Golf throws a lifeline to Wisconsin’s tourism economy

The game of golf generated an economic impact of $2.4 billion for the state of Wisconsin in 2008, according to a new study.

The results of the study, Wisconsin Golf Economy Report, were released in conjunction with the PGA Championship held at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis.

The study found that golf provides more than 38,000 jobs in Wisconsin and provides a $771.5 million of wage income. Wisconsin’s nearly 500 golf facilities in the state, like most small businesses, serve as the main driver in the golf economy, the report stated.

“Golf is more than just an enjoyable pastime for thousands in Wisconsin; it is a billion-dollar industry that serves as a major contributor and driver of jobs, wage income and tourism,” said Joe Steranka, chief executive officer of The PGA of America. “The PGA of America is pleased to return to Wisconsin to present the 92nd PGA Championship and to show off to a viewing audience of more than 500 million worldwide what a truly amazing venue Wisconsin has to offer.”

The Wisconsin Golf Economy Report, prepared by SRI International, was commissioned by GOLF 20/20 for the Wisconsin allied golf associations including the Golf Course Owners of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association, the Wisconsin PGA Section and the Wisconsin State Golf Association.

“The economic report confirms what many of us have known … Wisconsin is golf crazy,” said Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. “Golf contributes billions of dollars to our economy, provides tens of thousands of jobs and our top rate courses attract golfers from around the world. I’m happy to welcome The PGA of America back to Wisconsin for another great Championship to show off one of our signature courses to golf fans.”

In 2008, the size of Wisconsin’s direct golf economy was approximately $1.2 billion. Golf brings visitors to the state, drives new construction and residential development, generates retail sales, and creates demand for a myriad of goods and services. When the total economic impact of these golf-related activities is considered, Wisconsin’s golf industry generated approximately $2.4 billion of direct, indirect and induced economic output, $771.5 million of wage income, and 38,431 jobs in 2008.

The golf industry’s $1.2 billion in direct revenues supports economic activity comparable to several other important industries in the state, including medical device manufacturing ($2.4 billion), corn production ($1.7 billion) and breweries ($851.3 million).

Herb Kohler, chairman and chief executive officer of Kohler Co., was the driving force behind the creation of Whistling Straits, which was the host of the recent PGA Championship tournament.

“Were it not for adding golf to the activities of the American Club, we would have been a nice little boutique hotel producing about 25 million a year in revenue. The sheer fact of adding golf has powered us to three extensions of the American Club, an additional mid‑priced hotel in Kohler called the Inn at Woodlake and a private club called Riverbend. There’s more than 391 rooms we have to fill every night in a village of 1,900 people. But then golf further propelled us even more to add 140 rooms and another golf course in St. Andrews, Scotland and that in total created a $200 million a year hospitality business employing 1,800 people, 1,500 of whom were in Wisconsi,” Kohler said. “Now the upshot of all of this is this. As a little innkeeper in Troon, Scotland told Pete Dye, ‘Herb Kohler must be more than just a plumber.’ Yes, indeed, I am a plumber. I still am a plumber. But now the world also considers me a hotelier, and they have further expected me to be a good golfer, which clearly I am not.”

Roger Stafford, managing editor of Key Milwaukee Magazine and, said golf has increasingly played a role in Wisconsin’s tourism economy.

“Golf has become a major tourism draw for Wisconsin, not because of aggressive marketing by the state, but because of the quality of the courses. The impact of major tournaments like the 92nd PGA is great, but the impact of the thousands of golfers who come to play all of the other courses is even greater,” Stafford said. “As an indication of how the state has an international reputation for great courses can be seen in the visitor traffic on our Website, Beginning in the spring, we always see more and more visitors from to the site from Ireland, one of the world’s great golf destinations.”

Golf also has a significant charitable impact on the state of Wisconsin. In 2008, the SRI study revealed that golf in Minnesota raised more than $46 million for various charities. Charities throughout Wisconsin also have benefited from the 92nd PGA Championship being in their home state.

A total of 165 charities from the area have participated in the 2010 PGA Community Relations program, receiving an estimated value of more than $532,000. There were 124 charities participating in the Tickets for Charities Auctions Program and 36 charities received some 4,500 tickets to attend the PGA Championship In addition, one local food shelter will receive all of the remaining non-perishable food and products.

Next up for championship golf in Wisconsin will be the U.S. Open to be held at Erin Hills Golf Course in Washington County in 2017.

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