BROCKPORT — Northcentral Pennsylvania isn't Myrtle Beach, S.C.At least not yet.
There is growing evidence that a concerted effort to market the 12-county Pennsylvania Wilds as a golf destination is starting to pay dividends, not only for the golf courses but for local economies, too.
Elyse Roberts, special projects director for Golf Pennsylvania Wilds, explained that the Golf Pennsylvania Wilds program is a cooperative buy-in program showcasing lodging and golf courses in the Pa Wilds region.
The group attended four golf shows this year in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo and Toronto. Leads from the shows are given to the participants to market to on their own, she said, and e-mail newsletter are also sent to the more than 4,000 qualified leads throughout the year to promote the program.
Social media like Facebook is also used to keep followers up to date on any specials or package rates.
Despite the fact that the overall industry-wide trend of green fee numbers being down, many of the courses are reporting consistent business and have stayed on par from last year and 2008, she said.
Some of the courses that have on-site lodging facilities say that their golf package business has been strong (overnight/golf).
"The northern part of the region's courses say that they are getting business from Canada, Buffalo and Cleveland and that Pittsburgh has not been as strong in previous years but still plays a part," she said. "They also have picked up on group business as a result of the Golf Pennsylvania Wilds promotion.
"Canadian golfers continue to play at all the courses. The green fees are one of the most attractive qualities about golf in our region and Canadians don't mind driving a few hours to get great rates on golf," she said. "They stay overnight, eat, shop and usually spend three days in the area while golfing.
Some courses, Robert said, are reporting an increase in more local golfers coming from feeder markets like Altoona, Johnstown, State College and southern Pennsylvania.
Scottish Heights Golf Club & Lodge near Brockway is expanding as a direct result of the tourist influx.
General Manager Lou Smith said he's averaging 100-150 guests per week and business is "way up" from summer.
Four years ago, Scottish Heights had 24 beds in a lodge that was built at onsite. Since then, 20 beds have been added and Smith said as many as 10 more could be added next year.
Every weekend in September is booked solid and October is starting to fill up.
He's added 10 employees to keep up with demand, has expanded the Bagpiper's Restaurant and converted a pavilion into the Bella Vista restaurant, which features homemade Italian entrees.
There is also an outdoor cabana bar that offers a place to relax and snack before, during or after a round of golf.
Scottish Heights has an 18-hole course and a driving range.
The expansion was made possible, in part, by a $75,000 loan from the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission's First Industries Fund. It is a 10-year loan with a 5 percent interest rate.
Patricia Brennen, loan program director at Ridgway-based North Central, explained how the agency is able to help tourism-related projects.
"We have seen requests to expand and /or upgrade two golf courses in the region. These expansion projects involved upgrades to restaurants, catering, banquet facilities and/or overnight accommodations that were ancillary to the golf courses as a business," she said.
"You could take from this that those golf courses that have diversified their services to include dining/resort amenities are increasing their options for profitability and are doing well," Brennen added, "at least well enough to expand or upgrade their facilities."
As for marketing, she said, "We see the marketing strategy of the Pennsylvania Wilds as a benefit to local tourism related businesses, which includes, B & Bs , inns, restaurants, campgrounds, wineries and golf courses.
"Since 2005 when the First Industries Fund began offering low-interest loans to tourism businesses, North Central has been able to assist 19 businesses with financing in excess of $2.3 million. These businesses include seven restaurants, two golf courses/resort, six overnight accommodations with restaurants, one winery and two commercial sales/sporting goods which created or retained over 100 jobs and in some cases reopened closed businesses."
Smith has marketed Scottish Heights aggressively through the Internet, including a monthly newsletter and regular special offer e-mails. He's also relied on golf shows, word of mouth and tourism bureaus.
It's paying off, as visitors from Canada, New York, Ohio and the Greater Pittsburgh area make Scottish Heights a golf getaway destination.
Roberts said weather has also been a factor this year, with the above-average hot/humid temps the past few weeks and, "We continue to receive e-mail inquiries through the dedicated email for the golf program asking for information on the region."
In addition to boosting his business, Smith pointed out that the guests inject money into local economies with purchases of gas, food, clothes, etc., and the sales taxes on some of those purchases find their way to the state coffers.
In addition to Scottish Heights, other courses in the Golf the Pennsylvania Wilds program include Bavarian Hills in St. Marys, Beechwoods Golf Course near Falls Creek, Hunters Station near Tionesta, Kane Country Club, Kenterra Golf Course south of DuBois, Penn Hills Golf Club in Bradford, Pinecrest CC in Brookville and the two golf courses at Treasure Lake near DuBois.
Several lodging and stay-and-play packages are also available through the Best Western Inn and Hampton Inn in DuBois, Hunters Station, Clarion Holiday Inn and the Foxburg Inn near St. Petersburg.
Golf the Pennsylvania Wilds can be found online at www.nwpagolf.com.
More information on Scottish Heights is available online at www.scottishheights.com.
By Nick Hoffman, Tri-County Sunday.