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Is Traverse City Golf on the Upswing?

Is Local Golf Scene on the Upswing Again?

May 21, 2013

Following a five-year span that left a divot in most golf courses’ pocketbooks, some reports have the $25 billion industry on the upswing. Can the same be said here in Northern Michigan? We inquired.

For many local courses, last year brought the first signs of a turnaround.

“We have to give a nod to Mother Nature,” says Kate Morris, executive director of the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association, referring to the early arrival of warm weather in 2012. “More buying confidence and an amazing, long season had a huge economic impact.”

Rodger Jabara, general manager of Bay Meadows Golf Course, also credits the weather and an unusually high number of out-of-state visitors in 2012. “When I was able to have a conversation with them [about how they decided to visit], most times Pure Michigan was mentioned,” he says.

This year’s longer winter means a more typical start to the season, but the heavier and later snowfall also means better turf conditions, notes Tom McGee, Director of Golf Operations at the Grand Traverse Resort. He believes that, combined with a predicted strong tourism season, “Northern Michigan golf courses are in a good position to have a good season.”

Boasting a $4.2 billion golfing economy, Michigan leads the nation in public courses. But is the state “over golf coursed?” Nobody knows for sure, and locals point to two key areas for survival: differentiation in the marketplace and price integrity.

“Every golf course will have to pick its own path to appeal to its market,” says Brent Maitland of LochenHeath, which reopened in 2011 after closing operations for a few years.

Many courses and clubs have tried to diversify beyond the traditional golf enthusiasts or emphasize a certain niche. Grand Traverse Resort has seen an increase in golf and resort packages for groups of 12 or more players coming into town. LochenHeath is positioning itself to those seeking a club that preserves some afternoon tee times just for members, with an ambition to someday become private again, while Bay Meadows plays-up the family golf experience.

Morris says courses statewide are also struggling with the proliferation of discount deals, particularly among courses in desperate situations to fill rounds, which “ultimately erode the real price point.” Because maintenance costs remain the same or increase each year, Jabara worries about the long-term effect on the quality of the actual courses, while Maitland asserts that in the long term, such aggressive discounting is just bad for business.

Still, with a relatively high per capita rate of golfers in Michigan and numbers strong in junior golf tournaments and high school events, the future of the state’s “green” industry looks healthy.

Perhaps its best asset? Golfers’ enthusiasm.

“Michigan golfers are hearty participants,” says Morris. “I’ve traveled all over and have never seen the determination and love of the game that our golfers have.”

Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 10:03 AM by Jon Becker

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