SPRING HILL — What has 20,000 feet, funny shoes and provides an estimated $4.5 million stimulus to Hernando County?
The Florida State Bowling Association's 75th annual Championship Tournament, which begins this weekend and runs for 10 weekends until July 5.
Organizers estimate that nearly 1,000 tourists will arrive each weekend, bowling bags in hand, to participate in the tournament, which takes place at both Spring Hill Lanes and Mariner Lanes.
"It's a good shot in the arm for our tourism industry," said Mike McHugh, Hernando County's business development director.
The timing is also good, he said. Just as snowbird season winds up, bowlers arrive.
Several hotels in the area are fully booked, and popular tourist destinations like Weeki Wachee Springs are bracing for a full house. Many visitors will likely be bringing their golf bags and will want to know where they can get a good meal.
To help, the Hernando County Tourism Bureau has designed an online map and special Bowling Association coupon book specifically for the event.
So how did it happen that thousands of bowlers have chosen to make Hernando County their springtime weekend destination?
To find out, we have to go back to the 2007 state bowling convention. The event rotates among four divisions across the state, and both Tampa and Brooksville put in bids for 2009.
Snagging this bid was no easy feat. It took teamwork and creativity and a little mermaid magic.
To prepare, the local chapter of Florida's Bowlers Association teamed up with Hernando County's Department of Tourism. The Hernando County Government Broadcasting Department created a professional video that showcased local amenities.
At the conference, the team set up a hospitality room, which included the rolling video highlighting all that Hernando County has to offer visitors. Several local hotel owners even attended to help make the pitch, said Sue Rupe, county tourism director.
One of Weeki Wachee's very own mermaids arrived and signed autographs, said Ron Ditt, manager of the Hernando County Bowling Association.
"It was the hit of the convention," said Ditt.