After some understandable limitations on golf travel over the past couple of years, particularly in 2020 after the first coronavirus outbreak, it looks like travel with friends and golf getaways are heading for a big year. This bodes well for US golf destinations from Pebble Beach to Pinehurst and points in between.
According to a recent survey of “Core golfers” by the National Golf Foundation, about 80% said they plan to take a dedicated golf trip in 2022. That’s a pretty significant increase from a year ago, when the golf was in the cards for two-thirds of this dedicated travel pool of attendees (the approximately 13 million Americans who play at least eight rounds of golf a year). Meanwhile, an NGF survey of 75 resort properties in the United States found that advance bookings for golf trips were up 12% from the same period last year, and by almost 20% compared to before the pandemic.
“It’s all good news and it just keeps getting better,” said Ken Griffin, director of golf sales and marketing for Boyne Golf, which operates 10 golf courses at three northern Michigan resorts. “We are ahead of where we were last year in terms of overnight stays and even further ahead in terms of tee times and (golf) package revenue.”
The momentum is also encouraging elsewhere in the $20 billion U.S. golf travel industry, including popular warm-weather destinations that already have months of golf travel under their belts.
“We had a strong spring and we’re probably in the busiest week of the spring right now,” said Steve Mays, president of Founders Group, which owns 21 golf courses and two golf package companies in Myrtle Beach. , South Carolina. .
“During the summer, golf becomes more of an entertainment rather than a driving force for vacationers who come often for all of the summer activities in Myrtle Beach. But our pre-bookings seem solid. Last year was one of the best fall seasons Myrtle Beach has had in a long time, but I think we’ll match or exceed what we did last year just based on how much momentum we we see in the market.
At Destination Kohler in Wisconsin, which has four championship courses including Whistling Straits, host site of the 2021 Ryder Cup, the golf season may be just getting started, but tee times and venues are filling up fast for months. summer and fall.
“Round, package and group event bookings are all as strong as ever in our history,” said Mike O’Reilly, Kohler’s golf director and chief operating officer. “We are starting to see an increase in bookings from overseas, in Europe in particular. Hosting the Ryder Cup has certainly had an impact on the number of players wanting to come to Kohler, but we also believe that the state of Wisconsin’s comprehensive golf offering has made us one of the top golf destinations in the world.
And whether it’s the Midwest or sunnier year-round places like Myrtle Beach, Florida and Arizona, the return of Canadian golfers is another boost for American golfers. Consider that American golf courses saw more play in 2021 than at any point in history, even without significant help from their neighbors to the north.
“In a typical summer, about 20% of our guests were Canadian and from Ontario,” Boyne’s Griffin said. “We just had two record-breaking years without Canadian play. This summer, we are picking up the Canadians. They are booking (golf trips) and border restrictions have now lessened so it is more reasonable for them to cross. It will be a huge gain, because we had basically written them off for two years. »
Meanwhile, some golf destinations, especially those with a strong drive-in market like Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri, are keeping a close eye on how rising gas prices could affect golf trips. summer. Big Cedar, which offers a diverse mix of five courses at its expansive outdoor complex (including the newest from Tiger Woods and his design team), currently has reservations for 2022 that are nearly identical to 2021.
“We have a lot of buddy groups (16+ players) and a lot of smaller groups (2-8),” said Matt McQueary, Big Cedar Golf Director of Sales and Marketing. “Groups and company outings are still down, as they have been since the start of the pandemic, but we are seeing them starting to come back as companies lift their travel restrictions on their employees for the work events and retreats.”
Over the past two years, golf has been a popular mental and physical escape for millions. And the vast majority of those rounds have been played in golfers’ backyards, on courses close to home. But with travel showing signs of returning to pre-pandemic levels — and Americans seemingly eager to get out and about — it looks like the golf destination market is set for a solid year.
“We’re not hearing about any slowdown,” Mays said of the golf-rich Myrtle Beach market. “After what we’ve been through over the past two years, it’s always a little worrying to project ourselves into the future because we know that things can change so quickly. But we did not see any negative impact. I feel really good where we are going.