OCEAN CITY -- First there was God's gift, the beach and ocean. Then hotels. Restaurants. And a resort city began to draw multitudes for the appeal of its sun, surf and sand. Now Ocean City is directing its marketing appeal to golfers everywhere. The timing is right.
Of the $1 million the city of Ocean City appropriated for advertising/promotion in 1992, approximately one-third is being spent statewide, regionally and nationally on efforts to create interest in golf travel packages. Such a direct approach wasn't possible in the past because there weren't adequate places to play.
That's a missing link -- or links -- which has been corrected. The area, instead of the long-established Ocean City Golf and Yacht Club, founded in 1959, and Ocean Pines, which is private, now has four new courses and another in Salisbury available for public use.
Since the facilities are now in place, the Ocean City Golf Association and owners of hotels/motels and restaurants are trying to cash in on the dollars that golfers bring with them. It's not the summer season that's the focus of their attention because then they have as much tourist business as space will accommodate.
The thrust apart from all that is to draw golfers to Ocean City in March, April and May, before vacations begin, and then in September, October and November. The objective is to use that time of the year to fill up the rooms of hotels/motels and tables in restaurants with golfers, both before and after they play at Ocean City Golf & Yacht Club, River Run, Eagle's Landing, Bay Club, Beach Club and Pine Shores, a 27-hole executive layout.
If they want to leave the immediate area, there's Nassawango Country Club in Snow Hill and Nutters Crossing near Salisbury. Richard Marts, a former assistant professional at the Elkridge Club in Baltimore, plays a vital role in coordinating arrangements. There's a computer system connected to all the courses where available tee times can be booked tomorrow or any time within the next year by simply calling 1-800-4-OC-GOLF.
Marts and a staff of assistants will provide all the necessary services. This past week, members of golf leagues and a limited number of travel agents, oriented to arranging golf trips, were here to inspect the courses with a view to making future bookings.
Fred Funk, a member of the PGA Tour, demonstrated at a clinic, played several holes with the guests and was an otherwise goodwill ambassador. "It's a great opportunity for Ocean City," he said. "I believe there's a market to be tapped that will prove helpful to the entire community. The golfers might just as well come to Ocean City on packages than somewhere else."
Golfers from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and points about New England like the thought of being able to spend extra days playing golf here rather than using the time to travel to Pinehurst, N.C., or Myrtle Beach, S.C. The promotion is in place and leaders in the hotel and restaurant businesses are cooperating to make the effort successful.
"This is just the beginning," said Greg Foster, general manager of the Comfort Inn. "We are launching what is going to be, after a period of time, a bonanza for Ocean City. All the golf professionals are aware of how good this can be and are fully involved.
"This past winter I made a tour with Ben Ogle, one of the pros, to six different golf shows in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Ohio and our survey showed less than 1 percent of those in attendance ever heard of Ocean City. That's changing. In the last year, four new courses opened here that welcome public play. Those four go with the Bay Club, which was built in 1989, and the Ocean City Golf & Yacht Club, which has been here for more than 30 years."
At last count, 26 hotels, varying in prices and styles of accommodations, are included in the golf project. Denny Dennis, professional at the Bay Club, said there's unlimited golf for the players and a cart included for 18 holes in the overall price of the package.
"We're taking golf bookings, along with the hotels, for two days and one night or three days and two nights, between now and June 15 and after Labor Day," he said. "Or you can stay longer if you want. From every aspect, it looks like a winner."
Golf interest is such that five new courses are being talked about. Ocean City has discovered golf as an industry that has the potential to keep cash registers ringing in what was formerly a down part of the year for its tourist business. Let the tee shots fly.