Three’s The Charm: Michigan’s Gaylord Golf Mecca


This is not news: Michigan’s economy has suffered greatly for far too long.

I for one believe a lesson in Michigan’s robust return can be learned from a group of golf course owners in northern Michigan — the so-called Gaylord Golf Mecca. The Mecca, an offshoot of the Gaylord Convention and Tourism Bureau, is celebrating its 25th year in 2012. The basic idea behind the Mecca is to pool resources to market the entire north-central section of Michigan as a tourism destination so visitor dollars can benefit multiple golf courses’ bottom line.

Due to the anniversary, local businesses might notice the golf lovers on their staff are a little antsy at work on the 24th of each month this season. If they are like many of us they would be anxiously awaiting the chance to “punch out” and jump in the car to head north for an overnighter. That’s where they will find some of the nicest golf courses offering some alluring prices.

To commemorate the quarter century mark, the Mecca’s 17 member courses are offering on the 25th of each month a round of golf and cart for just $25 (April-October). When you consider member courses include Tree Tops, the Otsego Club, Elk Ridge, Marsh Ridge, The Natural, and The Loon —– designed by the likes of Tom Doak, Rees Jones, Tom Fazio, and Jerry Matthews, among others — everyone wins.

There is so much golf in Gaylord to choose from I haven’t had the opportunity to play more than a half dozen, but never once was I disappointed.

When looking at the business numbers, the Mecca member courses cannot be disappointed, either. In the first 25 years, 3.6 million golfers have played the courses. At first, there were seven courses, but that has since blossomed to around 20 from the development boon of the 90’s.

More numbers:

  1. 20% of the nation’s golfers live in a seven state area of the Midwest. The bulk of the Mecca’s advertising dollars go there, especially to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, but also Ontario.
  2. The Gaylord area saw a small rise in golf rounds from 2009 to 2010, but 2011 was a break out year with a 13.5% increase in rounds played and a 10.5% increase in revenue, while overall Michigan numbers went down.
  3. Golf employed 744 people in the Mecca last season, with a payroll of $8.3 million, and generated $10.4 million in revenue.

I hope to never fail to recognize how blessed I am to be associated with this great sport and the industry it creates for our state. Being involved as I am always generates the question; what’s your favorite course to play? Sometimes that’s like being asked who your favorite child is, because all the courses I have played in the Mecca and most other regions of our glorious state have their own unique and positive qualities. Boredom with golf choices in Michigan should never reach into our vocabulary.

The Loon made significant asset upgrades in 2010 when it built 14 golf villas for travelers. Each has 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms — perfect for group getaways. The Loon also added in recent years the Butch Harmon Golf Academy, which will feature two return visits this year by LPGA pro and glamour model Natalie Gulbis.

Tree Tops never fails to impress with multiple course choices and magnificent views that graces the Pure Michigan TV commercials. The Tribute at Otsego Club has some of the best sights and drop offs in northern Michigan golf, as well. A hidden gem is Elk Ridge in Atlanta. Ownership by the Honeybaked Ham Co. guarantees tasty ham sandwiches at the turn, but you’ll have so much fun on the course you may wish to just play through.

Speaking of ham sandwiches, Bureau executive director Paul Beachnau summed up the success of the Gaylord Golf Mecca with a food analogy of his own — where each member golf course wants brand recognition and to gain as big a piece of the pie they can get, but also realizes that in the end everyone benefits even more if you focus on making the pie bigger.

Good business advice, Michigan.