Spring has come sooner to the Southwest at the same time the winter has been exceptionally brutal and extended throughout much of the rest of North America, creating a “perfect storm” for peak conditions and maximum tee sheets at courses throughout the state. Golf in Arizona is now so strong it could soon “join copper, cattle and cotton” among the state’s top industries, one source joked.
Unseasonably warm weather in Arizona, combined with an exceptionally brutal and extended winter throughout much of the rest of North America, has been bringing more visitors earlier than ever to the Southwest, resulting in longer wait times to tee off at Arizona golf courses and bringing long-awaited signs of real recovery for golf tourism in the state, according to a report on KJZZ 91.5 FM, the public radio station in Tempe, Ariz.
The radio station talked to Leslie Vincent, from Winnipeg, Manitoba as she played at Rolling Hills Golf Course in Tempe and related the reports on the weather she had been getting from family members back in Canada.
“My son told us that he can no longer reach to push the snow off the driveway, because the mounds of snow on the sides of the driveway are about nine feet—so does that answer everything?” Vincent laughed. “Lots of snow and it’s cold.”
Vincent spends four months each winter at her trailer home in Mesa, Ariz., she told KJZZ, and tries to play golf once a week during that time. Lately, she said, she has noticed more people on the links than in past years.
KJZZ also talked with Jim Brown, a Kansas City native who relocated to Ahwatukee, a village within Phoenix, a few years ago. “[The golf courses in Arizona are] crowded, yeah, because of the snowbirds,” Brown said as he waited his turn to start a round at Rolling Hills, where, KJZZ reported, the parking lot was “full of cars with license plates from Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa.”
Brown knows that golf is crucial to Arizona’s growth, he told KJZZ. “Just the revenue that comes through golf, a lot of people come from Canada, a lot of people I play with are from Canada,” he said. “You are bringing a lot of people in from out of state, and that’s very important to [Arizona].”
The most recent data from the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau showed that golf attracted more than 8.5 million people to the state in 2010, and those visitors added nearly $3 billion to the state’s economy that year, KJZZ reported.
Joe Ferroni, with the Arizona Golf Association, told the station that this year’s revenues are expected to be even better. “The pro shops have basically been having a banner year,” Ferroni said.
Carmella Ruggiero, Executive Director of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s Cactus & Pine chapter that represents Arizona courses, noted that the continued growth of Arizona’s Cactus League as a preferred site for major league baseball spring training (several teams have relocated to Arizona from Florida in recent years) has also provided a boost for golf activity in the state.
“People are now coming to Arizona not only for spring training, but to play golf in the morning and go to a spring-training game in the afternoon,” Ruggiero told KJZZ.
This year’s premature spring-like weather in Arizona has created “awesome green grass” and also provided the benefit of allowing golfers to schedule early-morning play without any worries about frost on the ground, Ruggiero said, “So they are able to tee off a little earlier,” and courses can fill out their tee sheets to their maximum yields.
Golf in Arizona has come on so strong this year, in fact, that it could join copper, cotton and cattle as the state’s top industries, Ruggiero joked to KJZZ.