Golf participation soared in the second half of 2020, demand for all things golf accelerated throughout 2021, and the continuing momentum is proving that the sport’s pandemic-fueled resurgence can be sustained.
In 2021, overall golf participation in the U.S. (the world’s biggest golf market) rose by 600,000 to 37.5 million, according to the National Golf Foundation. The organization also reports that women now comprise 25 percent of golfers and people of color 21 percent, a significant increase for both groups over the past five years.
As the sport continues to shine, golf locales and event planners are discovering an abundance of new opportunities. Here, we showcase eight destinations that are ready to host tournaments of all levels.
Asheville, North Carolina
This destination is known for its beautiful rolling golf courses with majestic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. One such venue is the Asheville Municipal Golf Course, one of the oldest in the area, designed by famous architect Donald Ross in 1927. Other top courses include The Cliffs at Walnut Grove that was designed by Jack Nicklaus and has been featured by the PGA TOUR; Grove Park Inn Golf Course; Country Club of Asheville; Black Mountain Golf Course; and Broadmoor Golf Course.
“There’s golf for everyone here in Asheville, and people like to come here and enjoy the food and fellowship,” says Demp Bradford, president, Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission.
Asheville’s two major golf events are the historic Skyview Annual Pro-Am Golf Tournament and the French Broad Women’s Golf Invitational held in the fall and hosted by UNC Asheville women’s golf. Asheville also hosted the Symetra Tour (since renamed the Epson Tour) for several years at the Country Club of Asheville.
The non-profit Skyview Golf Association, founded in 1959 to promote the sport among African American golfers, started the Skyview Golf Tournament in 1960 with 50 participants. The three-day event, held each July at the Asheville Municipal Golf Course, has since become one of the largest tournaments in the Southeast.
“[The Skyview tournament] is a great event and a very unique story,” says Bradford. “Callaway even signed on as a sponsor last year. We would like to promote and grow this tournament and work to encourage diverse populations to play golf at a younger age.”
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks boasts a Golf Course Trail comprised of 12 courses, and golfers can play three to four courses over two to three days.
“We offer 12 challenging golf courses crafted by world-renowned designers, inspiring views and comfortable and convenient accommodation set against the breathtaking canvas of our sparkling lake and rolling hills,” says Lagina Fitzpatrick, executive director of Central Missouri’s Tri-County Lodging Association. “The amenities vary by golf course, but all provide food and beverage as well as locker room facilities. Many also have areas for groups to gather for meals and awards ceremonies.”
Lake of the Ozarks hosts a variety of events ranging from charity golf tournaments and leisure golf packages to convention golf tournaments. The key seasons are spring, summer and fall.
“In 2021, we hosted 267,301 rounds of golf which is a 22 percent increase over the previous year,” notes Fitzpatrick. “We host golfers from all over the country, and most of our convention golfers are from within the state of Missouri.”
The destination is especially looking to attract golfers and outdoor enthusiasts ages 24-64.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
The Myrtle Beach area is home to more than 80 award-winning golf courses.
“As a destination, we are fortunate to have courses that are more than capable of running large events, which allows those venues to host tournaments that attract golfers from around the globe. More than half of the member golf course layouts have received four stars or more from Golf Digest’s prestigious “Best Places to Play” guide,” says Jonathan Paris, executive director sports tourism, Visit Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle Beach hosts numerous annual events including Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am, World Amateur Handicap Championship, Myrtle Beach Preseason Classic, March Championship, Dustin Johnson World Junior Championship, Palmetto High School Golf Championship, Veterans Golf Classic, Calabash Cup and Fall Classic.
“We have on average 10 annual events,” says Paris. “Our season begins in full swing in March and goes through the fall.” He also notes that more than 7,000 spectators typically attend the Hootie & the Blowfish tournament, and the other events each attract nearly 6,000 people from more than 25 countries to the area, led by the World Amateur, which annually draws more than 3,300 players.
“We continue to work as a destination to grow our leisure golf rounds. This includes partnerships with our golf courses and our local golf marketing organization,” says Paris. “We are open to events for all ages and demographics and have a track record of hosting a wide range of events.”
Naples, Marco Island & Everglades, Florida
The area’s year-round sunshine and abundance of courses appeal to golfers from around the globe. In fact, Florida’s Paradise Coast offers more than 90 public and private courses. Top resort courses include LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort; Marco Beach Ocean Resort; The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort; JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort; and GreenLinks Golf Villas at Lely Resort. Leading public courses include TPC Treviso Bay, the Flamingo Island and Mustang courses at Lely Resort, Panther Run Golf Club, and Arrowhead Golf Club.
Florida’s Paradise Coast hosts three professional tournaments annually. One of the most popular is Greg Norman’s PGA-sanctioned specialty team play tournament, the QBE Shootout, that is held at Tiburón at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples in December. The Chubb Classic PGA TOUR Champions tournament is held in February, and the LPGA’s season-ending event, the CME Group Tour Championship, takes place at Tiburón Golf Club in November. The destination also hosts many smaller private and charity tournaments throughout the year.
