Golf tourism has summer competition
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Visitors to the Vail Valley each summer are active vacationers – they not only want to see, they want to do.The valley has 17 championship golf courses in a 38-mile span, but is that enough to make the valley a golfing destination? The answer is both yes and no.The valley is also home to world-class everything else, from hiking to mountain biking to fly-fishing to whitewater rafting, leaving visitors practically overloaded with options while they’re in town. In a 2008 analysis by Reach Advisors for the Vail Local Marketing District, a group that markets Vail’s summer appeal, research found that 40 percent of people surveyed liked to golf, but the study said “there’s little indication it drives decisions.”The study, which was a precursor to Vail’s summer brand positioning – something that was in infancy stages at the time – also identified that those surveyed who like summer mountain vacations were two times more likely to spend time to learn or develop a skill or hobby, help their children learn or develop a skill or hobby, focus on things they like to do and also be more physically active than they were at home.The takeaway was that “mountain vacationers are more likely to pursue their recreational passions.”Harry Frampton, of Slifer Smith & Frampton real estate, said his company surveys high-end homebuyers to find out what brings them here. One in five say golf.”I think when people think of Vail, they don’t think of it as a golf resort, and I don’t think they ever really will,” Frampton said. For one, golf takes too long, and there are too many other things to do in the valley to spend an entire day doing just one activity, Frampton said.”No one thing is going to dominate,” he said. No one thing in nonwinter months, that is. Skiing and snowboarding dominate winter in a way that no single sport or activity can do in the summer – there are just too many choices.But if one in five people come to the valley with golf on the mind, that’s a big enough number for golf to have an impact.”If 20 percent of your customers consider it important, that’s important,” Frampton said.
Avid golfers can spend a week here and play not only a different course every day but also play very different environments every day.From alpine courses such as Beaver Creek, Cordillera and Vail to desert-like courses such as Red Sky Ranch and Eagle Springs to downvalley courses that offer even more unique vistas and views – there’s a lot to be seen, and it can all be done in one trip, which is a point that needs to be made when touting the valley as a golf destination, said Gary McCord, a part-time Edwards resident, professional golfer and golf TV personality.The climate is an appealing reason to golf in the valley in the summertime, too, especially because most other golf destinations around the country are too hot to bear, said Fred Green, who developed the courses at Country Club of the Rockies (Arrowhead), Eagle Springs, Sonnenalp and Eagle-Vail.”There’s a relative abundance of fine days when you can play golf,” Green said. “And the ball travels a long way at high altitudes.”And while those reasons might attract some die-hard golfers, the fact is many people aren’t coming to the valley specifically for golf.The Vail Local Marketing District has always kept golf a part of summer marketing efforts, town of Vail Economic Development Director Kelli McDonald said. She said the town could host some larger golf camps in the near future, though, and there’s room to grow the sport in terms of the marketing message.”It certainly is something, from an outdoor recreation standpoint, that we always push through the Vail Local Marketing District for the summer months,” McDonald said. “It has also become really great for families. It’s something families can do together or separately.”Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Council member Jamie Gunion, who also works for the Vail Recreation District, which operates the Vail Golf Club, agreed that golf is one of many reasons visitors might choose Vail.”It’s a nice addition to the many activities our visitors can do while they’re here,” Gunion said. Golfvailvalley.com is the area’s golf marketing site, featuring courses that offer public or at least semi-public play, but most of the marketing for golf is happening through affiliated hotels or through the individual golf courses. And the Vail Local Marketing District is looking at larger programs such as camps or tours that would bring more people to Vail to play golf, McDonald said.Vail Resorts promotes its Red Sky Ranch & Golf Club through its hotels. When you log onto the Lodge at Vail’s website this summer, the main photograph on the homepage isn’t one of Vail Mountain or the Gore Range – it’s a picture of the greens at Red Sky.Golf rounds in the mountain region – New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana – are up 3.5 percent through June this year. The average temperature in the mountain region was also up by 4.3 percent over June 2011, and precipitation is down by 52 percent compared with June 2011, both positive factors for golf statistics this year.
Frampton, who has played golf all over the country, would argue that the Vail Valley is one of the best places to play anywhere, but the problem is the short season due to the high elevation.Another problem is that architects made many of the local courses too hard for the average player, which is what most golfers who play recreationally are. Harder courses also take longer to play, and many don’t want to eat up their entire vacations playing golf.Frampton suspects that courses will continue to come up with ways to make the game more inviting to those who aren’t expert players. Courses, in order to be a draw, need to be less intimidating, he said.When the Jerry Ford Invitational was still going on, golf was a huge draw to the valley. That’s how McCord first came to know the Vail Valley as a golf destination.”I absolutely fell in love with it,” he said. McCord has now called the valley his part-time home for more than 20 years. He jokes that when the lizards are still hanging out on top of the rocks in Arizona, he lives there. When the lizards go under the rocks because of the heat, he heads to Colorado.When President Ford had a home in the valley and brought his people in to play golf, McCord said it was purely A-list. And not only that, the people loved getting together to play golf.”It was vital to the community,” McCord said. “It brought a lot of exposure to Vail.”That exposure eventually turned into real estate-based golf course development. Fast forward to today, and there is a high concentration of courses in a relatively small area – some would argue too many.That alone is a draw, McCord said. To be able to play so many championship courses designed by the best in the industry – the likes of Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Tom Fazio, Robert Trent Jones and Pete Dye – and to play a new one of those courses each day all while on a single vacation, is a big asset for the valley.But as summer marketing efforts in Vail have increased in recent years, so have the amount of activities available in Vail. Frampton said he looked through the Vail Daily earlier this month and saw about 30 different options for things to do in one weekend.Between concerts, shows, festivals and sporting events and competitions, golf’s slice of the summer pie is undoubtedly getting smaller. And when 18 holes of golf can take four or more hours to play, other less expensive and less time-consuming activities can have a way of moving to the top of a vacationer’s priority list.It’s part of the reason more marketing is necessary. At the Sonnenalp hotel in Vail, for example, golf at the hotel’s Singletree course – the Sonnenalp Golf Club – is promoted as an amenity of the hotel, said owner Johannes Faessler.”Vail is primarily still a place that is primarily known to be a winter resort,” Faessler said. “A lot of the story that needs to be told is how beautiful it is here in the summer. Golf is an important element of that, but it can’t be the only element.”Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.