This September, more than 120,000 fans of professional golf will come to Hamilton County, thanks to the PGA's BMW Championship visiting Carmel's Crooked Stick Golf Club.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose are just a few of the big names who will play here Sept. 3-9.
Nice feather in our cap.
But the truth is, golf courses in Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville already draw thousands of visitors each year.
They come to play golf.
"Oh yeah, we get them all the time here," said Mark Wisman, golf pro at Bear Slide in Cicero. "Most of them come from neighboring states like Michigan, Illinois and Ohio."
Many take advantage of special golf packages -- coordinated efforts between local hotels and eight public courses -- put together and marketed by the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
It's a big business for hotels, restaurants and the golf courses.
"We've been selling Hamilton County as a golf destination since 1997," said Karen Radcliff, deputy director of the visitors bureau. "Typically, our hotels sell 500 to 600 packages each year."
And each of those packages usually means golfers (mostly men) in groups of eight or more.
It's not a hard sell for Radcliff and her team members, who recently traveled to a golf convention in Chicago, where they courted business groups seeking excursions for employee retreats, among other potential customers.
Hamilton County, after all, is home to world-famous golf course designer Pete Dye, who lives in Carmel.
Carmel is also home to courses Dye has designed, including the semi-private Plum Creek and the private Crooked Stick, Bridgewater and Woodland.
Crooked Stick is probably the best- known course outside of Indiana -- famously hosting the 1991 PGA Championship, an event that launched the career of one of the sport's most well-known names, John Daly.
The exclusive club also played host to the U.S. Women's Open in 1993, the Solheim Cup in 2005 and the U.S. Senior Open in 2009.
Last year, the Pete Dye Golf Trail was established as another tourist draw -- for serious golfers who want to play his challenging courses all over the state.
The trail includes Brickyard Crossing, Maple Creek Golf and Country Club and The Fort Golf Resort in the Indianapolis area; Plum Creek; Mystic Hills Golf Club in Culver; the Kampen Course in West Lafayette; and the Pete Dye Course in French Lick.
Dye, 86, has lived here for more than 60 years and has designed courses across the country. He has received the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
"There is not only a national draw, there is a worldwide draw to play Pete Dye courses," Mike David, executive director of the Indiana Golf Office, told The Star last year when the Pete Dye Trail was launched. "For people to come and play so many in a small area, I think there's definitely an appeal."
In addition to this year's PGA event at Dye's signature Crooked Stick, there is a national LPGA futures tour event in Fishers at The Hawthorns Golf & Country Club, which is not a Dye course. The My Marsh Golf Classic will be played from May 28 to June 3.
The local hotel-golf packages include eight public golf courses, six of which are in Hamilton County -- Bear Slide, Plum Creek, Prairie View (Carmel), Purgatory (Noblesville), River Glen (Fishers) and Wood Wind (Westfield) -- and Brickyard Crossing and The Fort Golf Resort.
Hamilton County's visitor's bureau sends staffers to three or more golf consumer shows outside of Indiana each winter to promote local courses. They go to shows in Cincinnati, St Louis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Novi, Mich., a suburb of Detroit that hosts the largest golf show in the Midwest.
"We also shipped materials for display at the Tinley Park Golf Show, a southern suburb of Chicago," Radcliff said. "Chicago was a great show with high attendance and a number of opportunities to connect with golfers who plan trips for their groups."
How it works
At least 15 hotels have established special "stay-and-play" rates, ranging from $190 to $260. That gets you a single night's stay and two rounds of golf. For extended stays, golfers can get three nights and four rounds at rates that range from $410 to $570.
When you start adding up those numbers with bar tabs, restaurant bills and shopping, the benefits can be hefty.
Radcliff said the most recent survey of visitors to the county (in 2009) showed that more than 20,000 visiting golfers who had responded to visitors bureau marketing efforts had spent more than $6 million -- a conservative figure that did not include other visitors who came to play on their own.
"Each year about 30 percent of our visitors travel here because they are visiting friends or relatives," Radcliff said. "All others are coming for a variety of reasons, including golf.
"The single attraction that draws general visitation over golf in any given year is Klipsch Music Center."
A survey in 2011 of all Hamilton County visitors showed they spent an average of about $650.
And while golf may not attract the most people, golfers tend to spend more than that average.
"We like to describe golf travel as a small but mighty niche market," Radcliff said.