The BMW Championship at Crooked Stick GC in September will give the area an added boost beyond the normal activity spurred by aggressive marketing efforts.
This September, more than 120,000 fans of professional golf are expected to come to Hamilton County, Ind., when the PGA;s BMW Championship is held at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. Big names like Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Justin Rose who are expected to play in the tournament will provide much of the draw, noted a recent report in the Indianapolis Star, but the area has already built a reputation as a great golf area that attracts thousands of visitors each year, even when a major tournament isn’t held.
“Oh yeah, we get them all the time here,” said Mark Wisman, a golf pro at Bear Slide Golf Club, a public course in Cicero, Ind., with a Scottish-links style front nine, told the Star. “Most of them come from neighboring states like Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.”
Many of the visitors take advantage of special golf packages—coordinated efforts between local hotels and eight public courses —that are put together and marketed by the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Star noted, in what is now adding up to big business for area hotels, restaurants and courses.
“We’ve been selling Hamilton County as a golf destination since 1997,” said Karen Radcliff, the Visitors Bureau’s Deputy Director. “Typically, our hotels sell 500 to 600 packages each year.”
Each of those packages usually means golfers (mostly men) in groups of eight or more.
It’s not a hard sell for Radcliff and her team members, who recently traveled to a golf convention in Chicago, where they courted business groups seeking excursions for employee retreats, among other potential customers.
Hamilton County, after all, is home to world-famous golf course designer Pete Dye, who lives in Carmel. Dye, 86, has lived in the area for more than 60 years and has designed courses across the country. He has received the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Carmel is also home to courses Dye has designed, including the semi-private Plum Creek and the private Crooked Stick, Bridgewater and Woodland.
Crooked Stick is probably the best-known course outside of Indiana, after famously hosting the 1991 PGA Championship, an event that launched the career of one of the sport’s most well-known names, John Daly.
The exclusive club also played host to the U.S. Women’s Open in 1993, the Solheim Cup in 2005 and the U.S. Senior Open in 2009.
Last year, the Pete Dye Golf Trail was established as another tourist draw, for serious golfers who want to play his challenging courses all over the state.
The trail includes Brickyard Crossing, Maple Creek Golf and Country Club and The Fort Golf Resort in the Indianapolis area; Plum Creek; Mystic Hills Golf Club in Culver; the Kampen Course in West Lafayette; and the Pete Dye Course in French Lick.
“There is not only a national draw, there is a worldwide draw to play Pete Dye courses,” Mike David, Executive Director of the Indiana Golf Office, told The Star last year, when the Pete Dye Trail was launched. “For people to come and play so many in a small area, I think there’s definitely an appeal.”
In addition to this year’s PGA event at Dye’s signature Crooked Stick, there will a national LPGA Futures Tour event in Fishers, Ind. at The Hawthorns Golf & Country Club, which is not a Dye course. The My Marsh Golf Classic will be played from May 28 to June 3.
The local hotel-golf packages include eight public golf courses, six of which are in Hamilton County—Bear Slide, Plum Creek, Prairie View (Carmel), Purgatory (Noblesville), River Glen (Fishers) and Wood Wind (Westfield)—and Brickyard Crossing and The Fort Golf Resort.
Hamilton County’s visitor’s bureau sends staffers to three or more golf consumer shows outside of Indiana each winter to promote local courses. They go to shows in Cincinnati, St Louis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Novi, Mich., a suburb of Detroit that hosts the largest golf show in the Midwest.
“We also shipped materials for display at the Tinley Park Golf Show, a southern suburb of Chicago,” Radcliff said. “Chicago was a great show with high attendance and a number of opportunities to connect with golfers who plan trips for their groups.”
At least 15 hotels have established special “stay-and-play” rates, ranging from $190 to $260, that include a single night’s stay and two rounds of golf. For extended stays, golfers can get three nights and four rounds at rates that range from $410 to $570.
Combining those numbers with bar tabs, restaurant bills and shopping done by the visitors, the economic benefits to the area can be hefty.
The most recent survey of visitors to the county (in 2009) showed that more than 20,000 visiting golfers who had responded to visitors bureau marketing efforts had spent more than $6 million, Radcliff said—a conservative figure that did not include other visitors who came to play on their own.
“Each year about 30 percent of our visitors travel here because they are visiting friends or relatives,” Radcliff said. “All others are coming for a variety of reasons, including golf.
A survey in 2011 of all Hamilton County visitors showed they spent an average of about $650.And while golf may not attract the most people, golfers tend to spend more than that average.”We like to describe golf travel as a small but mighty niche market,” Radcliff said.