Here’s a surprising piece of good news: Millennials are crazy about golf. The generation reputed to be permanently bonded to their smartphones is now overtaking all other age demographics in the sport. While the theories as to why this is the case are varied, there is some evidence that the popularity of Topgolf and similar venues has led young players to seek the real thing.
According to The National Golf Foundation, 36 percent of the nearly 24 million golfers in the U.S. are now age 18 to 39. They spend an estimated $5 billion on equipment, merchandise and playing fees, and there are more to come: the NGF estimates that there are 12.8 million “latent demand” individuals, or non-golfers who’d like to play. Some organizations, such as NextGenGolf, are focusing heavily on the Millennial market.
The extra-good news is that the sport’s cache seems to be passing on to Generation Y. Last year, the PGA Jr. League reported record participation.
“42,000 boys and girls played on 3,400 teams nationwide in 2017, led by nearly 2,300 PGA/LPGA professional captains,” said Mark Stevens, senior manager of communications for PGA TOUR. “Of these players, 80 percent identified as beginner or recreational golfers, speaking to the developmental nature of the program.”
Youth organizations like The First Tee have mustered an army of coaches, volunteers and professionals to reach out to 5.3 million youngsters in 2016 alone. While youth golf participation traditionally skews toward boys, the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program has seen rising numbers, jumping from 4,500 girls in 2010 to more than 70,000 last year.
The nation’s golf facilities are increasingly happy to accommodate younger players and youth events. To do so, the First Tee’s Sara Henika noted that regions should emphasize courses that might be especially suited for younger players.
“Things like appropriate length tees for juniors are important,” she said. “Courses with the ability to run the ball on the green and not require forced carries over hazards like bunkers or water are good, too.”
With golf growing in the youth market, it makes sense to look for destinations that have specialized in these events. However, it is important to note that all have excellent facilities for adults and for players of a variety of skill levels as well.
Bismarck, North Dakota
The Bismarck-Mandan region is home to a number of championship golf courses as well as courses suitable for juniors and families.
“We’ve hosted the International Junior Golf Championships District Qualifying Tournament for the last two years and will again this year,” said Kris Jackson, sports and events manager for the Bismarck-Mandan CVB. “We’ve also hosted the Dakota Junior Golf Association State Championships.”
The region is home to seven golf courses, including Hawktree, rated 19th in Golf Digest’s “100 Greatest Public Courses.” Bismarck boasts over 3,500 hotel rooms as well as facilities for family off-time, including Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum, Lewis and Clark Riverboat and the Dakota Zoo, as well as 100 miles of recreational trails.
“We can plan unique activities for groups,” said Jackson. “We can coordinate a shuttle system for visitors. We’ll assist with preparing a personalized proposal to acquaint planners with our event facilities, attractions and services.”
Branson, 40 miles south of Springfield in the Ozark Mountains, partners with the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) to host the Payne Stewart Junior Championship tournament at Buffalo Ridge each year. In addition, the nearby Branson Hills Golf Club hosts an annual Boys and Girls Club Golf Tournament. The latter facility, which has a staff of PGA Professionals, is located three miles from the Hilton Convention Center and downtown Branson. The region is particularly suited to golf due to its natural beauty, according to Terra Alphonso, director of sports marketing and development for the Branson CVB.
“Branson is home to some of the best golf in the Midwest,” she said. “There are mountain and valley layouts that offer a variety of playing experiences, suited for every level of play.”
The city is a prime drive-in location: it’s less than a day’s drive for one-third of the U.S. and is surrounded by more than 20,000 housing units and more than 200 restaurants as well as shopping, the Branson Centennial Museum and the Branson Scenic Railway.
Columbia, South Carolina
Each year, the South Carolina Golf Association, the Heritage Classic Foundation and the Columbia Country Club host about 700 people at the Juniors Championship. The nearby Fort Jackson Golf Club hosts a sub-regional tournament of the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship, which draws 500 athletes and spectators to qualify 80 young golfers for the national finals at Augusta National during the Masters Tournament.
Columbia has a mix of urban and natural outdoor experiences for event attendees, and about 1,800 hotel rooms in the downtown area. The city is an hour and a half from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and features a zoo, the South Carolina State Museum, EdVenture Children’s Museum and the Columbia Museum of Art. Lake Murray is a short drive away, and Columbia’s three rivers offer opportunities for kayaking, canoeing and tubing.
“Depending on the season, you can also catch a University of South Carolina sporting event, a Fireflies game at Spirit Communications Park or a Lexington County Blowfish Baseball Game,” said Jarrett Dowling, sales manager for Experience Columbia SC Sports.
The Decatur-Forsyth Classic at Hickory Point Golf Club plays host each year to the Fred Copeland Scholarship/Par-Tamers Junior Tournament, the Decatur Junior Open, the City Junior Tournament and the IHSA Class AA Girls’ State Tournament. Decatur’s Red Tail Run Golf Club has hosted the Optimist International Junior Golf Qualifier, the City Junior Tournament and the IHSA Class A Girls’ State Tournament. Each year, approximately 7,000 athletes and fans attend golf events at Decatur Park District courses. It’s also a great course for more advanced players.
