Successful 'Divine 9' tour funded again

An offhand remark about how to improve exposure to regional golf courses led to a media event that's brought widespread publicity for nine golf courses in Northern Nevada.

The Nevada Commission on Tourism last month decided to once again provide $3,000 to the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote the "Divine 9" tour of local golf courses.

Phil Weidinger, a South Lake Tahoe public relations expert and organizer of the tour, says media golf tours of the area in the 1990s were too limited - golfers consistently requested rounds at the scenic Genoa Lakes and Resort courses, or at Dayton Valley. Discussing ways to improve the tour, Bill Henderson, marketing director at Carson Valley Inn in Minden, suggested golfers play two holes at each of nine courses in and around Carson City and the Carson Valley for a full 18-hole round.

Now in its 11th year, the Divine 9 golf tour is a cooperative venture between nine northern Nevada golf courses, the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, and several hotels in Douglas County and Carson City. The Nevada Commission on Tourism has chipped in with a marketing grant for several years as well.

"It kind of morphed into this thing," Weidinger says. "We thought it would be a fun way to show off all nine courses, and it caught on. Guys like the concept when they can play an 11-hour round of golf, and it definitely gets their attention."

Courses involved with the Divine 9 tour include:

• Carson Valley

• Dayton Valley

• Eagle Valley East

• Eagle Valley West

• Empire Ranch

• Genoa Lakes Course

• Genoa Resort Course

• Silver Oak

• Sunridge

The current format of two holes at each course has definitely served to widen exposure, says Candy Duncan, executive director of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"In the beginning everyone wanted to play Genoa Lakes and Dayton Valley; the lesser-known ones were kind of getting left out when we left it up to the media to pick," Duncan says. "The writers that come really enjoy it."

Golf course managers pick two holes that best represent the flavor and personality of the course for the annual tour, which took place this year the first Monday of October. Holes commonly are tough par-3s over water, and long, rolling par-5s.

"They get a pretty good feeling for what the area has to offer," Weidinger says. "This is like a golf course sampler."

Weidinger says the tour has resulted in dozens of stories over the years extolling the virtues of the northern Nevada golf scene. This year's tour included media representatives from the Stockton Record, San Francisco Chronicle, and KGO and KNBR radio in San Francisco.

"The whole concept of this thing is to provide exposure to golf in the area," Weidinger says.

Adds Duncan: "The caliber of writers and publications that we are able to attract - I think that when golf fans read those stories by people that they trust in publications they trust, it helps them make the determination that this is the place they will plan their next golf destination."

The biggest challenges in pulling off the tour: Getting up in time to complete 11 hours of golf before the sun goes down. Golfers often are finishing their final putts when the sun dips over the Sierra. However, Duncan says the twilight experience often makes good introductions to post-tour articles.

Her favorite Divine 9 tour memory: Waiting to hit her ball as deer crossed the fairway in the gloaming.

The Divine 9 tour was open to the public the past few years, but the logistics of three busloads of golfers descending on a course and interrupting play for regular-paying customers proved unwieldy, and event organizers returned to hosting media this fall.

"When you only have one bus it's not that tough," Weidinger says. The courses also have banded together to sell the "Ticket to Paradise" - a Divine 9 pass that includes a full round at each course, with cart and range balls. Passes sell for $265, or $30 a round. The money is put toward marketing the Divine 9 destination, attending golf trade shows, public relations efforts, the annual media tour, and maintenance and upgrades for the Divine 9 Web site (www.divinenine.com).

Weidinger says partnerships with golf courses aren't very common, but it makes sense to join together to promote the region as a golf destination. "It is rare that one course would have the wherewithal to promote itself to a bigger market," he says. "Not one of these courses could do this on their own, but banded together, along with the lodging destinations, they can pull it off."

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