Phoenix-Scottsdale golf courses using perks to lure golfers

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

BUCKEYE, Ariz. - Doug Foss knew the Raven Golf Club at Verrado needed a unique draw, a promotion that attracted attention long term. No matter how good your golf course is, it's hard for a new course to gain a place in the public consciousness in the ultra-crowded, ultra-competitive Phoenix-Scottsdale resort corridor.

Kierland Golf Club - Segways
Westin Kierland Resort has golfers zipping around their fairways on Segway Human Transporters.
Kierland Golf Club - SegwaysRaven at Verrado in Buckeye, Ariz.
If you go

When Foss, the sales and marketing manager, and the rest of the Verrado management sat down to discuss strategy, they focused on doing "something substantially different." They ended up going straight for the stomach of the vacationing golfer.

The Verrado provides two full meals (either breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner) and unlimited snacks and non-alcoholic beverages from the carts girls with its standard greens fee. Unlimited golf is also part of the deal, but everyone's mostly talking about the grub.

"You see some courses do lunch with a round of golf," Foss said. "But those almost always consist of hot dogs and hamburgers. We'll never just offer you hot dogs and hamburgers. You're getting real meals."

During the peak season, that can mean a buffet with swordfish, prime rib and a plethora of other high-end choices. When the course isn't packed, golfers order straight off the restaurant menu for their all-inclusive meals.

"Golfers like it because it lets them make a whole day of it out there," said one local golf vacation package operator, a company that books hotels and golf together. "When you're spending under $100 for golf and pretty much all your meals, guys really think they're getting their money's worth."

New Age Promotion - 1, Rigid Old Course Thinking - 0.

Greater Phoenix-Scottsdale area courses are turning more and more to creative gimmicks like Verrado's grub for golfers program to compete. Being in a golf mecca with more than 200 courses at the average hacker's disposal often means you're in a course-eat-course world. (Or in Verrado's case, a golfers eat well world).

"The supply far outweighs the demand," said Ryan Barmore, sales manager at The Raven at South Mountain. "Golfers are definitely in the driver's seat as being able to shop around. It makes it very competitive."

Which makes the perks, extras or just straight unusual additions even more important. Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler offers air-conditioned carts to combat the desert heat of course. But it also offers them because it helps the course stick out.

The Westin Kierland Resort has golfers zipping around their fairways on Segway Human Transporters. The two-wheeled, high-tech, single-rider devices give the Kierland a futuristic look and an undeniable hook. You're not going to confuse the Segway course with any other 'Zona track.

"In the highly competitive golf resort market of Scottsdale and Phoenix, you must spend the time and resources necessary to stand out of the pack," Kierland General Manager J. Bruce Lange said.

The Segways cost $5,000 each and golfers must go through a lesson to learn how to ride them. Still, they give the Kierland an aura.

"Golf need to attract - then retain - more demographics to the game, which means using a bit of creativity," said Shawn Connors, president of the Golf Industry Association of Arizona. "If (Segway) gets people to pick up a golf club for the first time, who otherwise would not be interested, I say go for it."

Some dedicated duffers are growing more than a little weary of the out-there promotions, whether it's gluttony for golfers or futuristic scooters.

"I just want to play the game, man," local golfer Pat Contreras said over at Karsten Golf Course, one of the Phoenix area's more low-key courses. "If they want to get more golfers, why don't they just lower the greens fees?

"Seems pretty simple to me," Contreras said.

A number of Phoenix-Scottsdale golf courses are promoting the Southwest PGA Golf Pass as a way to reduce your greens fees. This is a pass where you pay $110 to get 25 to 50 percent off rack rates at participating courses.

The here-today-gone-tomorrow promotions can make golfers feel like they're chasing after fool's gold, however. "Some golf courses put them on and take them off depending on how their tee sheet looks that week," claimed a local packager.

This is another thing that makes the Raven at Verrado's two-meals-included standard so unusual. It's kept the program going since the first day it opened in January 2004. Sometimes the hook becomes a part of a course's identity.

"I don't think we'd be in as nearly as good shape as we are without the meals program," Foss said. "It's become part of the service we're known for."

In Phoenix-Scottsdale area golf, it's promote or blend in. Like it or not, the gimmicks and gadgets are here to stay.

Segway race, anyone?

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Golf guide to Scottsdale

    Joyce wrote on: Jan 12, 2006

    Could you please send me a brochure on the available golf courses in Scottsdale, Arizona. We will be visiting from March 31 to April 7, 2006. My address is - Joyce M. Eberle - POBox 401 - West Sand Lake, NY 12196