“Hickory Point’s flat, wide fairways provide a foundation for learning, while long distances and the ever-present wind provide a challenge for even the most experienced golfers,” said Lisa Gillen, director of marketing for the Decatur Park District. “Red Tail Run has five tee locations and multiple angles, making it a course for players of all skill levels.”
Decatur is centrally located in Illinois and features over 1,600 hotel rooms and a variety of off-time activities including a daily-rate indoor sports center, Overlook Adventure Park and a zoo. Decatur’s recently renovated downtown offers a variety of boutiques, restaurants and historical Lincoln markers. For event planners, the Decatur Area CVB provides “resident concierges,” who can help with itineraries, assistant staff and visitor resources.
Finney County, Kansas
For the last six years, Buffalo Dunes in Garden City has hosted a leg of the AJGA Kanas Junior Tournament, attracting about 120 girls and boys and several hundred spectators. The county’s Golf Club at Southwind is another popular course for event planners (it hosts the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am men’s event, the longest running Pro Am in the state), and can be used in conjunction with other clubs.
Garden City is four hours from both the Wichita and Denver airports and is located on Highway 83, 45 minutes off I-70. There are 2,400 hotel rooms in Garden City and Dodge City, and the region features a unique zoo with an attached museum, the world’s largest hand-dug swimming pool, an indoor water park and a downtown shopping center with dining.
The local CVB provides event planners with a variety of services, including a marketing co-op application to help with costs. Event planners can get up to $3,500 from the CVB for events that involve overnight stays.
“Our biggest golf event is the Charity Classic, part of the Symetra Tour,” said Catilin Matile, marketing and social media specialist for the Finney County CVB. “That requires a huge amount of volunteers. We have a committee that reaches out to everyone in the community, and Buffalo Dunes and Southwind help out with that. Our entire community rallies around our bigger events.”
Gwinnett County, Georgia
The Gwinnett Sports Commission has assisted with a variety of collegiate golf tournaments over the years, most recently the NJCAA Women’s Golf Championships, which attracted 18 schools and 119 golfers to the Chateau Elan Golf Club in 2017. The commission has also partnered with Chateau Elan for the 2014 Southern Athletic Association Conference Championships and the 2011 Atlantic Sun Conference Championships. The area is also the site of the Mitsubishi Electric Classic each spring at TPA Sugarloaf.
Gwinnett County, which lies 30 minutes north of the Hartsfield-Jackson-Atlanta International Airport, is an accessible location for golf events. It’s near I-85, it features a wide range of hotel options, and it’s close to some of the best golf courses in the world, including Bear’s Ears Atlanta, designed by Jack Nicklaus to replicate the best 18 holes from the 200-plus courses he has designed.
For the off-hours, the region has attractions, including Medieval Times, Main Event, Stars & Strikes, Sky Zone and Treetop Quest. The local sports commission is accustomed to providing assistance to event planners, according to Leigh Hooten, sales manager for the Gwinnett Sports Commission.
“We offer facility and housing services, marketing and promotion of the event, operations assistance, volunteers and welcome bags,” she said.
Located in west Texas near the New Mexico border, Odessa has a mix of public and private courses with easy accessibility. The region has hosted the hosted the Nike Tour as well the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) National Championship in conjunction with Odessa College. (The Odessa College’s men’s golf team has a strong track record for winning the championship, as well.)
The region’s most prominent courses include Ratliff Ranch Golf Links, set in 125 acres of land with views of West Texas. The Sunset Golf Country Club, an 18-hole regulation course, is also available for events. Local attractions for off-hours include the Presidential Archives and Leadership Library, water and amusement parks, the Odessa Meteor Crater and a replica of Stonehenge.
“We provide various services depending on the number of hotel room nights occupied,” said Melissa Aguirre, sports and convention sales specialist for the Odessa CVB. “We can help with transportation, hotels, onsite registration and welcome bags.”
Palm Beach County, Florida
When attracting golf events to a region, it helps to have the 330-room PGA National Resort and Spa in your backyard as well as 170 other golf courses. Palm Beach is home to a variety of youth events, including the Optimist International Tournament of Champions, which attracts 650 youth golfers from all over the world. The region is also home to the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions in November (at PGA National), the AJGA Preview at Osprey Point in Boca Raton and the AJGA Junior at the Seagate Country Club in Delray Beach. The Daniel Berger Junior Championship takes place at the Dye Preserve Golf Club in Jupiter and the Bill Dickey Invitational, an event for minority youth, is scheduled each summer at the Ibis Country Club. There are also junior events held along with the Honda Classic.
“Around our Honda Classic PGA tour event, there are two junior events,” said Glen Allen, director of sports development for the Palm Beach County Sports Commission. “One is the Honda Classic High School Invitational, a team event. There’s also the Junior Honda Classic for youth golfers in January at PGA National. In addition, during the last NCAA bid cycle, we won five NCAA golf championships for Divisions I, II and III. Those will be starting 2019 to 2021 at PGA National.”
For off-hours, the region has 47 miles of beaches, proximity to the Everglades and more. Some of the services provided by the sports commission include venue and facility coordination, operational support, vendor sourcing, permitting, volunteer recruitment and help with lodging. SDM