By: Larry Bohannan, The Desert Sun
November 16, 2015
As golf has struggled in recent years to find new golfers and retain existing players, there have been other questions for golf course operators such as: What can we do with all of this land if it’s not being used on a regular basis?
Last weekend in the desert, at least two courses showed there are uses for courses that not only produce some revenue but also bring people to their courses and perhaps expose them to the course or the game of golf itself.
Last Friday and Saturday, the Westin Mission Hills Resort in Rancho Mirage hosted Golf Fest on its Gary Player course. Golf Fest is not specifically a Coachella Valley event since the company that puts on the shows also sets up similar shows through the Southwest. The show combined golf club manufacturers showing off their latest equipment and letting attendees hit those clubs on the driving range with some non-golf specific vendors having their product displayed.
The Golf Fest saw the parking lot of the Player course overflowing, with cars spilling into the neighboring desert. That’s a tremendous thing for the folks at the course, not only because people were spending money at Golf Fest and perhaps in the club’s pro show, but also because people who took the time to go to the course might have a better idea of what the Players course is all about.
On Saturday, the second day of the Golf Fest, the city of Indio hosted a non-golf event on the driving range and practice facilities of it municipal course, The Lights. The California BBQ Championship saw dozens of food vendors selling ribs and chicken and pulled pork and other food to anyone who wanted to show up. There was also a competition among the pit masters.
The event was a huge hit, with one official saying a crowd expected to be about 2,200-2,500 had swelled to about 6,000. Hungry people who reached the course after 3 p.m. found several vendors sold out.
What was interesting was seeing one group of four younger people, perhaps about 20 years old or so, looking over at the 18-hole par-3 course as they were slowly walking to the exit. Is this where their friend tells them he comes to play this game, this golf? It looks nice, one of the women said. She might have to ask her friend what this is all about.
OK, that’s probably not the strong commitment for being a lifelong golfer. But perhaps it is a start. Or perhaps it is just a way for people who have no use for the game to have a bit more understanding of those who do love the game and its venues.
It’s likely that the United States Golf Association doesn’t consider barbecue competitions or golf shows as a way to grow the game, and the USGA may be right about that. But the people who are running golf courses want to sell golf but also have revenue streams. For years, car shows have been held on golf courses across the country, bringing people to the facilities. One of the earliest golf courses in the desert, the nine holes at the Desert Inn in Palm Springs, was annually the site of a big dog show for the village.
So a golf merchandise show and a barbecue competition would seem to fit right in. As much as we like to think golf courses are about golf, they are really about making some money. And it’s OK to look outside of rounds of golf for that revenue.
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