Golf biz around Magnolia State sees impact from Viking Classic

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Published: September 8,2008

When Tiger Woods blew away the field at the 1997 Masters, his victory did more than let Augusta National members know they had to lengthen the course. It ignited a movement.

Interest in golf boomed. Children and adults who had never considered picking up a club hit the practice range and golf had suddenly gone from a sporting afterthought to one of the hottest games around.

And the world of golf apparel and equipment sales has never been the same. Simply put, Woods was an economic shot of adrenaline.

The Viking Classic will not have that kind of impact on the Jackson metro when its pre-tournament events tee off September 15.

But the presence of a PGA Tour tournament does pack an economic punch. Hotels and restaurants will house and feed tournament patrons. Gas stations will fuel their vehicles. And metro golf retailers will see their items fly off the shelves.

“We definitely feel it,” said Tony Bishop, manager of Nevada Bob’s Golf in Jackson.

Weekend hacks inspired to sharpen their game usually begin with new equipment — drivers, irons, shoes, balls, tees, gloves, shirts, caps and any number of thousands of products designed to lower scores. “It’s typically a second wind for us,” Bishop said.

A perfect storm creates the breeze. The sweltering July and August temperatures do a lot to discourage anyone from playing a round. But come September, the temperature lowers, and the Viking arrives.

“There are definitely more rounds of golf being played now than there are when it’s 100 degrees outside. That picks us up,” Bishop said. “There is a lot more foot traffic.”

When an economy begins to sag, the first cuts in a household budget are generally entertainment items. Eating out gives way to dinner at home. Trips to the movies are replaced by video rentals. Unnecessary car rides are pared to a minimum.

Golf is not the cheapest sport to play. Brand name drivers cost several hundred dollars. Lost golf balls have to be replaced, as do broken tees. Shoes and gloves wear out. And untold fortunes have been spent on items designed to improve a faltering swing and clear the mental hurdles that plague amateur golfers.

Despite all that, Bishop said Nevada Bob’s sales have remained strong.

“I don’t know that golf is affected as much (by an economic downturn),” Bishop said. “Our high-end stuff hasn’t changed much. As for sales, we’ve stayed pretty level.

“We’re fortunate that we pretty much have a core customer base that supports us.”

A core customer base is something every business needs. Such is the case for golf courses in Mississippi’s college towns. Highlands Plantation Golf resort is anticipating a surge in its activity now that football season has started. Mississippi State played its first home game Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana. Highlands golf pro Joseph Hanko said early last week that tee times were becoming scarce as Bulldogs fans planned a round of golf before heading to Scott Field. Kickoff was at 6 p.m.

“That’s perfect, because night games are the best for us,” Hanko said. “You can expect it to be busy in the morning. Midday games are a killer. You’re going to have a bit of traffic on the Sundays after. But usually we pray for night games. It’s good for us, and it also forces (fans) to use the hotels and restaurants in the area.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

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