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Tiger Woods and other professional golfers are being enlisted to help sell Buffalo Niagara, without the cost of multimillion-dollar endorsement deals.

The Buffalo Niagara Enterprise will build one of its largest marketing events ever around the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester this summer, hoping the chance to watch the world's top golfer play for a "major" will attract business executives to Western New York.

BNE is inviting some of the nation's top real estate developers to Buffalo for the August 14-17 tournament. The regional marketing office, funded by more than $4 million in annual donations from Erie County and local businesses, will put guests up in Buffalo hotels and shuttle them to the tournament in Rochester.

The BNE split a corporate tent for the tournament with First Niagara Financial Group and the law firm Hodgson Russ. The tent, which cost $85,000, comes with 50 tickets for each of the four tournament rounds.

The marketing office will take guests on a tour of local business parks, brownfield development projects, such as the Union Ship Canal in Buffalo, and Niagara Falls.

"We've prioritized a list of people who might be interested in doing work (in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area). We're trying to be smart about this," said Leslie Hornung, marketing director for the BNE.

The Buffalo-based marketing office recently put out a request for proposals to local developers who might have property they want included on the tour.

Companies and chambers of commerce often use major sporting events, such as a Super Bowl or a golf tournament, as a chance to wine and dine potential clients.

A consortium of economic development offices from the Finger Lakes region, including the Greater Rochester Enterprise, is also planning events around the PGA Championship at Oak Hill. The Finger Lakes group will be inviting consulting firms which specialize in selecting sites for new offices, warehouses and factories.

Tiger Woods and the other members of the pro golf tour don't come to Western New York too often. The last major championship at Oak Hill was the 1989 U.S. Open, won by Curtis Strange. Oak Hill hosted the Ryder Cup, a team event between U.S. and European golfers, in 1995.

The BNE was launched in 1999 to market Western New York to companies in an effort to attract investment and create jobs. The office focused much of its early attention on site selectors, but when the economy went into recession it became more difficult to attract projects to a high tax region.

The BNE has paid more attention in the last year to companies already located here, trying to help them expand. The guest list for the PGA Championship also includes executives of out-of-town companies with local facilities, such as Goodyear, which owns the Dunlop plant in Tonawanda, and Invitrogen, which has a biotechnology division on Grand Island.


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