Golf keeps rising as a tourism attraction in Carson Country

Tiger Woods and the Divine Nine have put the Carson City area on the golf map.

Tiger Woods?

Yes, Woods played in a tournament at the Golf Club at Genoa Lakes as a junior golfer in 1994 before he became a household name.

No, Woods played no active role since his visit here in doubling group play at the nine golf courses in Carson City, Douglas County and Dayton that go by the combined marketing name Divine Nine.

Nonetheless, Woods' impact on the golf world has had a noticeable impact here, too.

"Tiger Woods really changed things a lot," said Jackie Behan, marketing director at Carson Station and Pinon Plaza, two hotel/casinos owned by Clark Russell.

Woods has made golf fashionable for people in their 20s and 30s and younger. Golf groups that stay at the Carson Station and Pinon Plaza have become noticeably younger in the past couple years, Behan said.

"When we get new people who come up (from California) that are younger that is a whole new market segment for our casinos," Behan said.

Russell specifically built a 64-room hotel at Pinon Plaza two years ago because of the success of golf groups staying at his Carson Station. He also hastened the 84-room expansion now under construction at Pinon Plaza because of golfers.

Behan said golf groups staying at both hotels have increased from 86 in 1996 to 143 in 1999. Some 4,300 golfers in groups stayed at Plaza/Station last year.

Visiting golfers add at least $20 million to the local economy when considering green fees, overnight stays, restaurants, gasoline, gaming and any other purchases golfers may make, said Candy Duncan, executive director of the Carson City Convention and Visitors' Authority.

Duncan heads up the Divine Nine, a golf marketing consortium composed of Carson Valley Golf Course, Dayton Valley Golf Club, Silver Oak Golf Club, Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch, Sunridge Golf Club, Eagle Valley East and West Golf Courses, the Golf Club at Genoa Lakes and Empire Ranch Golf Course.

Formed in early 1997, the consortium advertises in golf publications. Duncan has just issued the third version of the four-color Divine Nine brochure.

The brochure has descriptions for each golf course as well as accommodations provided by the Carson Valley Inn, the Ormsby House, the Hardman House, Carson Station, the Pinon Plaza, City Center and the Plaza Hotel.

The 140,000 brochures printed this year are distributed on the Highway 395 corridor from Susanville to Mammoth, in the Lake Tahoe area, in the San Joaquin Valley from Lodi to Fresno, in Sacramento and in the East Bay.

Duncan said the $46,000 cost for promoting golf with advertising, brochures and attending golf shows easily pays for itself with the millions of tourism dollars generated.

"We're trying to promote Carson City and and Carson Valley as a golf destination for both the variety of golf and that golfers can actually stay in Carson City and Carson Valley," Duncan said.

The Pinon Plaza expansion intends to deliver the message that golfers no longer will have to commute from Reno to sleep in deluxe quarters. Starting in June, the Pinon Plaza will have 44 suites, some including spas.

"People who felt they had to stay in Reno can stay with us and have just as enjoyable an experience," Behan said. "We'll have upgraded rooms not offered in our area."

Since Tiger Woods played here, golf in Carson Country has evolved from a local secret to a recognized destination for golf with a stunning Sierra backdrop.

"When we used to go to golf shows, we heard, 'Where are you? Who are you?'" said Jim Kepler, general manager Dayton Valley. "Our visibility has gone up tenfold in the last three years."

March is golf show month for Duncan and Divine Nine representatives. On four consecutive weekends, Duncan touted Carson City area golf in Pomona, San Mateo, Sacramento and Portland, Ore.

Duncan gauges name recognition by how many people turn in entries for a drawing for a two-night stay and two rounds of golf in Divine Nine country.

The San Mateo show last year had 500 people turn in entries with 600 in Sacramento and 900 in Portland submitting their names and addresses. Golfers may also send in entry blanks cut from the golf brochure.

Duncan chooses one winner each month from April to September.

"In the first few years we did this, when we told someone we drew their name they would say, 'No thanks, we're not coming.'" Duncan said. "Now they're coming. They're taking advantage of the trip.

"Now, after several years of doing these shows, there is immediate recognition of the Divine Nine. Many people going to those shows have played one or two or all of the courses."

Even with only one full year with 18 holes open, Sunridge has already gained recognition in Northern California, said Keith Stoll, the head golf professional there.

"I was surprised how many people had played my course when I went to San Mateo last year," Stoll said.

Carson Valley Golf Course, the southernmost of the Divine Nine, has also seen an influx of new golfers as the region's identity has grown in California. Five years ago, outsiders made up about 20 percent of play at Carson Valley but now visitors amount to as much as 40 percent.

"We used to know almost everybody's name who walked through the door," said Tom Brooks, Carson Valley's general manager. "Now we still know their names but we have many new golfers."

Visiting golfers have brought another phenomenon to the Divine Nine. Many of these golfers come in groups. These groups typically bring about 30 golfers but groups can be as large as 200.

"Group play almost doubled in the past seven or eight years," Kepler said. "I think it will double again in the next five years. I think group play is the key to golf courses surviving."

Group play amounts to 25 to 40 percent of all rounds played at Dayton Valley, Empire Ranch and Sunridge. Groups not only boost numbers, they also put players on courses in less popular non-summer months and during lulls in the week.

"My properties are all reporting more golf groups than in the past," Duncan said. "The beauty of golf groups is they are not just weekends. They come midweek."

Four of the nine local golf courses opened in 1997-98. This influx created a critical mass to make the Carson City area attractive for repeat visits.

In the early 1990s, with only Eagle Valley, Carson Valley and Dayton Valley open, golfers often lost interest in the region after playing all three courses on one visit. They would then move on to another region.

With nine courses now, golfers can come back and not have a "been there, done that" reaction, said Bill Henderson, marketing director at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden.

"What's happened in the last five years, because of all the new courses, it has give more of a golf identity to our area," Henderson said. "Also, the new courses have allowed us to maintain groups that would have shifted to another geographic area. I've seen less of a fall off due to geographic shift."

The Divine Nine, together with the other 30 golf courses in the Reno and Lake Tahoe area, offer a variety of golf courses probably not found anywhere else. Someone can play golf in the mountains, in the forest, in the desert, or in the city inexpensively.

"Basically, they can be at a number of fine courses within 15 minutes of where they're staying," said Jeff Sparks, general manager at Empire Ranch. "They don't have the congestion."

She envisions this region becoming an equal to the golf shrines that are Hawaii, Arizona, Palm Springs and Myrtle Beach, Fla.

"I'd love to see us become a Myrtle Beach or even better," Duncan said. "We have absolutely nothing to apologize for. We have it all. We have a great variety of golf courses. We have the nightlife and the scenery, the variety of lodging and the history."

Northern Nevada even has something all those areas don't: Year-round golf weather. Many of the premiere golf destinations are winter resorts with unbearable summers.

Summer is prime time for Northern Nevada's golf courses, which also offer ideal conditions in fall and spring. Even winter has bountiful golf opportunity in Carson Country.

"I think without question this region will be known as one of the top golf destinations in the country," Fox said. "It almost seems like a can't-lose type scenario unfolding here."


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