Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

Conferences and The Golf Market

By Art McCafferty

About every two years the Michigan Golfer checks in on resorts and the hotel properties that serve the golfing public to note the changes within the industry. As we contacted the various properties, we were encouraged by the overall excellent health of the industry. True, the late spring has made for a slow start, but the properties are starting to catch up this summer. And while market share rather than market growth is starting to drive some of the areas, there still seems to be enough business for everyone.

Southeast Michigan

John Jorgenson, director of sales and marketing for Ypsilanti Marriott, indicates that many conferences are booking later than usual. "We are finding a number of companies throwing together conferences within a very short period of time. Perhaps, this is a sign of our fast moving times." The Huron Center_a troika of the Ypsilanti Marriott, the Huron Golf Course and the Corporate Education Center_makes this a very attractive property for conference goers.

This year saw the aggressive entrance of both the Ann Arbor and Flint Convention and Tourism Bureaus into the golf conference and package markets. Dave Serino of Ann Arbor developed the first area print and web golf and lodging brochure for Washtenaw County. Jerry Preston, director of the Flint Area Convention and Tourism is starting to pull together the players in that part of the state.

Northwest Michigan

Boyne USA continues to be the trend setter in corporate conference and convention business in the north country. They have been around longer than most of the players and have pioneered much that is going on today. They have long been a four season resort as is pointed out each spring when GM Art Tebo skis, golfs, fishes and hunts on all the same day. Soon to join their Boyne Mountain and Highlands property is the Inn at Bay Harbor. Still on the designing board, this complex will set the standard for corporate conferences in the north.

Rick Schmitt, director of sales at Crystal Mountain, has had a much easier life since the Crystal Center has come on board. Crystal has for years targeted the family market, now with their new facilities , they are going after the corporate market with gusto. "The Crystal Center has completely changed our customer base. Our state of the art meeting facility is one of the finest in the north. Our rear projection systems allow for corporations to significantly enhance their presentations_whether the medium is video, slides, overhead or the Internet.

In Gaylord, John McLintock of Hidden Valley is excited about the year they are having. "Our conference business is way up. Our three golf courses have really given us a decided edge in marketing our property to corporate groups. We can comfortably handle groups up to 200 people, after that we get some help from the other properties. What we need right now is more lodging space."

Brad Arnold and the Treetops crew are heavy into child care. "We have found this to be a must for our clients. " Treetops has, in addition to its Child Development Center, a Sunshine Nursery, Camp Sylvan, a Nanny Service and they offer special group programs. " We want to attend to all of the needs of our customers while on property," said Arnold. Business continues to boom for Treetops, as Rick Smith continues to get massive ink. He recently was named as Michigan's Special Golf Ambassador by Governor Engler, and his new course has opened this year.

Donna Deno of McGuires, is excited about Cadillac becoming more of a golf destination. "Our Golf Cadillac program has really drawn a lot of attention. While the late spring hurt some of our day golf business, our corporate convention and conference business held up very well. Once corporations set a date, they rarely change it. We also have redesigned many of our guest rooms to accommodate the corporate traveler. For example, we have installed data jacks with our phones and now people can easily log on to the Internet in their rooms."

Cadillac's Bill Oliver's Motor Inn and Conference Center can accommodate 500 people in its convention facility. They are the biggest player in town and are now starting to pick up more golf trade. Daniella Bell indicates that a lot of attention has been paid to Cadillac this year in the golf business. Cadillac has opened up The Rose, El Dorado and Briar Downs has been upgraded. They received some real marketing muscle from Carol Potter, the new director of the Cadillac Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Jim Peckrul, director of sales and marketing for Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center in Big Rapids, has seen steady growth of their conference business since the place opened up seven years ago. "If there are any trends to see, it is in the area of increased business. Also, St. Ives opened up this year and it has given us additional golf inventory to offer our clients. As you know, it is a very up-scale course and it matches up well with our own course here at Ferris State." The conference center has 12 meeting rooms and 118 rooms at the hotel.

Northeast Michigan

Jeff Brainard, sales manager of Bay Valley, has seen Bay Valley's Detroit campaign pay off in spades. "We are getting a tremendous amount of bookings out of Detroit. Plus, we are seeing an increase in one and two day conferences; where people come up for a meeting stay overnight, golf in the morning and then leave."

Lakewood Shores Resort in Oscoda has doubled their rooms and can now sleep 128 people. Their large conference room can seat 200. "We get groups from Detroit, Chicago and really from all over. We have really become a full resort now, "says Tamarta Peters of the Lakewood Resort Sales Office. Lakewood will also be opening a third course in late fall of '97 or spring of '98 to go with their award winning The Gailes and Lakewood courses.

Dave Clouse of West Branch is bullish on golf in his area. "We are joining the Michigan Association of Meeting Planners as golf is becoming much more of our business. We work with both West Branch and The Quest and next year The Dream will be opening up. Our bookings have recovered from the bad spring the industry had, and we are very happy."

Johna Hewes of Garland says that corporate conference business is way up. "Four years ago, about 20% of our business was corporate now we are nearing 50%. We have a very aggressive sales staff and we match up very well with the corporate world. Once they come through the gates at Garland and see the property, our job becomes a lot easier. While the corporate business has been well received it does bring some additional challenges with it. "About half of our corporate guests do not golf. This has given us the challenge of finding things for those people to do. We have canoeing on the Au Sable, horseback riding, fishing and skeet shooting. We also have theme dinners and progressive cart outings," said Hewes.

Southwest Michigan

In Battle Creek, Angela Bussler, Director of Sales and Marketing for Battle Creek Inn, Ann Marie of Apple Tree and Walter Jendrzeski of the Comfort Inn all indicate that golf remains very strong in Battle Creek. While they market some conferences with golf as an ingredient, they generally just provide information to their guests. "We send out the various golf packages we have to our conference and meeting planners and work with them," said Bussler.

These properties are always improving. Battle Creek Inn has added a new indoor pool, game room and now features a continental breakfast. Walter Jendrzeski, of the Comfort Inn in Battle Creek, has put in new carpeting throughout, renovated most of the rooms and, generally, upgraded the entire complex. "We do quite a bit of golf related business in the summer time and help our conferees as much as possible."

Upper Peninsula

Dan Donarkski, of the Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Tourism Bureau, is starting to route some of those CVB dollars into the golf market. "We have the best golf in the Upper Peninsula right now and we want people to know it." This year, Tanglewood Marsh has opened, Sault Ste. Marie has been remodeled, a new course by Mike Husby is coming on board in Brimley and another course will open at Hessel next year.

Greg Hokans and the golf properties of Marquette County are also getting involved in the golf business and hope to bring corporate outings to their Chocolay Downs, Red Fox Run and Wawonowin courses. Delta County CVB is also working hard to get some convention and conference businesses to their courses.

While the cold and wet spring weather definitely hurt business this year, the properties that tied in conferences and convention to their golf seemed to fare the best. Hopefully, Michigan will produce a great fall season and allow golf course properties a chance to recover.

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