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Plymouth, Michigan


This section of the report presents the results of the survey of golfers at daily-fee golf courses and resort complexes in the State of Michigan. This project was initiated under the auspices of the Michigan Jobs Commission, specifically Travel Michigan, and the Michigan Golf Task Force to develop a greater understanding of the golf in the State of Michigan.

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A total of 1,010 surveys were distributed at 18 courses throughout the state. Care was taken to secure geographic representativeness by selecting courses from all areas of the state. Of the surveys distributed, fully 874 provided sufficient information to be included for subsequent statistical analysis. This compliance rate of 86.5 percent is deemed excellent by contemporary research standards. An overview of the results for each question is included in the following text. It begins with a detailed description of the sampling procedure.

Sampling Procedure

The timing of data collection corresponded to the general pattern of play as determined from data supplied by a grouping of daily-fee courses located in Northern Michigan. Because of the wet conditions in the early Spring, the three sampling intervals were delayed approximately two weeks. The first sampling period of four days was from late May into early June. This was followed by another sampling period in the middle of July, and a third during the second week of September. Each sampling period had a different sequence of days to ensure: (1) coverage of all the days of the week; and (2) greater relative emphasis on those days that are typically characterized by heavy play.

Interviews were conducted at 18 daily fee golf courses or golf complexes in Michigan. The largest number of interviews was obtained at the Donald Ross Course in the Boyne Resort. The next largest numbers of interviews were at Stonehedge and Gull Lake respectively. The fewest number of interviews at one course were the 18 obtained at Sault Ste. Marie. The primary reason for the disparity in the number of interviews completed at the various courses was that interviewing took place over several days at some courses, whereas at others interviewing was confined to a single day. Additionally, nineteen interviews were conducted at Metro Detroit courses (The Links of Novi, Cattails, and Fellows Creek) as part of the pilot test of the questionnaire and procedures for interviewing.

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When the sample is stratified on the basis of gender, 86 percent of the sample were male with 14 percent female. These numbers approximate published figures which characterize the golf market as having an 80/20, male/female split. The predominance of males in the sample is not surprising when the sampling venues are considered. The courses used tend to attract what the National Golf Foundation defines as "avid golfers", a category that contains a disproportionate number of males.

When evaluating age, it becomes apparent that golf's appeal is strongest among individuals aged 35 to 54 as this group accounts for 60 percent of the respondents. The younger market, aged 34 or less, comprise some 23 percent of the sample while the older segment, aged 55 and up, constitute a comparatively small 17 percent. The sample is "younger" than the national market, but it is deemed appropriate when focusing on the Michigan market - especially with this study's emphasis on resort courses.

Less than 256.0
25 to 3416.9
35 to 4432.2
45 to 5428.3
55 to 6411.0
65 or older5.6

A review of the income characteristics lends support to the commonly held view that golf is not "a poor person's game." In the sample, nearly one out of every three golfers interviewed reported household incomes exceeding $100,000 per year.

Approximately 52 percent of the sample earned more than $75,000 yearly. Only 7.7 percent of the sample reported an annual income of less than $30,000. From a marketing perspective, there are alternative strategic implications. One would be that to achieve maximum effectiveness with any promotion, there is a need to select promotional vehicles which expressly target this upscale market. A second interpretation is that to widen their customer base and attract the less affluent segments, operators of daily-fee courses must address the issue of pricing. Perhaps the best approach would be to develop golf packages, particularly for periods of low play. These packages can obscure the relatively high fee structure and at the same time minimize the seasonal variations of demand for the particular facility. The latter concept is often referred to as resource management.

Household IncomePercent
Less than $30,000
$ 30,000 to 49,999
$ 50,000 to 74,999
$ 75,000 to 99,999
$100,000 or more

A majority of the sample members (80.2 percent) are married. Only 27 (26.8 percent) of the married golfers were accompanied by their spouse. If the spouse was also on the trip, it was very likely that he or she was also playing golf as evidenced by the 74.3 percent who indicated accordingly.

The residence of the players provides some intriguing insight. Of the players interviewed, 83 percent were from the state of Michigan. This total includes almost 24 percent who live in the metro Detroit area. The states adjacent to Michigan represent a secondary market. Meaningful numbers were in evidence from the states of Indiana 4.0 percent , Ohio (3.9 percent with 2.2 percent from Northern Ohio), and Illinois (3.3 percent with 2.3 percent from the Chicago area). When combined with the golfers from the Canadian province of Ontario (2.1 percent), this geographic area is home for just over 96 percent of the players. The remaining 4 percent is geographically dispersed with a number of other states represented in smaller numbers. These states include, but are not limited to: Arizona, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas. There are also a small number of foreign players who may play the courses in Michigan. The conclusion, however, must be that the Michigan golf market is literally driven by the automobile. The best opportunities to expand the present market are found in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Ontario, and possibly Western Pennsylvania. But there is a perceived need to have a broader reach in order to reduce the dependence on these intermediate areas that are automobile-based.

In summary, the typical golfer at a daily fee course in Michigan will likely be a married male between the ages of 35 and 54 with a household income of $75,000 or more, and be from Michigan.

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The National Golf Foundation defines an avid golfer as one who plays 25 or more rounds per year. While the categories on this survey do not facilitate an exact measure of this group, it is evident that the Michigan golfing population includes a significant number who could be classified as such. In fact, 50.3 percent of the sample indicated that they play at least 30 rounds of golf per year. Even more dramatic is the finding that 35 percent report playing at least 40 rounds per year. It is obvious that Michigan-area golfers enjoy the chance to participate in a round of golf. Conversely, 15.3 percent of the respondents play fewer than ten rounds per year. These golfers, who can best be described as occasional players represent untapped potential especially in light of the fact that many of the golfers in this category took at least one golf vacation last year. The infrequency of their play should not be interpreted as an obstacle, rather as an opportunity to nurture and develop relationships and additional play.

