Mississippi's Cliff Pace wins his first Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa
BY KELLY BOSTIAN World Outdoors Writer
Monday, February 25, 2013
2/25/13 at 7:45 AM
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In the top row seats at the back of the BOK Center on Sunday, Abigale Benfer beamed with a look a year in the making. Her bright blue eyes shone as she grinned in her mother Christy's lap there in Section 306. The lights, sounds and exhilaration of thousands of fishing fans vibrated through the place. Everyone felt it.
A year ago, about the time the 51-week-old charmer got busy coming into the world, Tulsa got busy preparing to host the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, sponsored by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.
Facts and figures are yet to come, but immediate impressions are the baby girl in the rafters witnessed something that set a new benchmark in Tulsa, as Mississippi angler Cliff Pace capped the Classic on Sunday by winning the world championship trophy, a $500,000 prize and the fame that goes with it.
Several thousand fans flocked to the sub-freezing dawn boat launches at Grove on Friday through Sunday. The BOK hit capacity Saturday and Sunday, and fire safety officials had to turn some fans back. Officials said attendance is yet to be determined but given the history of other events at the center the number likely will be 11,000 to 12,000. On Friday members of the fishing industry press and bass writers marveled at the weekday turnout in the BOK.
It peaked Sunday as Patrick Benfer sat with a stroller to his left and his wife and child to his right, high in the BOK because the family from Copan "didn't want to be in someone else's way." There was a stage lighting bar in their view, but that was OK.
"I have been wanting to see this for as long as I can remember," Patrick Benfer said. "This is amazing."
Like thousands of others who rolled into Tulsa for the Bassmaster Classic this week the Benfer's spent time in town, picked up some new fishing gear at "the awesome" Bassmaster Outdoor Expo, presented by Dicks' Sporting Goods in the 150,000-square foot Tulsa Convention Center that was packed to the gills. They waited "about an hour" in a line that wound around the BOK and down Denver Avenue to find their way into the arena before climbing to the top of the house for Sunday's final weigh-in.
A wicked snowstorm to the north caused some hotel cancellations from Kansas City travelers, but overall attendance was "fantastic," said local organizing committee chairman Jeff Stava.
"I saw license plates from Florida and California and a whole lot from Texas, Arkansas and Missouri," he said of a walk he took through the convention center parking garage. "It puts it in perspective what's here."
Some in Tulsa and Grove have buzzed against naysayers since the Tulsa Sports Commission and BASS announced the tournament and spoke of the possibility of 100,000 visitors and $26 million in economic impact.
Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb announced the event in November 2011 as a "gold standard" compared to the Stanley Cup, World Series and Super Bowl.
"For months I've been repeating what I've been told about the impact it would have on tourism and the economy of Tulsa, Northeast Oklahoma and Oklahoma, the significance it would have. I believed that as I repeated it," he said.
"After being there and seeing it... I'm just absolutely blown away. Words to describe the event, if you don't go see it, words just don't do the description justice. To compare it to the Super Bowl or World Series, that is no exaggeration by any means."
BASS Director of Event and Tourism Partnerships Michael Mulone said attendance obviously was strong at both the launch ceremonies in Grove and at the Tulsa venues but figures will be yet-to-come.
"They will come together pretty quickly," he said.
Mulone noted seeing people walking back to their hotel rooms carrying shopping and tackle bags.
"People have definitely traveled into the area, there is a tourism and economic impact and overall it just has been a great week," he said.
Whatever the numbers show, the statistics are not the only benchmark, he said. Sales appeared to be good for vendors and people gave Northeast Oklahoma rave reviews.
"We look at numbers and talk about buildings and fish and lakes, but there are so many intangibles - the staff, the anglers, the fans being welcomed with open arms," he said.
The event broke the mold from the beginning with an early location announcement. Instead of announcing at the end of the prior year's Classic, it was cued three months earlier, allowing a committee to come together and attend the 2012 Classic at Shreveport to gather ideas.
"I can't imagine not having as much time," Stava said.
He has been asked repeatedly what was the secret that allowed the committee from partnered communities 90 miles apart to take the event to a higher level. Simply, he said, "the secret is time."
The clock was crucial especially as Grand Lake still needed a suitable boat launch for the thousands of spectators and media that come with a Classic event.
Grove Mayor Marty Follis talks about goose bumps when it comes to the results of the 100-day, $3.7 million failure-is-not-an-option construction project that is now Wolf Creek Park and Boat Ramp.
Making that facility a reality required extraordinary cooperation between state, local and private entities and an extraordinarily cooperative Mother Nature, he said. No financial incentives or penalties were worked into the construction contract. Overtime and 7-day weeks were a given, figured into the price tag, he said.
"It was just, this has to be done," he said. "Friday morning when there were 2,500 people and the parking lot was full with 800 cars. That was kind of, just something. It's a pretty neat thing for Grand Lake and to be able to do more with the Elites and FLW later it's going to be huge. It was very exciting. The hair stands up on the back of your neck."
Follis said 1,500 Facebook users "checked in" at Wolf Creek that Friday morning. "So you think, what, maybe half the crowd have Facebook and actually check in? BASS said it's their biggest Friday morning crowd ever. The flyovers and the crowd, the music and everything. If you weren't excited you must not have a pulse."
It's a lasting mark for Grove, the mayor said. "Monday, when this is all over, Tulsa will go back to normal, come to Grand Lake and there will be a new $3.7 million facility and next week when it's televised they will know where Grove is and they will know where Grand Lake is for sure."
Lt. Gov. Lamb said he believes the Classic will be coming back to this area. He said he spoke with a BASS official casually and asked what the state might do to improve chances of getting another Classic date.
"Just one hiccup or challenge we could improve upon in the courting process," he said. "I asked him to score us on one to 10, one being problematic, 10 being good to work with. He said, 'honestly, a 37; Tulsa set a new standard.' I think that shows how happy they are.'"
The Benfers, and thousands like them, will be happy to hear that.
"Oh yeah," Patrick Benfer said pointing toward the floor of the BOK Center. "And next time we'll be sitting down there."
Original Print Headline: World-class Pace
Kelly Bostian, 918-581-8357
As confetti falls, Cliff Pace celebrates his win in the Bassmaster Classic on Sunday in Tulsa. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Fans give a cheer in the BOK Center during the final day of the Bassmaster Classic on Sunday. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Lines of people wait for the doors to open Sunday at the BOK Center for the final weigh-in for the Bassmaster Classic. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World