Event Planners Trot Off to Florida’s Marion County
Ever had a whole weekend of tournament action washed out due to rain? Chances are you weren’t in Marion County, Florida. The county’s inland location shields it from bad weather coming off the ocean and gulf, meaning that it gets even more sunny days each year than many of the Sunshine State’s coastal resorts.
“Our warmer, sunny weather is one of the reasons why people have come here to begin with and given us a try,” said Loretta Shaffer, executive director of the Ocala/Marion County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Though often drawn by the weather, rights holders commit their events to Marion County year after year because of its facilities, off-the field attractions, community and the helpfulness of its sports commission.
“We have a unique collection of various activities and amenities,” Shaffer said. “Whereas there are a lot of counties and destination areas that tend to be a little more one-dimensional, we have a lot of different things to offer.”
That starts with equine events, for which the county is best known. From the Florida Horse Park and the Livestock Pavilion to the Ocala Equestrian Complex and many more, Marion County is one of the only places in the country with the facilities to host every different equestrian discipline.
“That’s one of the reasons that this has become, in our opinion, one of the top equine destinations,” Shaffer said. “It’s hard to turn a corner and not see a top-notch equestrian facility.”
If horses aren’t your sport, the county is filled with venues that can host everything from baseball, softball, soccer, football and basketball to fishing, golf and adventure races.
“We have the facilities to handle whatever someone is looking for,” Shaffer said.
With both coasts just an hour away to the east and west, Orlando and its amusement parks an hour and a half south and with its own array of attractions, it’s not hard to keep a tournament group entertained in the Marion County area.
“There are a lot of really exciting things to do here, but if you just want to kick back and relax, you can do it in the setting of all these horse farms and pastures,” Shaffer said. “There’s nothing more beautiful than that.”
For large-scale events, rights holders are pleased to find that the Ocala/Marion County community is more than willing to lend a hand as volunteers.
“The spirit of volunteerism here and the number of people who are willing to jump in and facilitate the process is really impressive,” Shaffer said. “It’s a very active community when it comes to helping pull off these top sporting events.”
To top it all off, Marion County’s sports commission is committed to doing what it takes to make your event a success no matter how much work it takes them after you’ve already committed.
“The sports commission will work with the rights holders from the beginning of the process all the way to the end,” Shaffer said. “Whether that’s securing referees, tents and porta-potties or getting all the materials in line as far as advertising and budgeting. We assist in designing banners, e-blasts and all kinds of things. We make it easy for you to conduct business here in Ocala and Marion County.”
Among Marion County’s facilities are:
Ocala Equestrian Complex
• Three outdoor arenas
• 250’ x 140’ covered main arena
• 225’ x 90’ covered warm-up arena
• 400 stalls for short- or long-term stabling
• Electronic scoreboard
• Heated, Olympic-size pool
• Mounted starting blocks
• Year-round outdoor swimming events
Big Sun Youth Soccer Complex
• Two full-size championship fields
• Five youth pitches
• Two small fields and two mini fields for pee-wee or warm-ups
• All fields are grass
• Pavilion and restrooms
Belleview Sports Complex
• 80+ acres of space
• Seven baseball fields
• Seven softball fields
• Two soccer fields
• One football field
• Pavilion, restrooms and playground
Ft. King Tennis Center
• Eight lighted clay courts
• Four lighted hard courts
• Year-round outdoor tennis
• Ball machine available for rent
Pine Oaks of Ocala Golf Course
• 27 different holes for nine- or 18-hole competitions
• Full driving range
• Four-acre short game practice area
• Tournament-friendly club
Central Florida Community College
• Indoor basketball and volleyball courts
• College-sized baseball field and softball field
• Six hard-court tennis courts
Ocala/Marion County Visitors & Convention Bureau
112 N. Magnolia Ave.
Ocala, FL 34475