Boyne Golf had six consecutive record years for visitor visits and play at its three resorts in Northern Michigan prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Despite missing six weeks of the season in 2020 due to Covid, Boyne’s properties returned during the summer and fall months, resulting in another year of record revenue.
Boyne, like many other golf facilities in the United States, maintained its pace in 2021, establishing new records for visitor play throughout its ten courses. So, what’s the forecast – at Boyne and beyond – as the 2022 golf season gets started in the northern portions of the country?
“We’re ahead of where we were last year on room nights and even further ahead in terms of tee times and package revenue,” said Ken Griffin, Boyne Golf’s Director of Golf Sales and Marketing. “It’s all good news,” says the Griffin.
“The most amazing thing (about 2021) was, in a typical summer, about 20% of our guests come out of Ontario, and we did that all with no Canadians.” Griffin continued, “We would have said we would have never done that without Canadians,
One of the reasons golf venues like Boyne are predicting a successful year is the return of Canadian golfers. According to a recent NGF poll of 75 U.S. golf facilities, advance bookings for 2022 golf trips are up 12 percent over last year’s same period, and up nearly 20% from before the epidemic.
The golf season is only getting warmed up at Destination Kohler in Wisconsin, but rooms and the four championship courses, such as the 2021 Ryder Cup host venue Whistling Straits, are quickly filling up for the summer and fall months.
“Rounds, packages and group events bookings are all as strong as we have ever seen in our history,” stated Mike O’Reilly, Kohler’s Director of Golf and Operations Manager. He also mentioned that the resort is experiencing an increase in bookings from Europe, in addition to North American visitors, as a result of hosting the Ryder Cup.
A recent poll of Core golfers backs up this trend. 82 percent of this devoted group (those who play 8 or more rounds per year) stated they plan to travel on at least one golf-related trip in 2022. This is up from two-thirds of Core golfers a year ago, implying that more over 10 million Americans will play golf this year.
Prior to the pandemic, an estimated 8 million golfers took at least one golf-related overnight stay away from home.
And, while it’s golfer-reported statistics, it appears that Core Golfers expect to take more golf trips on average this year than they did last year, when U.S. courses see far more overall play than at any time in history.
“Coming into the year it looked strong and it’s bore out that way,” said Steve Mays, President of Founders Group in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which owns 21 golf courses and two golf package businesses.
“We’ve had a strong spring and it looks like we’ll have a relatively strong summer too,” Mays noted, “It all helps to keep momentum going with the travelers coming in. Last year was one of the best fall seasons Myrtle Beach has had in a long time. To be honest, we’re probably a little off pace from that, but it’s so far out I think we’ll still have a great fall and will match or exceed what we did last year.”
These aren’t, for the most part, incremental journey rounds. They’re mostly rounds that travel from local markets to resorts, though everyone who’s ever been on a golf vacation knows that they play more than they would at home.
While these travel rounds may be at the expense of local courses, it’s worth remembering that many local markets have been reporting crowded tee sheets anyhow during the season. As a result, rather than losing rounds when regulars go to a resort or destination course, it may open up opportunities for other residents.
More than half of golf vacations (almost 60%) include golfers traveling by car, whether it’s their own or a rented vehicle.
As a result, certain sites that cater to the drive-in industry are keeping a careful eye on how rising gas prices could impact summer vacation. Big Cedar Lodge, a vast outdoor-focused resort in the Ozarks of Missouri with a diversified mix of five golf courses and a rich concentration of more than 5.6 million Midwest golfers within a 500-mile radius, is one of them.
At this time, Big Cedar’s advance bookings for 2022 are nearly equal to those for 2021.
“We are still having a lot of buddies’ groups coming (16+ players) and a lot of small groups (2-8),” said Matt McQueary, Big Cedar Golf’s Director of Sales and Marketing. “Corporate groups and outings are still down, as they have been since the start of the pandemic, but we are noticing they are starting to come back as corporations are lifting their travel restrictions to their employees for work events and retreats.”
Other resorts are benefiting from better access, particularly a rise in direct flights from a wider range of cities.
This is the case in Northern Michigan, where Traverse City now has 17 direct flights after major cities such as Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Newark, Orlando, Tampa, and Washington, D.C. were recently added. Just six years ago, there were only five or six Midwest hubs.
That’s a big deal in a state like Michigan, which is third in the US in terms of golf resorts, trailing only California and Florida.
“In Michigan, our courses are some of the more expensive public courses. But on a national basis, when we go against the national comp set, we’re a really good deal in part because Michigan has so much golf we can’t price it out of the sky,” said Griffin of Boyne. “Because we have to be in both sand boxes – what’s reasonable in Michigan and what’s reasonable outside — we’re inexpensive in that comp set. Strategically, that’s why we tried to reach out beyond Michigan.”
“During Covid, we were quite frankly very scared because we put our eggs in this travel basket,” he continued. “But the Michigan growth made up for Canada (absence) and we actually grew in the more distant markets because Traverse City added all these direct flights. So, we saw growth in the fly-in markets in spite of Covid.”
Following some justified restrictions on golf travel in the previous two years, particularly in 2020 following the initial coronavirus outbreak, golfers and resort owners are forecasting a breakout season.
Original article posted on NGF.