Numberof RoundsPercent
Fewer than 1015.1
10 to 1915.9
20 to 2918.7
30 to 3915.3
40 or more35.0

Just over a third of the sample (36.4 percent) belonged to at least one golf league in 1997. Of those who reported a USGA handicap index, the mean index was just over 14. Of note is the fact that 36 percent of the respondents indicated that they did have an official USGA handicap. This can be compared to a figure of 8 percent for golfers nationwide. The distribution of handicaps ranges from a low of one to a high of 42. Approximately one-third of the participants who possessed a USGA index reported a handicap of less than 12, one-third fell between 12 and 16, with the remaining third reporting an official index of 17 or higher. The average handicap of 14 is somewhat lower than national statistics and places the typical golfer surveyed in the more competitive segments of golfers.

HandicapUSGA Percent
Less than 1232.4
12 to 1633.0
17 or higher34.6

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You bet they do! A total of 69 percent of the respondents indicated that they took at least one "golf vacation" in 1996. The average number of such vacations was 2.49. Of this total, 1.49 of the vacations were taken in the State of Michigan. This fact implies that the State of Michigan loses, on average, one vacation for each golfer who does vacation.

A cursory examination of the distribution provides some additional insight. The largest group reported taking two golf vacations (33.2 percent) followed closely by the group who took a single golf vacation (29.3 percent). The onus is on the industry to appeal to these golfers. Their vacations are limited and caution must be exercised to insure that these golfers don't migrate to non-Michigan locations. Alternatively, we know that they are amenable to taking time to play golf, thus there may be an opportunity to increase the frequency and the duration of their golf vacations. The remainder of the sample reported between three and 15 golf vacations; however, less than three percent reported more than five such endeavors. It is also noteworthy that as the number of golf vacations increases, the proportion of those golf vacations which are taken in the State of Michigan decreases. This attrition is logical as these avid golfers are likely to go elsewhere to play during the cold-weather months.

Number of VacationsPercent

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Overwhelmingly, golf is played for pleasure. This fact was indicated by just over 86 percent of the sample. Only 14 percent indicated that business was the primary motivating factor in the decision to play golf. Obviously, daily-fee courses may want to increase their promotional efforts to this business-oriented target market. Group Composition

Group composition was varied. One or more of the respondent's friends were part of the player's group in just over 74 percent of the rounds. Relatives were playing partners 23 percent of the time; business associates played in 24 percent of the groups; and 8.3 percent of the groups contained at least one player that the respondent did not previously know.

It was not unusual to find an individual playing as part of a group including more than one foursome. Fully 41.3 percent of the sample indicated that their play on a given day included organized competition as part of a larger group. Interestingly, the number of golfers in a typical outing was not large. Almost 68 percent reported that their organized play included 16 or fewer players. Rather than mega outings, these results reflect the propensity to form small groups of friends and engage in a friendly competition. Experience tells us that the small groups are prone to repeat these outings on an annual basis, often at the same courses. This presents an opportunity for courses to help organize outings; this assistance may include suggestions as to various competitive formats, help with prizes, and other issues germane to playing in an organized competitive outing.

Distance Traveled

A review of the question regarding the distance traveled from one's primary residence to the golf course where the interview took place reinforces the earlier statement about Michigan golf being inextricably tied to the ability to drive to the final destination. Almost half (49.8 percent) of the respondents drove 120 miles or less to the golf course. The average was 178 miles; however, this measure is skewed due to the presence of a limited number of extreme cases. For example, a Japanese golfer reported that he was 8,000 miles from his primary residence. Apparently, he came to the United States on business and made a decision to include golf on his itinerary. Thus, it is felt that the median is a more appropriate measure of central tendency; this statistic is 125 miles. At the upper extreme, less than four percent reported that they were 500 miles or more from home. These measures delineate the provincial nature of the golf customer for Michigan courses at the present time. While the segment is important and will undoubtedly remain important, future expansion of the market will depend upon the ability to attract those golfers who travel over 250 miles to play golf. If the sample of golfers interviewed can be considered representative, this segment currently comprises 23.3 percent or about one fourth of the present market.

Comments About the Golf Facilities

When asked for specific comments about the course they played, a variety of comments surfaced. As reported in previous research, the most common criticism was the universal complaint, namely the slow pace of play. Courses were occasionally criticized for physical characteristics such as insufficient upkeep, spiked-up greens, and being overly difficult. Other issues such as the absence of a beverage cart, inadequate food facilities, the individual's own play - especially when lost balls were involved - were also mentioned.

More compelling, however, were the positive assessments of the courses. Far and away the most common praise revolved around the scenic beauty of the courses. It is also evident that many golfers get very excited by seeing wildlife - presumably deer and not geese - during their round. Courses were often commended for their upkeep, their challenge, and the fact that tee times were available. Golfers were quick to point out their own play as well; a player's birdie (or even a par) was often designated as one of the favorite aspects of the "course" and the day's round.

It would appear from the comments that "playability" is a major issue. It is likely the single most important reason that casual golfers shy away from some of the better known resort courses which are known for their difficulty. Many courses nationwide have addressed this phenomenon by providing a varied array of tee positions which significantly impact the length and corresponding slope rating of the course. Research indicates that golfers really don't like to walk off the course feeling that they were lucky to survive 18 holes. When this happens, they usually don't come back! There is also the likelihood of them telling their friends and associates. Course operators and developers would be well served to eliminate the "toughest course you can build" attitude and provide tracks that couple challenge and enjoyment in a single package.

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