The 21st century dawns with surging demand for golf travel being
matched by an ample supply of prime U.S. golf destinations, market
conditions that create unlimited opportunity for travel agents
seeking to grow their business in that niche.
"Have clubs will travel" has become a credo for U.S. golfers
who, according to a 1999 National Golf Foundation study, number at
least 26 million and generate an estimated $24 billion annually in
travel revenue. Traveling golfers, either alone or in groups, enjoy
testing their mettle on a variety of courses and conditions ranging
from mountains and prairies to piney woods and desert oases.
Golf is hot with such diverse demographic segments as Generation
Xers, baby boomers and senior citizens. Executive women, juniors
and minorities are also increasing the ranks of avid players.
To capitalize on such favorable trends, travel agents must
recognize that golf provides a constant, year-round opportunity to
sell. Some travel industry segments are limited by geography or
season, but golf has no such constraints. Regardless of what day
the calendar reads, somewhere in the U.S. the sun is shining, skies
are blue, grass is green and people are outdoors playing golf.
Mother Nature is an agent's greatest ally for selling golf.
Consider that during winter months snowbound Northeasterners and
Upper Midwesterners sick of clearing off sidewalks and driveways
are only a plane trip away from teeing off in balmy, tropical
conditions down South or out West.
Conversely, Sunbelt golfers tired of feeling their brain cells
sizzle during summer heat waves are only a travel agent's prompt
away from playing in the cool climes of the Rocky Mountains or
Resourceful travel agents can create over time a golf clientele
that generates a meaningful stream of revenue from commissions on
air, lodging and food, ground transportation and -- in some
instances -- tee times. The depth and diversity of U.S. golf
destinations potentially represents big business for agents who
specialize in the sport. "Golf has a great demographic profile for
people in the travel business to go after," says Jeff Hamilton,
president of GolfPac, Inc., a Florida-based golf wholesaler and
tour operator. "There is a lot of money to be made."
The ABC's of selling golf can be boiled down to these key
A-Accumulating information about golf destinations;
B-Building a portfolio of avid golfers to sell to;
C-Creating awareness about your agency's golf expertise.
Accumulating information about golf destinations begins with
research. To sell effectively, travel agents must become
knowledgeable about the game of golf and speak its language. To
push their clients' buttons, they must know the difference between
a bunker and water hazard, for example, or between bermuda grass
and bent. Agents need to become as familiar with traditional
destinations like the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West
Virginia, or Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, and Colorado's
Broadmoor and Arizona's Biltmore in the West as they are with such
relatively new golf havens like Gaylord, Mich., and Whitefish,
Mont. As Mark Serifillippi of Spectrum Golf in Scottsdale
succinctly says, "Someone at the travel agency, either the owner or
one of the agents, has to become the in-house expert."
Becoming an expert takes time, but shortening the learning curve
is a glut of golf literature. News stands are full of national,
regional and local consumer publications that devote ample column
inches to golf travel. Subscriptions to widely circulated golf
magazines like Golf Digest, Golf and Golf for Women, Golf &
Travel -- which focuses on destinations and leisure, and is one of
the best of the genre -- are easy to obtain.
The Internet, full of Web sites providing specific details about
attractive sites for golf travel, is another prime tool for
speeding the education process. Beyond that, agents can contact
destinations directly by phone or mail and receive enough facts
about the variety of courses and accommodations -- and commission
policies -- to comfortably field client inquiries.
Building a portfolio of avid golfers to sell golf travel to
takes time and legwork. Personal visits to area golf courses,
private and public, to establish relationships with head pros and
membership directors is imperative. Other leading targets for
business development are civic groups, fraternal orders, churches
and meeting planners. "Any association where there's a common bond
of interest is a good target for building up the business," says Al
Gasparri, president of World of Golf Tours in Apopka, Fla.
Besides individuals and associations, another major source sales
agents can tap for golf travel are corporations. Many companies
establish incentive programs to spur their sales and marketing
staff, and rewards frequently take the form of golf trips to luxury
Beyond the issue of identifying prospects is qualifying them.
Agents should elicit from clients and prospects information on
types of golf trips they've previously taken, how frequently they
travel and what types of golf experiences they would most enjoy --
their "wish list." Agents should also determine if other members of
the family (spouses, children) are golfers.
