These five trends are changing the face of golf--and meetings at golf resorts.
1. Expect more women and younger players. The demographics of the game are changing as new players from all walks of life, especially women, take up golf. Golf resort directors and meeting planners attribute the growing popularity of golf to women moving into careers in which golf has long been used as a business tool, as well as to high-profile minority players like Tiger Woods changing the image of the sport.
According to the American Golf Corp., which manages more than 300 courses in the United States and Great Britain, women represent the fastest growing segment of the golf industry, comprising more than 40 percent of new golfers. The National Golf Founda-tion (NGF) reports that last year, 26 million people spent $15.1 billion on golf, $8 billion of which went toward greens fees alone. At the current rate of growth, the NGF predicts that the number of golfers could reach 32 million by 2010. Moreover, today almost half of all golfers are between the ages of 18 and 39, with just 26 percent over the age of 50, according to the NGF.
"A golf resort has a much broader appeal than it did 10 years ago," says Candace Taylor, director of marketing at the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort & Spa. "I think it makes golf resorts much more viable sites now." In the past, Taylor says, men dominated the Arizona resort's 27-hole PGA championship course, while women took advantage of the 13,000-square-foot European-style spa. Now, male and female guests of the 167-room hotel are found on the fairway and in the spa in equal numbers.
2. There are more golf resorts than ever to choose from, and many of them are targeting group business. The increase in the number of golfers has been met with a compar-able expansion of the golf resort industry. The NGF reports that from 1994 to 1998 the number of U.S. resort courses increased from 1,142 to 1,354--an annual growth rate of about 4.6 percent.
"We've just seen an explosion of growth," says Jim Stegall, senior vice president of sales and resort operations at American Golf. His company's golf events sales division has gone from seven to 70 people in three years. "We can provide golfers with every kind of venue," he says. "In just about every destination, a resort is either proposed, being built, or breaking ground."
Like many resorts, La Quinta in Palm Springs, Calif., is adding a new course in response to the demand for playing time. Pro golfer Greg Norman is designing the course, and when it opens, the resort will boast five championship courses.
Director of Sales Deci Con-nelly says an increase in the number of meetings tied to golf is driving the expansion in her industry. It's also making it essential that resorts have strong sales departments that work closely with planners to set up golf events that fulfill meeting objectives such asor networking. Having knowledgeable sales staff is even more important when planners can't tell a nine-iron from a putter. "Not all planners are golfers," she says.
Connelly says meeting groups usually stay at La Quinta for three or four days, spending mornings in meetings and afternoons in recreational activities. One afternoon usually consists of a golf game with everybody--either a seriousif everyone is a golfer or a scramble format in which golfers of every ability can participate.
Other afternoons, golfers can play in smaller groups on the four courses available for guests.
3. Planners and players are dealing with spiraling greens fees. Doug Viehland, president of the American Hotel and Motel Association, says he's dealt with a dramatic jump in prices in the past two years when planning his group's annual golf tournament. At the same time, the number of participants in the four-day fundraising event has increased to 130 people, raising about $150,000. So even though the sport's popularity has led to higher greens fees, it has paid off for fundraising tournaments.
Tom Skoglund, the director of golf at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, Mich., says it's up to resorts to offer services that make them worth the price. Grand Traverse features three championship golf courses, a golf school, and a full range of nongolf activities. The resort's golf package starts at $189 per night and goes up depending on the season and the upgrades requested, but Skoglund believes golfers get a lot for their money. "We are trying to create an experience so great that money doesn't matter," he says.
Skoglund and other resort representatives say their price increases are comparable to rate hikes at all resorts and are less than the rise in the daily fees at separate public and private courses.
At the Marietta Conference Center & Resort, guests pay $40 per day to use a public championship course located on the 132-acre property--a bargain compared to $75 or more at other courses in the Marietta, Ga., area, says Chuck Olcheltree, vice president of sales and marketing. "Unfortunately, greens fees are moving faster than room rates," he says.
American Golf's Stegall says one cause for the hike in greens fees at resorts is the exorbitant cost of expansion. Construction of an 18-hole golf course ranges from $8 million to $12 million, he says, and that doesn't include the clubhouse. "There isn't any sign they are going to stop building golf resorts," he says. "There will be downward pressure on prices, and that's good news for golfers."
