A Winning Shot

Northern Michigan’s golf industry hopes for a repeat of play.

For the first time since 2008, Michigan’s resort and golf course operators aren’t crossing their fingers and praying for good weather. Based on early reviews, preseason sales are driving confidence in what has been a slow, yet steady, comeback.

“Early bookings from the Grand Rapids and Novi golf shows were very successful,” says Bernie Friedrich, vice president of golf, marketing, and retail at Boyne Resorts in Boyne Falls. “In Grand Rapids, we had a slight increase over last year. Novi was our best show ever, with bookings up 5 percent. Several of the courses at the Highlands and Bay Harbor are already full in June on weekends, and on some weekdays.”

Paul Beechnau, executive director of the Gaylord Area Convention and Tourist Bureau, says golf rounds in the Gaylord Golf Mecca, a band of 17 area courses, jumped more than 45,000 rounds last year — an increase of nearly 20 percent — while overall revenue was up 9.5 percent.

Beechnau and Friedrich credit the success of the state’s Pure Michigan tourism campaign and the revival of the economy for the increase  in play. “Last year, for the first time, there were more visitors coming into Michigan from outside the state than in-state tourists,” Beechnau says. “The farther away people travel from to get here, the longer they stay.”

Stephen Kircher, president of Boyne Resorts Eastern Operations, which includes Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands resorts, says another welcome trend is the return of the extended weekend. “With the improving economy, more people are now going back to taking three-day weekends,” he says. 

Beechnau says the Gaylord Golf Mecca is going all-in with Pure Michigan in a partnership where the state matches every dollar a club earmarks for advertising. “That gave us $110,000 for a Gaylord golf campaign,” he says. “We covered a lot of ground with that $110,000. We were able to (draw from) all of southern Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.”

This year the Mecca is raising their advertising ante to an overall amount of $200,000. “And that is in addition to another $135,000 we are already spending on golf,” Beechnau says. Another beneficiary of the state’s marketing campaign is Wilderness Valley Golf Club in Gaylord, home of one of the most heralded courses in the Midwest: the award-winning Black Forest course, designed by Tom Doak of Traverse City, and last spring reacquired by the original owner, Dave Smith. 

Despite the late start, he says the complex finished the year in the black. “Our revenue was better than the last six years,” he says. “We expect to have a very good year (in 2013), judging from the preseason bookings. They are the best we have had since 2000.”

Meanwhile, the impact of the Pure Michigan campaign and the unusual extended warm weather last summer pushed Crystal Mountain to new records, with 90 percent room occupancy in July and August, says owner and vice president Chris MacInnes.

“There is a growing realization, particularly with the Pure Michigan campaign, that if we can work together, we have the opportunity to be a national market and, ultimately, an international market,” MacInnes says. “To make it work as a golf destination, say like Scotland or Ireland, where people come for seven to 10 days, we need to figure out how to organize the logistics to come up with the infrastructure so everybody wins.” db