Georgetown's shining hospitality

GEORGETOWN, S.C.— To say Georgetown is rolling out the red carpet comes up short in recognizing the host city’s all-out hospitality at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Elite at Winyah Bay.

You see it in the downtown historic district. Aunny’s Country Kitchen owner Andrea “Aunny” Johnson removes her apron and exits the kitchen to greet customers, even posing for photos. You see hospitality all over in a town that has embraced tournaments for their economic impacts.

Where you really see it is at the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex, site of the daily takeoffs, weigh-ins and Elite Series Expo. There, you will find volunteers—more than 30 in all—going above and beyond what is normally provided at Bassmaster tournaments.

“We really enjoy the tournaments, all of them, and it’s why we built this facility to showcase our town and all the great fishing in the area,” said Beth Goodale, director of parks and recreation for Georgetown County.

This is not your average takeoff effort of volunteers helping guide boats and trailers to the ramp and parking spots. They do that here and more. At the Wednesday angler meeting the pros and marshals were treated to a dinner of chicken pilau, a quintessential low country South Carolina dish, and prepared by the sherriff's office. 

Here is what the pros are treated to when they arrive at the complex. Roll up to the launch queue and get handed a hot and fresh chicken biscuit provided by the local Bojangle’s. Move farther down the line and more volunteers show up with bags of ice to go inside coolers. The complex is big—so big in fact that volunteers drive golf carts to shuttle anglers after parking their vehicles back to the launch ramp. Come back in the afternoon and you are treated to ice cream or a cold drink. Goodale says the volunteers want to make sure the anglers stay hydrated during the weigh-in. And whatever else you need, then it will be provided.

The entire effort appears to be pulled off by a well-trained team of volunteers. In fact, they are highly trained for reasons other than volunteering at weigh-ins. In the event of a civil or weather-related incident the volunteers all work through a coordinated effort with the Georgetown County Emergency Management Agency. Joining the volunteers are officials with neighboring Florence County and its EMA.

“We are a small city within a large county,” Goodale explained. “We are really trained to assess, coordinate and respond to emergencies like a hurricane.”

Everyone has an assigned job and you never know who it might be lending help. Sel Hemingway, the county administrator, drove a bus loaded with wives and girlfriends for an afternoon of sporting clays at Back Country Quail Club. Most all of the county leadership is involved in the volunteer effort. So is the Sheriff’s office and other public safety agencies.

Even the finest details are a big deal. Flags representing each state and country of the pros are being flown at the complex.

“We continue to think about what small things we can add to make the experience even better for our visiting anglers and their families,” explained Hemingway. “We want everyone to feel welcome.”

Georgetown is an ideal location for tournaments of every size. County leaders envisioned the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex after seeing how other communities were expanding their travel and tourism business and marketing plans to include tournaments.

The nearly 20-acre facility has parking for 200 vehicles with boat trailers, a six-lane launch ramp, floating courtesy docks, a dedicated weigh-in and activities area and restrooms.

B.A.S.S. has held five events so far in Georgetown since 2015. Those include two B.A.S.S. Nation Regional Championships, a Carhartt Bassmaster College Series regional tournament and two Bassmaster Elite Series events. 

“We see the benefits as when our fishing is showcased by all these tournaments that anglers will want to come here and fish where the pros did,” said Hemingway.

By week’s end the volunteers will have worked 18-hour days, beginning each day around 4:30 a.m. and ending long after the weigh-in. And by the way, that includes pitching in at the Winyah Bay Heritage Festival occurring simultaneously at the complex. The festival features the South Carolina Duck Calling Championships, retriever trials, and two free concerts.

“It’s what we do and we love to see people come visit us,” added Goodale.

With hospitality like this who wouldn’t love to love them all back.