1. Expect more women and younger players.
The demographics of the game are changing as new players from all walks of life, and especially women, take up golf. Golf resort directors and association 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.
These are boom times for golfers and golf resorts.
According to the American Golf Corporation, 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 Foundation (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 equal expansion in 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 Connelly 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 consists of a golf game with everybody either a seriousif everyone is a golfer or a scramble in which golfers of every ability can participate on a level playing field.
Other afternoons, golfers can play in smaller groups on the four courses available for guests. Connelly says the courses offer different challenges for golfers of all levels. "The really savvy resorts cater to the avid golfer as well as the novice," she says.
3. Planners and players are dealing with spiraling greens fees.
Association planners wouldn't be specific about the prices they are paying to book their meetings at golf resorts, but they agree that their costs are rising.
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.
C. James Trombino, CAE, director of conferences and professional development for the Metal Powder Industries Federation, plans two or three golf meetings a year, ranging from 50 to 200 participants. Trombino says costs are rising, but the members of his international association are more interested in the reputation of a golf course than its price tag.
"It's such a passion that they will pay to play," he says. "The higher the fees, the more golfers we get (at the meetings)."
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 Deci 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 championship golf courses can take advantage of nearby skiing in the winter, fishing in the summer in a Lake Michigan bay, wine tours, and 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. Will golf course designs adapt to new technology by becoming more difficult to play?
With new titanium clubs, golf balls are "being whacked to the moon," says Tony Hourston, spokesperson for the American Society of Golf Course Architects, based in Chicago. Consequently, 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 about being in the big leagues with the guys," says Hoffman, who now serves as the executive director of MILO. But they knew they had to step up to the tee, because golf was quickly becoming a big part of the business world.
Many business connections are made between swings, Hoffman says, and without the ability to play, women are at a disadvantage. "It is the ideal sport, because you can be in a relaxed atmosphere with a client or supplier," she says.
In their founding year, Hoffman helped organize the first Meeting Industry Ladies' Open, featuring 55 female golfers. That event was a big hit, and 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. Hoffman seeks different resorts and courses each year in the U.S. and Canada for all three events.
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."
Four years ago, Sandy Carney-Talley joined MILO to improve her game and do some networking. As vice president of policy and planning at the Washington, D.C. based Aerospace Industry Association, she had planned golf tournaments and always scheduled board meetings at sites where attendees could play a round during breaks in their schedules. "Every piece of what I do has been tied up with golf," Carney-Talley says.
Playing with her peers in MILO has given her confidence on the course as well as valuable connections. "I'm not a bad golfer now," she says. "I can hold my own." But she still has to win over male golfers each time she joins them for a round.
"When I walk up to them, I can see their inner groans," she says. "Then I get up there and whack the ball 200 yards, and they say, 'Hey, she's not so bad!'"