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Golf operators see promise
Even as Michigan’s economic slowdown persists, operators of several area golf courses expect their business results could be on par or better this year.
To keep their footing, some believe special pricing and packages could prove useful in enticing golfers who might be wavering because of the economy.
“People are trying to save money, and we need to help them as much as we can. We need to work with them so that they stay golfing,” said John Paul Westbrook, PGA Head Golf Professional at Little Traverse Bay Golf Club near Harbor Springs.
So far, “our bookings this year have been pretty consistent with years in the past,” he noted, adding that the course has been able to maintain its schedule of league play.
Amid the state’s economic crunch, Westbrook believes “weak players” in the golf industry — courses that have priced themselves out of many players’ consideration or have tricky layouts or underwhelming conditions — could face trouble this year.
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“Destination points, which I think we are, will survive,” he added.
Westbrook expects that deals such as a peak-season, midweek price of $59 for 18 holes should help maintain golfers’ interest in the Little Traverse Bay course.
To date, Boyne Resorts spokeswoman Erin Ernst said that company’s 2009 golf-package bookings are up compared to the same period last year.
While Boyne — operator of eight courses around Bay Harbor, Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain — has seen some sluggishness in terms of businesses scheduling golf outings, Ernst expects competitive pricing strategies should help in maintaining golfers’ interest overall.
For example, a new Boyne Golf Advantage card available for $100 allows golfers to book any tee time at the twilight rate up to 24 hours beforehand.
Ernst also believes Boyne’s expanded outreach at golf shows could pay off, and that a visit by Golf Channel program “Big Break Michigan” to Boyne Highlands could draw new attention to the area’s offerings.
“We could see some benefit from that as well,” she said.
At the Dunmaglas Golf Course near Charlevoix, general manager Darin Philport is seeing encouraging signs — like an increase in advance bookings and the addition of numerous golf outings — this year.
“We’re actually probably going to have one of the best years we’ve ever had,” he said.
Philport believes creative marketing — relying more on social networking Web sites, for example — could help Dunmaglas maintain its footing in the challenging economic climate. Offerings meant to boost local appeal — such as money-saving twilight memberships — could play a part as well, he added.
Some in the local industry believe the demographics of Northwest Michigan visitors could keep local courses better insulated from the recession than other golf destinations around the state. Around Michigan, golf course closings have outpaced openings as of late.
While other parts of Northern Michigan tend to draw tourists predominantly from the Detroit area — hit especially hard by auto-industry cutbacks — Westbrook said the northwest area attracts visitors from a wider area. And Philport noted that many of these visitors come from higher income brackets.
“Even though they feel the pinch, they still have enough extra to spend to do their summer activities,” he said.
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