Golf courses carry economic clout for Michigan

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Capital News Service 
LANSING—Advertisements and promotions may lure out-of-state golfers, but golf courses still depend mostly on local players.
Matt Pinter, coordinator of the professional golf management program at Ferris State University, has about 235 students in the program, which prepares students them to run small businesses like golf courses and work at golf facilities.
“I hope the state recognizes the importance of the recreation and tourism industry and that it will probably be number one someday, replacing manufacturing, and that they promote it as such,” said Pinter.
Tourism is the third-largest industry in the state. Manufacturing is the largest and agriculture is second.
Michigan Golf Course Owners Association Executive Director Kate Moore said, “The ‘Pure Michigan’ ads have had a major impact–it’s got people thinking about golf.”
Kirsten Borgstrom, public relations consultant for Travel Michigan, works with travel writers and Michigan golf courses to promote the state.
“We’ve hosted familiarization tours as a way to get people into the state.  We bring travel writers into the state, showing them the golf course, letting them play on the golf course to see the quality of the golf course,” Borgstrom said.  “We’ve been doing this about six years but only the past few years we’ve been really serious about this.”
Promotions and marketing have drawn many inquiries from the southern United States.
“Since the ‘Pure Michigan’ campaign had national reach as of two years ago, we’ve gotten a number of phone calls from Texas, Missouri and other people down south,” Borgstrom said.
“In Texas, by the time it hits noon, it’s too hot and golfing is no longer enjoyable. But in Michigan, people can golf in the morning, noon and evening.”
Jim Scott, Owner of Gull Lake View Golf Resort in Augusta, said, “Golfers are good tourists to attract because these people come up here and spend quite a bit of money and add a good section to the tourism industry.”
Scott has seen results from the marketing and promotion Travel Michigan has done.
“My experience with the ‘Pure Michigan’ ads are that they are relatively effective,” said Scott. “At a Cincinnati golf show two years ago, a new show for us, we had several people comment on seeing the ads. They wanted to try to play in Michigan.”
“Our out-of-state business has continued to grow these last three to four years,” Scott said.
Hawk Hollow Golf Course in Bath has hosted writers from Golf Digest and has had some out-of-state clients, said Jim Balasis, pro shop manager.
“Good publishing helps us put the best face out in these times, but great service brings people back and we try to please all the people,” Balsis said.
Jay Eccleton, director of golf course operations at the Emerald Golf Course in St. Johns, has seen business decrease over the last five to six years.
“The majority of our clientele are locals, from surrounding areas about a one-hour radius away, but since 2002 to 2003 I’ve seen a steady decrease,” said Eccleton. “Outings and events are where we make the majority of our money.”
Golf outings and events are commonly organized by businesses or companies but can be fundraisers too.
Pinter said, “A decrease in business is typical of the state economy. It’s a tough economy right now.“
“I found out over the summer that some golf courses are just trying to keep their heads above water and hope the economy improves,” Pinter said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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