Returning Golf to Its Golden Era at America’s Top Destinations | Sports Destination Management

Returning Golf to Its Golden Era at America’s Top Destinations

Feb 17, 2015 | By: Juli Anne Patty

Photo courtesy of Odessa Country Club
With golf participation in decline, golf leaders have mobilized in recent months with numerous initiatives created to boost participation. A symposium of experts met in March 2014 to discuss ways to create affordable golf opportunities, and in January 2015, the World Golf Federation announced, a Web site designed to increase women’s participation in the game.

America’s golf courses are also following suit, providing enhancements, renovations and expanded event planning service to ensure that golfers both new and experienced enjoy a top-notch experience and return to the links again and again.

Choosing the Right Course

For the ultimate advice on course selection, ask the experts. In this case, it’s the United States Golf Association (USGA) which conducts 13 national championships annually: the U.S. Open, the U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Senior Open and 10 others, strictly for amateurs.

“As a part of the selection process for championship sites, the USGA’s Championship Committee analyzes the golf course and the course’s property to assess its capability to accommodate first-class amenities and deliver an exemplary experience to the players, spectators, corporate clients and media,” says Mike Butz, senior managing director, Open Championships & Association Relations, USGA. “It also evaluates the local community and region to understand the existing infrastructure and potential support to ensure a successful national championship at every level.  The first priority, however, will always be the course’s ability to provide the most comprehensive challenge to the greatest players in the world.”

Photo courtesy of Council on Aging of Sonoma County
As one of golf’s developers of the sport’s next generation, the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) has a unique set of criteria for their destinations and venues.

“The question I ask myself is, If someone was to travel to this town and facility, will that person have a good experience?” says Jason Ross, vice president of business development, AJGA. “For the facility, we consider things like the food and beverage setup, what the practice facility is like, the course quality and the staff. Also, is this a facility where the members are involved? Will they really wrap their arms around the event and make it really special for our players? You have to look at all the factors. It’s about the strength of the golf course, but also what the overall experience will be like.”

Golf in the Lone Star State

Diamondback Golf Club is one of the gems of the golf scene in Abilene, Texas, a town known for its Wild West appeal and plentiful sunshine. Diamondback is designed, built and operated by 1971 Masters Champion, Charles Coody, who resides in Abilene.

“Diamondback is a popular course for events because of its extremely high standards,” says Debi Schultz, sports sales director, Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Coody had a vision of creating a public course that offered consistent excellence as well as challenging play for all levels of players, and that creates a lot of interest in the facility.”

Abilene is also home to the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Aaron's/Bob Estes Abilene Junior Tournament, held at Abilene Country Club.

Photo courtesy of SentryWorld
“The Abilene Country Club has hosted us for a lot of years, and the community really gets involved. They even do a lot of fundraising, including for our ACE Grant, which helps juniors who need financial assistance for things like travel,” says Ross. “Abilene Country Club has two great courses, and we’ve played on both, but I still run into players who remember going to Abilene and playing there. That’s because of the people and the experience.”

The July 2014 tournament marked the 34th year for Abilene to host, making it the second longest-running AJGA tournament in the country. It’s an event that has a special benefit for the community.

“The local high schools assist AJGA with volunteers, and a lot of our younger golfers, some the same age as the event players, appreciate volunteering and seeing the level of play,” says Schultz. “It’s a great inspiration for our local players.”

Florida’s Golden Golf Courses

It’s no surprise that the Sunshine State is filled with great golf facilities, and some of those venues are bringing big-name events into town. The Sarasota/Bradenton area, for example, has more than just sunshine and great golf up its sleeve. Offering attractions and amenities that turn any trip into a vacation, this area offers an ideal example of how to draw the industry’s biggest events.

Photo courtesy of Odessa Country Club
“We’re very lucky to have courses that are willing to work with us, serving their members as well as hosting events,” says Nicole Rissler, director of sports, Sarasota County Sports Commission. “As a sports commission, we’re also always here to help and support the bid process, working with whatever club or entity that is bidding. Bidding is not their everyday process, but it is what we do everyday. It gives them a level of comfort to have us on the team.”

This year, in partnership with the University of South Florida (USF), Sarasota/Bradenton will host the 2015 NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Golf Championships at The Concession Golf Club. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that this is the first time in the event’s history for the same course to serve as the site for both events in consecutive weeks. The Concession is a par-72, 520-acre course named after the 1969 Ryder Cup concession made by Jack Nicklaus to Tony Jacklin, considered one of history’s greatest acts of sportsmanship. The course was designed through a partnership between Nicklaus and Jacklin and is famed for its use of natural elements to create strategic golfing challenges.

