City’s golf links are the lure in marketing push |

City’s golf links are the lure in marketing push

Janet Urquhart

Aspen may find itself gaining new attention as a destination resort right about the time the chairlifts shut down and the snow recedes from the ski slopes.

That’s when the city golf course starts greening up and a new marketing drive to attract tourists moves into full swing.

Clem Cleveland, the first director of marketing for the city recreation department, is on a quest to boost business at the municipal golf course and promote Aspen as a tourist destination among golfers.

To that end, he has already instituted plans for corporate golf passes, is facilitating lodging/golf packages for vacationers and has struck a deal with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association that will mean discounted golf passes for local players.

Cleveland, director of instruction at the course, has also taken on a new marketing position for golf/recreation programs that was created this year. The City Council agreed to fund the $25,000-per-year position on the premise that it would pay for itself through increased revenues.

Cleveland’s job security, in part, means getting more players on the city links.

“I’ve got to get people on this golf course and I’ve got to get them to come back,” he said. “That’s my job, in a nutshell.”

Among his first orders of business was arranging a new deal that will provide a golf pass discount to employees of ACRA-member businesses.

The ACRA has long enjoyed an arrangement with the Aspen Skiing Co. that allows employees of chamber members to purchase ski passes at discounted prices. A similar deal on golf passes will be available for the first time this year.

The 2001 season golf pass for locals, good for an unlimited number of rounds, will sell for $640 – the same price as last year. Employees of ACRA-member businesses, however, will be able to purchase the passes for $580 – a 10 percent discount. Private golf lessons will also be offered at a 10 percent discount.

The deal will be offered through all ACRA-member businesses whose principal place of business is within Pitkin County.

In addition, the golf course will offer corporate passes for the first time this year. Hotels, for example, can obtain a pass that can be transferred among guests, Cleveland explained. Businesses may buy a pass for use by clients.

A Gold Pass, priced at $7,000, is good for 96 rounds of golf. The $3,500 Silver Pass will be good for 48 rounds, and the $2,000 Bronze Pass is good for 24 rounds – mostly during the shoulder seasons.

Finally, tourists will be able to book stays in Aspen this season that are marketed as golf packages. Cleveland said he had a call just this week from a local lodging company looking for a discounted price for guests to golf at the city course this spring.

Cleveland said he offered to reduce the cost of a round of golf by the same percentage the lodging establishment was willing to discount its rooms for the promotion.

Aspen dabbled in golf vacation packages last year and will put more into those efforts this year, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations.

“I think there is certainly some potential, especially to grow our business during the soft times of the year, with golf as a lure,” he said.

As a golfer himself, Tomcich sees the city links as something of an undiscovered gem.

“It’s a great, great course – a very underrated course – that’s affordable as well,” he said.

The course, said Cleveland, has struggled recently for a couple of reasons: increased competition with other courses in the valley and inflexibility in its rates.

Golf/lodging deals could help turn things around for an operation that came up short in budgeted revenues in 1998 and 1999 before making a profit last year.

“Why would a golfer want to come all the way up here from Denver when he has to pay $300 for the room and $80 to play golf when he could do the same thing in Denver or Vail for less?” said Cleveland.

The Aspen course saw roughly 27,500 rounds of play last season. Cleveland would like to see that number jump to about 30,000.

“If a tee time goes by and it isn’t full, you’ve just lost money,” he said.

In recent seasons, locals have been playing more rounds while visitors have gone elsewhere. Locals have used 60 to 70 percent of the tee times, but the golf operation was envisioned to operate on a 50/50 split of tourists and locals, Cleveland said.

If Cleveland is successful, local players may find tee times a little harder to reserve, but they’ll benefit in other ways. The revenue-generating tourist rounds are critical to making the operation run in the black and to pay for the new clubhouse/restaurant planned this year and other course improvements.

“The season pass, at $640, is the cheapest pass in the state for what you get,” Cleveland said. “The only way we can maintain a good deal for the locals is by generating more money from the tourists.”

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