Since 1991 PGA of America licensee Premier Golf has taken more than 25,000 people to the biennial Ryder Cup as the event’s sole distributor of North American travel packages.
In recent years Premier Golf president Jim Ward also has been expanding the company’s international reach through a merger with Wide World of Golf and its well-traveled president, Bill Hogan.
During the recent PGA Merchandise Show, Golfweek talked with Ward and Hogan about the Ryder Cup and the golf travel market.
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Golfweek: How are sales going for the Ryder Cup in September?
Ward: We’ll be 300 people ahead of where we were for Chicago at this time. So if you think about the fact that the packages are going to be more expensive and it’s a lot easier to get to Chicago, that’s pretty encouraging for us. Even here at the show, we’ve had a lot of people who are not just tire-kickers, but saying, “I have eight people who want to go.” So we’re very encouraged.
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Golfweek: Why do you think you’re ahead of pace?
Ward: I think probably because it’s Scotland. Probably because the economy and the travel business has come back big-time. When we were selling Wales (in 2010), for example, we were selling right into the teeth of the recession. We were selling a destination that most Americans (don’t know about), even though Wales is probably the most underrated golf travel destination in the world. But Scotland is a draw. It’s a big deal.
Hogan: The beautiful thing about Scotland is that, for a lot of people, it’s like a double bucket-list checklist. You get the Scottish trip in, then you get to go to a Ryder Cup all in the same trip.
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Golfweek: Is there excitement about Gleneagles, or simply the fact that it’s in Scotland?
Ward: I think it’s probably Scotland. I don’t know that Gleneagles resonates with Americans, although it’s arguably the greatest golf resort in the world. I don’t know that Americans are going there because of Gleneagles. Certainly, you can’t stay there.
Hogan: (Spectators will) only see it from a distance when they get there. But for the people staying in St. Andrews or Edinburgh, it’s going to be a festive atmosphere. It’s going to be a great week. . . .
Gleneagles already has built these massive, paved parking lots to host all of the motor coaches in anticipation that, if by some strange chance, it rains in Scotland, the people won’t be walking through mud. The preparations are phenomenal.
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Golfweek: Where do most of the people want to stay that week?
Hogan: Most of the people want to stay in Edinburgh. There’s very limited golf that week around St. Andrews, and the next week is the Dunhill Cup, so you can’t stay longer. The majority of the people are choosing Edinburgh for the restaurants and nightlife and history and sightseeing.
Ward: It’s a high-risk venture (for Premier Golf). Right now, as we speak, we own hundreds of hotel rooms over in Edinburgh. Now we need to fill them. If we don’t, it’s not a very good Ryder Cup for us. We didn’t in Wales. Louisville (2008) we did. It’s not necessarily a home vs. away thing. Spain (1997) was the most successful Ryder Cup we ever did. Go figure. . . .
Every year when we price it out, inevitably I’ll say something to the effect, “Nobody’s going to buy a package that expensive.” And it’s always the most expensive package that sells out first. It’s a very high-end experience.
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Golfweek: What are the advantages of having merged with Wide World of Golf?
Ward: We’re really excited about it. We’ve always been an international company. But Bill’s international expertise goes beyond the basic stuff, to South Africa and Australia, New Zealand, France and places like that. . . . Overnight it gives us much more expertise in the international arena. The merger of (Hogan’s) database of celebrities, athletes, politicians with our relationship with the PGA of America, which is 26 years old, makes us really excited.
Domestically, what we’ve done is just the flip side. Instead of trying to offer a lot of destinations, we’re offering very few destinations so that we know them very well. (The destinations include) Bandon Dunes, Pebble Beach, Kohler, Pinehurst, Hilton Head, PGA National and PGA Village.
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Golfweek: What is hot internationally right now?
Hogan: One of the hottest destinations is the Highlands of Scotland, which has stolen some thunder from other parts of the country. The reason is the recent addition of courses such as Castle Stuart and Trump International Scotland. Suddenly a one-day or two-night segment in the middle of a Scotland itinerary to go up to the Highlands to play Royal Dornoch has now become four nights to get in Cruden Bay and Nairn and Dornoch and Trump, etc. More than half of our groups are including the Highlands in their itineraries, whereas five years ago that would not have been the case.
I think there’s about to be a rebound into South African travel. People don’t know much about the infrastructure in South Africa, which is fantastic, from the extensive wine and food expertise, the hotel and golf component down there is fantastic. And then the kicker is when you add the safari aspect to see the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo and rhino) in one day. It’s a good flight to get down there; it’s similar to Australia or New Zealand. But once you get there, it’s a whole world in one country.