NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario - Niagara Falls attracts more than 12 million tourists a year, but only a small percentage of them come to the southern Ontario city to golf.
And that's just fine with Brian Moore, the director of golf for the Niagara Parks Commission. As one of the premiere members of the fledgling Niagara Golf Trail, Moore, who oversees the massive 45-hole Legends on the Niagara golf complex and the Stanley Thompson-designed Whirlpool Golf Course, is more concerned about bringing new tourists to the area - based primarily on golf.
"The whole mandate of building Legends and packaging Whirlpool and Legends together is to generate tourism dollars by creating interest outside of the area for people to come into the Niagara Peninsula to golf," Moore said. "There are two distinct markets. We can try to tap into the 12 million to 14 million visitors who are coming here anyway and try to get them to decide to (make) golf part of their entertainment while they're here.
"Or, we can go out and try to get golfers to come to Niagara Falls, golf and enjoy some of the other things Niagara has to offer. We've chosen the latter. It's new dollars we're looking for."
More specifically, that's what every one of the 11 members of the Niagara Golf Trail are looking for. That's why they came together prior to the 2003 season, pooled $100,000 Cdn. and started a joint marketing effort. Their aim was modest in the first year - get a website up and running and get their name into select golf publications.
"By choice, we didn't promote ourselves as much as we could have," said Trail Chairman Brian Antonsen, the president and owner of Beechwood Golf and Country Club in Niagara Falls. "The reason being a lot of us have the same philosophy: We want to make sure the product is in place before we start pushing it hard."
The Trail membership ranges from world class to entry-level courses. The top end clubs are Legends on the Niagara in Niagara Falls, which hosted the 2004 LPGA Canadian Women's Open in July, as well as Royal Niagara Golf Club in Niagara-on-the-Lake, site of the 2003 Telus Skins Game between John Daly, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Canadian Ian Leggatt.
The middle tier is highlighted by Whirlpool, the creation of legendary Canadian designer Stanley Thompson, Links of Niagara at Willodell, which was designed by Thompson's brother Nicol, and Peninsula Lakes, a stunning 27-hole course built on a reclaimed sand and gravel pit.
At the lower end, there is Peach Trees Golf, which is a family friendly, nine-hole, par-3 course, as well as Rockway Glen, a wide-open, forgiving course that is also home to a working winery.
The membership offers something for every level of golfer, Antonsen said.
"When people take a golf vacation, it's not always four guys, not always four low handicappers, not all guys who are going to play the Tiger (Woods) tees at the best championship course they can find. They want a total golf experience," he said.
"(You have) family golfers that want to get involved with their kids. You have couples, which are a big part of the travelling golf market these days. They don't always want to play the toughest courses. They want to have fun while they're on their vacation."
At present, the Trail targets potential golfers within a 150-mile (240-kilometer) radius of Niagara Falls.
"(In the) first couple of years, we're going to zero in on the most obvious market, which is that of a one- to two-hour drive away," Antonsen said.
Potential visitors can browse the website, which features course descriptions, as well as packages that combine golf, hotels and Niagara attractions.
"A person wouldn't be able to book the course, book the hotel, book the restaurant, (and) book the wine tour at the same price we could offer it as a package," Antonsen said.
Despite a fairly low-key approach, the plan is working thus far. In its second season, the Trail has upped its marketing budget thanks to the sale of coupon books to American customers through its website. The membership donated free rounds and packaged them together. The books, which retailed for $250 US, sold out within five days, Antonsen said.
The Trail website logs more than 15,000 hits a month and bookings have risen significantly.
Legends on the Niagara and Whirlpool Golf Course alone recorded 22,000 destination golf rounds in 2003, Moore said. The two courses are part of the Trail, but the Niagara Parks Commission spends money to market the two courses independently as well. Moore said, however, that "some" of the rounds were directly attributable to the Niagara Golf Trail.
"Not everyone just wants to come to play the Niagara Parks properties," Moore said. "(The Trail) is in its infancy. We have a long way to go before we get where we want to go, but everything is going in the right direction."
"The potential for this type of organization is unlimited. We're just starting to tap the surface," he said, adding the group plans to develop its website further so visitors can create and buy their own packages online rather than having to book through a separate company.
The future bodes well for Niagara golf. Two more high-profile courses, featuring designs by Rees Jones, Greg Norman and Daly, are slated to open by 2006.
