Nearly 30 years ago a group of Gaylord golf course owners and the new head of the Gaylord Tourism Bureau, Paul Beachnau, decided to model a marketing campaign after the very successful Golf Myrtle Beach, which is still going strong.
And so is the Gaylord Golf Mecca, a group of 17 courses, five resort destinations, and 20 hotel properties.
In the last 28 years the group of properties has hosted more than four million golfers and bucked a national and state trend of declining golf rounds in recent years.
Today, the Golf Mecca is recognized among golfers nationwide along with the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, Golf Arizona, and Myrtle Beach.
“There’s no other group around the Great Lakes doing what we are doing. We are the only true Myrtle Beach-like operation,” Beachnau said. “In fact, Golf Digest has selected our region as one of the 12 best golf destinations in the world.”
Last season the Mecca had about a two percent increase in golf rounds over 2012. That was after a slow start in the spring due to weather. Golf rounds in Michigan were down six percent last season and five percent nationally.
“We booked over 282,000 18-hole rounds, bringing in over $12.7 million in revenue,” Beachnau said. “Over 780 people are employed in our five county region through the golf business, which is a direct result of the success of the Gaylord Golf Mecca. The annual payroll for all our golf partners is nearly $10 million.”
Terry Moore, a downstate golf writer and member of the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA), said the Gaylord Golf Mecca has done an “admirable” job of maintaining its place in the marketplace.
“The Gaylord Golf Mecca has contributed greatly to Michigan’s stature of providing a first-class golf experience,” he said. “Almost every national and international survey on golf that I’ve seen includes Michigan as a Top 10 or Top 20 destination. They took a cue from Myrtle Beach and put their own brand on it.”
In spite of a down economy, Moore says Gaylord is holding its own.
“Despite a struggling Michigan economy and an oversupply of courses for fewer golfers over the last decade, from what I’ve seen in traveling around the country, the Gaylord Golf Mecca has done an admirable job of maintaining its perch in the marketplace, both in the state and regionally,” he said.
Jack Barry, a member of the Golf Writer’s Hall of Fame, past president of the GWAA, and longtime golf writer for the Detroit News, says Gaylord’s strategy is serving them well.
“Over the years I’ve watched them grow, and in today’s golf market that’s not an easy task, especially over almost 30 years. They developed a strategy, much like Myrtle Beach, and have stayed true to it,” he said. “Many golf markets have lost ground in the last decade, but Gaylord continues to grow. They must be doing something right.”
Most group marketing in Michigan and the Midwest is done through local convention and visitors’ bureaus, Beachnau said.
In Gaylord, the Mecca operates as a separate group and is funded through self-assessments.
“Each CVB can only market the golf courses and resorts in their geographic boundaries,” he said. “We have a board, an operating budget, and I help administer the group.”
Of the 17 courses in the Gaylord area, three are on the fringe: Black Lake Golf Club, in Onaway; Black Bear in Wolverine; and Elk Ridge in Atlanta. Gaylord courses include Treetops’ four courses; Wilderness Valley and Otsego Club, which each have two; and Gaylord Country Club, The Loon, Marsh Ridge, The Natural, The Lakes, and Michaywe.
Twenty lodging properties around town offer stay and play packages in addition to the resorts.
Notable golf course architects have designed some of the courses: Robert Trent Jones, Tom Doak, Rees Jones, Tom Fazio, Rick Smith, Gary Koch, Rick Robbins Don Childs, and Michigan’s most prolific designer, Jerry Mathews, to name a few.
The awards and accolades from leading industry publications – Golf, Golfweek, Golf Digest, and Great Lakes Golf – have been numerous; America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, Top 50 Modern Public Courses in the U.S, America’s Top 75 Upscale Public Courses, and Top 50 for women in America. The list goes on.
Golf is the big draw, but the region also has plenty of natural attractions, Beachnau said.
“Yes, we’re on the national golf map, but it’s the true up north experience with forests of white pine and hardwoods, lakes and wetlands, the largest free-ranging elk herd east of the Mississippi River, deer, wild turkeys, and an occasional black bear,” he said. “Scenic rivers, like the Au Sable, Pigeon and Sturgeon with world class fly fishing, flow through the properties.”
It’s the kind of fun entire families can enjoy, Beachnau said, in addition to the golf.
“It offers a lot of choices in addition to just a golfing getaway, which is nice for families,” he said. “And, for golfers, there are wide fairways, drop shots galore and views that stretch to the horizon.
“What’s not to like?”
For more information, visit gaylordgolfmecca.com.