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October 2019

Montana Encourages Statewide ‘Staycation’

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By Sally J. Sportsman

It’s no secret that avid golfers love to travel to play. In-state travel is of great appeal, saving time yet offering enjoyment for players of every skill level.

Traveling in-state to play is increasingly appealing to golfers in Montana. Summer golf passes are one way courses in the state are banding together to entice Montana golfers to discover the beautiful golf courses within their own state, including at luxurious resort properties.

“Golfers seek out our mountaintop course, with its picturesque, memorable holes,” says Mikal Harpster, PGA head golf professional at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort Golf Course in Fairmont, Montana. “The 2019 Golf ’N Go Summer Pass has brought us new players who might not have the chance to see the resort otherwise.”

The 18-hole golf course at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort was upgraded last year. It was a $2 million project, Harpster says, that included reworking the bunkers, greens and tee boxes on many holes, and installing a completely new irrigation system. The changes, he says, have produced a noticeable difference in the course, resulting in “the best conditions we’ve ever had. The course is fair and fun, but offers plenty of challenge; a mid-handicapper can really enjoy it.”

For golfers, having a historic resort like the Fairmont as one of the courses they can play on a summer golf pass is a dream come true. At a cost of $99, the Montana Golf ’N Go pass allows players to choose from among 51 venues, with permission to play each course one time. Golfers travel from all over Montana to experience the Fairmont, with over 100 players each year coming on their summer pass, according to Harpster.

“We sit down every year to talk about if we think the pass will be beneficial, and we always find that it’s very beneficial,” Harpster says. “We get a lot of outside revenue from pass holders.”

  The Fairmont, as is customary for most courses on the golf pass, places certain restrictions on play. Pass players must make reservations two or three days in advance, and are offered tee times late in the day.

Revenue from pass holders comes in the form of cart fees, pro shop purchases and food and beverage, Harpster says. The average extra revenue from each pass holder who plays the Fairmont course is about $30. Most importantly, though, these players might return in the future.

“Pass players come from all over Montana to come check out our resort,” says Harpster. “Some spend a night – they might go to the hot springs or have dinner.

“Many Montana players make a trip out of every course on the pass. It gives them a reason to travel.”

This was the first year that Big Sky Resort Golf Course, in Big Sky, Montana, has participated in summer golf pass programs. The facility is publicized on KTZQ, out of Bozeman, as a pass-play option.

“The pass was good for our entire season, mid-May through the end of September,” says Mark Wehrman, PGA head professional and general manager at Big Sky Resort. “It’s a good marketing opportunity for us.

“I did my due diligence. There’s no cost to the course, but we determined that we received $1,600 worth of advertising in the newspaper and in commercials.”

Pass players at Big Sky are required to rent a cart for $25, representing guaranteed revenue for the course. Restrictions state that the pass is good any time after 2 p.m. About 75 rounds had been redeemed on the pass by last August – a good number but not too many, according to Wehrman.

“It’s been a good trade,” Wehrman says. “Most of our pass players are from the Bozeman area, about 40 miles away, so they often want to come back.

“We’ll run some numbers again next year, but if it continues as it is now, it is worth it, in my opinion.”

Big Sky Resort Golf Course requests contact information from pass players, so that the marketing team can follow up with communication and advertising to them. Enticements are offered to return to the resort to play golf or ski.

“Big Sky Resort has the most skiable acres under one lift ticket in the U.S.,” Harpster says. “It encompasses four mountains.”
The golf is good, too.

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