Tourism on 'Upswing'
BY TED M. NATT JR.
After two years of anemic performance in the wake of the recession, visitor spending in Moore County rose 9.4 percent to slightly more than $342 million in 2010.
And the momentum has continued this year.
“Without a doubt, people are exercising their right to travel again, albeit with a dose of restraint in terms of frequency and length of travel,” says Caleb Miles, president and CEO of the Pinehurst-Southern Pines-Aberdeen Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).
Figures released last month by the N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development show that Moore County ranked 11th in visitor spending among the state’s 100 counties, which is impressive considering its position as the 31st most-populated county.
“Moore County outperformed the rest of the state, on average, by about half a percentage point,” Miles says. “Thus far in 2011, we’ve seen that trend continue with increases in both lodging occupancy and ADR (average daily rate), which bodes well for another year of solid growth.”
The news couldn’t come at a better time for the county’s golf industry, which continues to be a major tourism driver but has been reeling since the October 2008 stock market crash and subsequent economic downturn.
Tom Pashley, executive vice president of marketing at Pinehurst Resort, says the fall golf season is shaping up well for the resort, which expects year-over-year growth on both the business and leisure sides of the equation.
“Corporate meetings and corporate golf are critical for our resort,” Pashley says. “I believe the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 has reestablished us as a destination where companies want to bring their best clients and reward their top employees.
“Just over half of our business is corporate, particularly during the fall, when companies are conducting planning and strategy meetings for the following year.”
Miles agrees that the restoration has created a “buzz” among golfers.
“They want to experience the new No. 2, and you can’t blame them,” he says. “From everything I’ve heard, people love it.”
Miles adds that “some buzz” is starting to develop for the 2014 U.S. Opens at No. 2, which will be held in back-to-back weeks for the first time.
“The Opens serve as a magnet,” he says. “It puts us in consideration for corporate meetings and events. A lot of those events include golf outings.”
Pashley says the resort is fortunate because its history, tradition and championships enable it to differentiate itself from the competition in the crowded high-end marketplace.
“We’re lucky to have a great product that is unique, and that’s how we try to position ourselves,” he says. “We’ve always tried to add value and distinguish ourselves in some other way than price. We’re cautiously optimistic about the future.”
Mike Phillips, membership chairman at Dormie Club in West End, says the economy prompted the private club to open its course to public play for the next two years in an effort to boost exposure and grow its membership.
“We’ve taken in a fair amount of outside play, and we’re booking more rounds than we thought we would be heading into the fall season,” Phillips says. “We’re getting more membership prospects and a few memberships. I haven’t heard a bad comment from anybody coming off the golf course. Overall, it’s been very positive.”
Chad Derusseau, general manager of Legacy Golf Links in Aberdeen, is eager to reopen the course on Sept. 17 after closing it for three months to redo all of the greens, reshape some bunkers and add tee boxes.
“We have changed the greens from bentgrass to miniverde, which is more heat-tolerant,” Derusseau says. “It actually flourishes in the summer. Ultimately, we felt that miniverde would give us optimal putting conditions on most days throughout the year.”
Derusseau adds that the fairways and rough have been aerated and top-dressed, and are devoid of divots.
“We have completely manicured the golf course,” he says. “It’s been amazing to see the transformation. It’s really looking good out here. We’re just excited to get the doors open. We want people to experience the ‘new’ golf course and enjoy it.”
Miles notes that Legacy Golf Links is a popular course for people coming to the county on golf packages.
“The work they’ve done in the past three months is an example of what golf courses are having to do to remain competitive,” he says. “National Golf Club, which is semi-private, is getting ready to redo their greens in November.”
Steve Saye, owner of Sandhills Golf Packages, believes that the county has “somewhat of a golf course glut” with more than 40 courses across all price points.
“I don’t want to run anybody out of business, but there is more capacity than what is needed,” Saye says. “We all ought to be talking about the quality of golf and the whole experience here rather than trying to fight for the bottom-feeders by discounting.
“The service has to be hitting on all cylinders, from the bag boys to the pro shop to the cart girl, and everyone in between.”
Saye makes a point of personally greeting every group when they arrive and interviewing them about their experience before they leave.
“If they’ve had a problem somewhere, I call the golf course and ask why things went wrong,” he says. “I bring a very personal, high service level element to the business. You’ve got to continually enhance your product and your brand.”
Jack Nance, executive director of the Carolinas Golf Association, cautions that the slow recovery should continue through the end of the year.
“It’s almost like turning a large ship around. It’s going to be a very, very slow process,” Nance says. “My hope is that we can just stop the bleeding.”
The National Golf Foundation (NGF) reported earlier this year that the number of golfers in the United States declined in 2010 for the third consecutive year, falling 3.6 percent to 26.1 million.
The gradual decline since 2008 in golfers and rounds was primarily due to the impact of lower job security and concern over personal finances, not waning appeal for the game.
“Therefore, the industry can expect some post-recession recovery,” the NGF said in its annual State of the Industry report. “The long-term view remains modestly favorable, based on projected population growth, latent demand and baby boomers retiring.”
Miles says it’s difficult to gauge where Moore County stands because there are no consistent measurement tools in place.
“Lodging revenues are on the upswing,” he says. “Generally, there is a correlation between lodging revenues and golf revenues. I think we’re continuing to see improvement in all sectors. We’re not back where we were before the recession, but we’re gaining on it.”
Contact Ted M. Nat Jr. at email@example.com.
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