The Daly design, which will be called Thundering Waters, will open by mid-2005, according to co-owner Nick Matovic, a prominent Niagara Falls hotelier. Matovic likes the Trail concept and said the course will join once it's open for business.
"We think it's key in terms of developing golf on the destination side for the region," Matovic said of the Trail. "Most of the places that have become golf Meccas, if you want to call them that, take between five and 20 years to really get to where they are. It's not an overnight process."
Add in some of the attractions Niagara already has to offer - the famous Maid of the Mist boat ride, two casinos, world-class wineries and the renowned Shaw Festival - and Moore believes the region will one day be a major draw for golfers who like to travel.
"I think we've got a package almost nobody in North America can match if it's all done right," Moore said. "We'll never grow as big as Myrtle Beach for golf, but we'll be a place people talk about to come to because there is so much more to do."
Beechwood Golf and Country Club, Eagle Valley Golf Club, Legends on the Niagara and Whirlpool Golf Course, The Links of Niagara at Willodell, and Niagara Falls Golf Club (Niagara Falls); Peach Trees Golf, and Royal Niagara Golf Club (Niagara-on-the-Lake); Peninsula Lakes Golf Club (Pelham); Rockway Glen Golf Club and Estate Winery (St. Catharines); Whisky Run Golf Club, Port Colborne.
Overall, the Niagara Golf Trail courses cover a wide spectrum of price, prestige and skill level required. There are world-class facilities such as Legends on the Niagara's two 18-hole courses (Battlefield and Usher's Creek) and its superb nine-hole Chippawa course, as well as Royal Niagara Golf Club's 27-hole facility. They are tough and pricey, but also a treat to play for anyone serious about the game. Whirlpool, Links of Niagara at Willodell, Beechwood and Peninsula Lakes have to be considered must-plays. They're also friendlier on the wallet and moderately difficult. The other courses are popular with the locals because they're not expensive and not intimidating. If members of your party are beginners or don't really care about the prestige factor of a course, they're good options to explore ahead of the more expensive facilities.
Hilton Niagara Falls
6361 Fallsview Blvd.
Phone: (905) 354-7887.
On the web: www.hilton.com/en/hi/hotels/index.jhtml?ctyhocn=XLVNFHF
Radisson Hotel and Suites Fallsview
6733 Fallsview Blvd.
Phone: (905) 356-1944.
On the web: www.niagarafallsview.com/radisson/default.htm
Cranberry House Bed and Breakfast
An amazing B&B in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, just a short drive north of Niagara Falls. 169 Gate St. in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Phone: (905) 468-4966.
On the web: www.bba.notl.on.ca/cranberry
Mick and Angelo's Eatery and Bar
A favorite with the locals that features Italian and roadhouse-style food. 7600 Lundy's Lane.
Phone: (905) 357-6543.
On the web: www.niagararestaurantguide.com/mick-and-angelos/index.shtml or www.candlelightniagara.com
The Keg Steakhouse and Bar
An upscale restaurant chain, its two locations feature the best steaks in the city. 6700 Fallsview Blvd.
Phone: (905) 374-5170. Or 5950 Victoria Ave.
Phone: (905) 353-4022.
On the web: www.kegsteakhouse.com
Tony Roma's. 5317 Ferry St.
Phone: (905) 354-5317. Or 6733 Fallsview Blvd.
Phone: (905) 356-7662.
On the web: www.tonyromas.com
One of the true wonders of the world. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is free to watch.
Niagara Parks Commission attractions
Includes the famous Maid of the Mist, Journey Behind the Falls, the Whirlpool Aero Car, the Whitewater Walk in the gorge and the beautiful Butterfly Conservatory.
Phone: (905) 356-2241.
On the web: www.niagaraparks.com
Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort
FALLSVUE (325-5788). 6380
On the web: discoverniagara.com/fallsviewcasino
The Shaw Festival
World-class theater company
10 Queen's Parade,
Phone: (800) 511-7429.
On the web: www.shawfest.com
March 8, 2005
Signature Vacations has mastered the "all-inclusive" vacation. The Canadian company, a division of the Sunwing Travel Group, has been flying snow-weary travelers to warm-weather destinations for more than 40 years, specializing in exotic locales in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.
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