The area is also home to the Palm Aire Country Club, which offers three championships courses and a pedigree of championship events. This November, the club will add to that distinguished list, hosting the 10th annual ISPS Handa Cup golf championship, part of the LPGA Legends Tour.

A New Generation of Golf Greatness in Wisconsin

A great way to plan a golf event, regardless of its skill level or reach, is to find a course that delivers appeal. In Stevens Point, Wisconsin, SentryWorld offers the perfect example. Designed by one of the world’s most prominent golf architects, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., SentryWorld is known as the state’s first destination golf course. The course opened in 1982, and has attracted thousands of golfers since, but it underwent an exciting renovation throughout 2013 and 2014 that has golfers buzzing nationwide.

Photo courtesy of Council on Aging of Sonoma County
“There is a trend of courses being revitalized by the people who originally designed them,” says Melissa Sabel, director of marketing, Stevens Point Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Robert Trent Jones, Jr. came back and oversaw a major renovation at SentryWorld, and people are really excited to play it. He calls it his Mona Lisa.”

The 200-acre course got upgrades, improvements and changes throughout, from  layout, greens, grasses and bunkers to irrigation system, water features and even the onsite sports complex, now called the Fieldhouse. The reviews are already in, with the course taking No. 2 on a Golf Magazine listing of most-anticipated new courses being opened in 2015, and No. 5 in a listing of the best courses in Wisconsin for 2015-16 by Golf Digest. The 2016 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship announced this January that SentryWorld will host one of its qualifying tournaments for golfers, ages 7 to 15 who hope to earn an invitation to next year’s National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club.

Golf in America’s Appalachians

While it’s true that many events require large markets, exceptionally challenging courses and facilities for large television crews, there is a huge array of golf events for all ages that can find ideal homes in communities across America. Georgia, for example, is one of the most classic of golf states, with Augusta serving as the home of the Master’s since 1934. But look off that path  and you’ll find another, less obvious destination for golf events.

Photo courtesy of City of Odessa
Dalton, Georgia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, has a population of just over 30,000, along with more exceptional golf opportunities per capita than most towns its size.

“We are actually the busiest exit in Georgia, and we have 14,000 hotel rooms. A lot of people don’t expect that,” says Grant Shell, sports sales manager, Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Because of the carpet industry, we have a lot of financial support for our facilities and events, as well.”

One of those golf facilities is The Farm, home to an annual college invitational that has drawn some of the best college players in America to the North Georgia mountains for 26 years and counting.

Strategies for Golf Event Success

A number of aspects can impact the success of any event, and weather is an unavoidable one for golf. That’s one reason Arizona is filled with remarkable golf courses and events.

“With 300-plus days of sunshine per year, this is a perfect location for year-round outdoor sports,” says Lorraine Pino, manager, Glendale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “That is a huge appeal for folks who want to have a leisurely golf game, as well as for bigger events.”

Great weather combined with great courses, topped with remarkable tourist appeal might just be the triumvirate of golf event success. Santa Rosa, California, proves that, attracting some of golf’s best athletes and some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities to its exquisite courses.

Photo courtesy of SentryWorld
“The appeal of the area is definitely key, and we offer a beautiful variety of courses both public and private, appealing to all ages,” says Charlene Lennon, director of sales, Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We also have a very strong golf community with golf teams represented at all of the Santa Rosa High Schools, as well as high-ranking teams at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University.”

Home to numerous AJGA and NCAA events, as well as the renowned Schultz Celebrity Golf Classic, Santa Rosa has a CVB that is instrumental in helping its sports guests see all of the area’s vacation possibilities.

“The golf commissioner for the Sonoma Wine Country Games is the chief sales officer for the tourism bureau over the whole county, and we also get involved with tournament planning,” says Lennon. “We help showcase the destination and provide all of the hospitality and tourism info guests need so that they can focus on having fun.”

Going Bigger, Getting Even Better

One key to creating golf events that can grow is scheduling for success, says Schultz. “You should always consult with the local CVB on your event date before making anything final. Make sure you’re not competing with another large tournament on another course. In a smaller community, it can really matter.”

Golf events, particularly ones serving youth athletes, also benefit from a strong outreach from the community. When trying to build an event that will return year after year to the same location, this sense of community support can be critical.

“We do all of our standard services—providing gift bags, dining guides, maps—and we also partner with another department in the Chamber to make special event gifts like golf balls, towels and pencils imprinted with the event name,” says Jeff Meyers, sports event specialist, Odessa Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There are other ways events engage the community, though. At the pro-am event, part of the Division I National Junior College Championships, organizers invited the sponsors to play, which created immediate buy-in with the community.”

Whether it’s Dalton, Augusta or any other of America’s multitude of golf destinations, the perfect community and facility is out there, ready to bring your golf event to life. The vast number of options is proof: golf is a sport for everyone, and a sport for life. 

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