Even golf, the great escape for millions of Americans, has not escaped the effects of the economic slowdown and the aftermath of September 11. Add to the mix the fact that the boom years of 1999 and 2000 saw a huge number of new courses open across the country, and it's easy to see why the golf business is pacing along at about even par. For meeting planners, that translates into a buyer's market at golf resorts.
“Stagnant would be a good way to describe it,” says Clay Atcheson, vice president of golf operations for Marriott International.
“There's been some fall-off of group activity since September, but even before that, it was a difficult scenario because of the influx of new courses and the competition for leisure activity, like spas, water sports, and the like.”
“The end of the '90s saw a lot of openings [of new courses],” says Judy Thompson, spokeswoman for the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Fla. “In 1999, 496 courses opened, and 524 opened in 2000. Those were peak years for course openings. Last year, the number was down to 377.”
The economic impact of the attacks hit major courses like California's Pebble Beach and North Carolina's Pinehurst especially hard, largely because they aren't centrally located.
“You have to make a real effort to get to them from major airports,” says Mark Murphy, editor for the Golf World Business publications network. “They've come back in recent months, but their marketing mix has changed. They're marketing more locally, and at Pinehurst, for example, you're seeing group packages that you never saw before.”
Atcheson agrees: “There are opportunities to get very good rates for golf-oriented meetings.”
That will likely remain the case until the economy comes back and the golf supply/demand imbalance levels out.
“When the economy is down, golf meetings are perceived by companies to be very expensive endeavors, so they consider the cost,” says Ed Simeone of Fusion Productions, Nashua, N.H. “But golf is something that will never go away. Everyone knows that more deals are done on the fairways than in boardrooms. What we're seeing now is a temporary blip, and the golf business will come back strong.”