Price is another prime consideration: Some traveling golfers
have budget constraints and are value-conscious; others are unfazed
by green fees of $175 and higher at tony resorts. Understanding
each client's desires and expectations -- and budget -- provides
the underpinning for customized golf travel.
Creating awareness about your agency's expertise is also
critical to success. An agency can spark interest by sending direct
mail pieces to targeted lists or through other written
communications like flyers and newsletters. It can generate
interest by hosting open houses, or receptions, in which exciting
destinations get showcased. Or an agency can set up its own
speaker's platform, at which a representative talks up golf
The key is to promote both the myriad of opportunities that
exist and the agency's ability to plan and execute memorable golf
The domestic golf travel category for years was a no-brainer.
All a travel agent had to do was book clients into a handful of
golf-rich states: Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina,
South Carolina, Hawaii, and they pretty much had the drill down
While those six states remain among the first-tier for golf
travel -- and a short list of prime destinations might be referred
to as the five P's: Palm Springs, Pebble Beach, Phoenix, Pinehurst
(in North Carolina) and Ponte Vedra (in Florida) -- in recent years
a host of new destinations has emerged. As a result, U.S. golf
travel now offers a diversity unlike ever before. Diversity
represents a boon for sales agents, who can book traveling golfers
into a variety of venues, including:Minnesota. Once best known for fishing,
hunting and hockey, the Gopher state has become a haven for
golfers. It's said Minnesota has more courses (500-plus) per capita
than any other state.
One hotbed for golf in Minnesota is the lakes region around
Brainerd (immortalized in the movie "Fargo"). Outstanding courses
found in this forest-rimmed haven include Deacon's Lodge at Pelican
Lake (an Arnold Palmer design), the Preserve course at the historic
Grand View Lodge and the Classic at Madden's Resort on Gull Lake.
Another must-play is Cragun's Golf Resort and Conference Center,
which showcases the work of designer Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
Contact the Minnesota Office of Tourism at (800) 657-3700.Alabama. Once best known for Bear Bryant and
college football, Alabama now boasts the immensely popular Robert
Trent Jones Trail, a series of more than 20 daily-fee courses that
stretch the length of the state. The Jones Trail has become one
ticket that traveling golfers from all over the country want to
punch. Contact the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at (800)
Another gem in lower Alabama is the Gulf Shores area, reachable
via air service through either Mobile or Pensacola. Gulf Shores
features scenic courses like the Peninsula, Kiva Dunes, Orange
Beach and Craft Farms juxtaposed next to white beaches and emerald
waters of the Gulf. Contact the Alabama Gulf Coast CVB at (800)
745-SAND.Northern Michigan. One of the real plums in
the large fruit basket of U.S. golf destinations is Gaylord, Mich.
A 90-minute drive from Traverse City airport, Gaylord boasts the
Gaylord Golf Mecca, a marketing consortium consisting of more than
20 courses. Outstanding venues found on this heavily forested,
gently rolling terrain include the Treetops Sylvan Resort (four
courses by Tom Fazio, Rick Smith and Robert Trent Jones, plus a
par-3 course called Threetops), Black Forest at Wilderness Valley,
the Natural at Beaver Creek, and Elk Ridge. Contact the Gaylord
Information Center at (800) 345-8621.St. George, Utah. Located in the state's
southwestern corner, St. George offers traveling golfers eight golf
courses within a 15-20 mile area, including such gems as Sunbrook,
Green Spring and Entrada (a Johnny Miller design). Sky Mountain is
another memorable course. Vistas in the High Desert are spectacular
and side trips to nearby Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon are
unforgettable. Contact the Washington County CVB at (800)
869-6635.Whitefish, Montana. Located in the northwest
corner of the state near the Canadian border, Whitefish has been
known for other outdoor sports: skiing, hiking, fishing, camping.
But now golf has come to the fore as golfers enjoy the lush
fairways and crystal-clear air. Among the standout courses in the
Flathead Valley, flanked by Glacier National Park, are Eagle Bend
(designed by Jack Nicklaus Jr.), Northern Pines and Buffalo Hills.
Contact Travel Montana at (800) 847-4868.Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. Central Missouri
offers an array of exceptional places to play, including Osage
National Golf Club (an Arnold Palmer design), the Club at Old
Kinderhook (by Tom Weiskopf), the Lodge of Four Seasons and the
Oaks course at Marriott's Tan-Tar-A resort. Contact Lake of the
Ozarks Golf Council at (800) 490-8474.