments. Competitors rotate along a line of target assignments, shooting into a woodland setting down very narrow aisles between the trees toward their targets.
Along with the tour stops in Foley and Kentucky, the ASA McKenzie Pro/Am series visits Paris TX, Augusta GA, Metropolis IL and Fort Benning GA through the summer months.
Gahagan said of the event, “The exposure this created for the Nature Preserve is far reaching. We met many locals who followed the event traffic here, who had no idea this facility even existed. So we’ll be glad to welcome them (ASA) back. Along with our many out-of-town visitors on site for the tournament, whom had obviously never been here.”
A new Interpretive Center is now well under construction at Graham Creek, slated for completion and opening early this summer. The facility will house 5,500 square feet of indoor space, along with large covered patio areas. Included will be a nature center, an environmental laboratory, meeting & event areas and restrooms.
An archery range was added to the Graham Creek facilities just over a year ago, though that range was not part of the Pro/Am course this weekend. Gahagan said the public is always invited to use the range, whether just getting introduced to the sport or to hone your tournament archery skills.
An already popular disc golf course was another recent addition at the Nature Preserve. Graham Creek is hosting a disc golf tournament on March 12 & 13, expecting several hundred competitors. Graham Creek is likely to host many more outdoor sports and tournament events, either independently or through coordination with Foley Sports Tourism.
The economic impact of this first ever Pro/Am archery event should live up to or exceed projections — an estimated $2.5 million kick to the local economy. Which is the city’s purpose behind the new push on sports tourism . . . alongside the exercise, fitness, recreation and fellowship benefits.
Restaurants and lodging establishments around the area were pushing capacity — for a February weekend — from the 2,000 visiting archers, along with their families, event vendors and sponsors.
Competitors arrived from across the south and midwest, and as far away as California, New York, Massachusetts and Great Britain.
Jenelle Moyer, Manager of the Mossy Oak store nearby in Foley, said they enjoyed record sales of rubber boots. Some mud remained down those wooded shooting aisles from heavy rains earlier in the week. When she noted the need for those products, Moyer extended an extra discount for all tournament competitors. The shooters did indeed spread the word, and boot sales got a fast kick in the butt, along with the boost in February hospitality spending.
Staley concluded, “Along with our city partners, staff and volunteers, we thank ASA, Hoyt Archery, McKenzie Targets and all our wonderful tournament sponsors and vendors. We’re very pleased with this first time event. We’ll obviously make a few adjustments in the future, based on this experience. We’d love to have these folks back.”