“Our destination is known for its premier golf and first-class service, which attracts golfers from all age groups and demographics, says Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB executive director Paul Beirnes. “We are particularly proud of the variety of golf activities for women, given that a quarter of all golfers now are women and represent 40 percent of new golfers [National Golf Foundation].”
Round Rock, Texas
There are many quality golf facilities on offer in Round Rock, the crown jewel of which is the Forest Creek Golf Club. Situated in the heart of Hill Country, this public course has been nationally recognized as one of the finest in Central Texas. In 2018 it completed a substantial renovation that included the rebuilding of the current 18 greens, putting green and chipping green to USGA specifications with Tif-Eagle Bermuda grass, a new extra green and extra tee area to create the option of 19-hole tournaments and events, and a renovated driving range with LED lighting for nighttime practice.
“We welcome you to the Sports Capital of Texas, where our golf courses are world-class, just like our other sporting facilities,” says Nancy Yawn, director of Round Rock CVB. “At Forest Creek Golf Club, we deliver the ultimate Hill Country golf experience with rolling fairways, pristine greens, and an abundance of native foliage.”
Round Rock hosts dozens of charity golf tournaments, multiple regional amateur competitions and several junior events annually. In 2022, the destination will hold a local U.S. Open qualifier, three PGA TOUR Monday pre-qualifiers, and a TGA Mid-Amateur Championship. Yawn notes the destination hosts approximately 60 to 80 events annually.
There are 13 golf courses in Snohomish County, all of which are enhanced by the beautiful scenery of the Puget Sound Waters and the Cascade Mountains.
One of the key tournaments in the area is the Snohomish County Amateur Championship that takes place annually on Memorial Day Weekend; the 90th annual iteration was held in 2021. The three-day competition draws 120 amateur golfers from across Washington State, and the three golf courses used for the event are the Walter E. Hall Golf Course, Legion Memorial Golf Course and Everett Golf & Country Club, all of which are located in Everett.
Each August, Snohomish County also welcomes the Special Olympics Washington Summer Games. In 2019, the two-day event drew approximately 1,500 people from across the state, and 500 athletes competed in golf and softball. The economic impact was $303,480.
“Snohomish County Sports Commission has been working with the American Junior Golf Association to bring an AJGA tournament to Snohomish County. This will help increase the number of youth playing golf,” says Tammy Dunn, executive director, Snohomish County Sports Commission. “We’re looking for golf tournaments that will complement the golf courses’ strategies. These tournaments may be one- to two-day events, such as two-person best ball tournaments, that are held in the off-season, April, May and September.”
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Montgomery County’s 50 golf courses are a magnet for golfers of all ages and ability levels. Three of the top tournament venues are Raven’s Claw Golf Club, Huntingdon Valley Country Club and the Philadelphia Cricket Club (the nation’s oldest country club).
“Valley Forge & Montgomery County hosts all levels of golf events from youth to professional tournaments, Youth PGA to the Symetra Tour now renamed the Epson Tour] and the BMW Classic. We continue to seek out unique opportunities, and we’re looking forward to hosting another new event in 2022,” says Rachel Riley, associate vice president of communications, Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board.
This year, Montgomery County hotels will be housing all players and staff participating in the USGA 42nd Annual Curtis Cup, to be held June 10-12 at Merion. In September 2021, Bluestone Country Club in Ambler hosted the APGA Tour Valley Forge, which also featured a kids’ clinic on healthy life choices and careers in golf. The tour will be returning in September 2022 and plans to make Montgomery County a regular stop. Just across the county line, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was held at Aronimink Golf Club in 2020, and the BMW Championship was held at Aronimink in 2018 with the top 70 pros in the world.
With one of the highest ratios of courses to golfers in the nation, Wisconsin aims to be America’s top golf destination.
“Home to nearly 500 public golf courses, including 10 that have been named to the top 100 by Golf Digest, many of Wisconsin’s fairways have been designed by several of the most legendary names in the sport, including Jack Nicklaus (The Bull, near Sheboygan and Kohler), Pete Dye (Blackwolf Run at Kohler and Whistling Straits courses), and Arnold Palmer (Geneva National Resort),” says Anne Sayers, Acting Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
The state has hosted some of the most prestigious golf events in the world, such as the 2021 Ryder Cup, the PGA Championships (2004, 2010, 2015), and the U.S. Women’s Open (1998). The Ryder Cup attracted nearly 50,000 attendees who filled close to 30,000 hotel rooms in the region, bringing in more than $130 million of economic impact throughout eastern Wisconsin, according to Sayers.
Wisconsin hosts an array of annual golf tournaments, including the WSGA Four-Ball Championship, the Wisconsin State Amateur Championship and the Wisconsin State Open. Other events on the docket include the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships at Erin Hills (Sept. 10-15, 2022), U.S. Senior Open at SentryWorld (June 29-July 2, 2023) and the U.S. Women’s Open at Erin Hills (May 29-June 1, 2025).
“Wisconsin is looking to continue to grow as a national and international golf destination and bring visitors into the state for stays of a week or longer,” remarks Rob Jansen, executive director of the Wisconsin State Golf Association. “This has been an initiative for the last several years and continues to be a top priority as we aim to strengthen the Wisconsin golf brand and tell our unlikely story of how Wisconsin became home to more top public golf courses than any other state.” SDM