4. To broaden their customer base, more golf resorts are creating options for nongolfers. Last summer, the Innisbrook Resort opened the largest teambuilding course in the country. The 10-acre course boasts 96 different elements, including a 50-foot rock-climbing tower and a zip-line the length of a football field.
"We recognize that not everybody plays golf," says Alan Goodman, director of sales and marketing at Innisbrook. "Even as a golf resort, you need to have other options for guests."
Goodman says groups that spend several days at Innisbrook, splitting their time between meetings and playing golf, now have the option of spending one day on the teambuilding course. "This is one recreational amenity that does a lot to help distinguish us from our competitors," he says. The 1,000-acre resort also features tennis courts, pools, a wildlife preserve, and three convention centers with 65,000 square feet of meeting space. Even with a new emphasis on nongolf activities, however, Innisbrook has not forgotten that golf is its main attraction. The resort recently added nine holes and acquired an off-site 18-hole championship course, bringing its total number of courses to five.
One of the most popular nongolf amenities cropping up at golf resorts is the full-service spa. La Quinta opened a 23,000-square-foot spa in November, because, says sales director Connelly, every golf resort needs to have a range of choices for guests to stay competitive in a growing market. "We're not simply a golf facility," she says. "We offer the best of all worlds."
Grand Traverse golf director Tom Skoglund agrees. "I think the biggest trend is being able to offer everybody something," he says. "You absolutely need to diversify." With less time for vacations, Skoglund says, meeting attendees often take their families along with them. Family members take advantage of the recreational opportunities during the meeting, and attendees often stay an extra day or more to relax with their families after the meeting. Family members who don't want to spend all or any time on the three golf courses can take advantage of nearby fishing in a Lake Michigan bay, wine tours, or a children's camp. The resort also opened a new full-service spa in May and is building a new clubhouse.
Skoglund says this range of activities will keep Grand Traverse a top spot in an increasingly crowded field. Although warm-weather destinations such as Florida are more often associated with golf, Michigan actually has the highest number of courses per capita of the 50 U.S. states, and more golf courses are being built every day. "There is tremendous increase in competition, which makes you want to put out the best product you can," Skoglund says.
5. Golf course designs may change as technology changes the game. With the new titanium clubs now on the market, golf balls are "being whacked to the moon," says Tony Hourston, spokesperson for the American Society of Golf Course Architects, based in Chicago. Therefore, he says, many golfers are getting lower scores on some of the older courses, and subsequently there is pressure to design courses that are more challenging--with greater distances between holes and more difficult hazards.
But it's pressure that architects like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer want to resist at all costs.
"We have to slow down the speed of the golf ball," Palmer implored in a speech at the annual meeting of Golf Course Architects earlier this year. "We have to preserve the classic traditions of the older golf courses in this country."
Where the Women Are For 13 years, the Meeting Industry Ladies Organization has been the training ground for women in the meetings and hospitality fields who want to do business on the golf course. Jo Ann Hoffman, one of MILO's three founders, says they started the group to provide an arena in which their female peers could feel comfortable learning their way around the course. "The women felt a little intimidated," says Hoffman, who now serves as the executive director of MILO. But they knew they had to step up to the tee. Business connections are made between swings, Hoffman says, and without the ability to play, women are at a disadvantage.
In their founding year, Hoffman helped organize the first Meeting Industry Ladies' Open, featuring 55 female golfers. Since then, MILO's membership has grown steadily to more than 400 women. Last year, the tournament drew 288 golfers and 212 sponsors. In addition to the MILO open, the group holds a yearly invitational for 150 corporate planners, and a three-day clinic for 60 women.
Despite more than a decade devoted to golf, Hoffman says she's not a pro on the course. She says it's not important for MILO members to become great golfers--to use golf as a business tool, they simply need to master proper etiquette. "Most of us are terrible," Hoffman admits. "I call us 'the good, the bad, and the ugly.' The key is knowing what you're doing, having the right attitude, and following the rules. How you act on a golf course leaves a lasting impression."