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Palm Springs tourism boom gives golf industry a boost

By S. Adam Cardais,
Escena Golf Clu
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The Escena Golf Club is the first new course built in Plam Springs proper in years. (Courtesy Escena Golf Club)

Palm Springs has always been a popular destination for golf tourists, but it's getting even more action these days.

Increased marketing by city agencies is pumping up revenues and pulling in a new generation of tourists. Business is booming in the outlying Coachella Valley as well.

Commercial air traffic in the valley is up 10 percent from 2005, and tax revenue from hotel, time-share and long-term stays jumped 6.1 percent to $24.2 million in the first five months of this year, according to a recent report in Palm Springs' daily Desert Sun.

Many of these visitors arrive from Europe, but a growing number of U.S. travelers are also looking to experience the desert.

"I believe there is a renewal of interest in the diversity that is Palm Springs," said Mary Perry, director of marketing for the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. "Old Hollywood was a major force in Palm Springs for years. Young Hollywood is again flocking to the desert, and fans are following close behind."

The financial impact has been significant: Overall city revenues in April were nearly 35 percent higher than in the same month last year, The Desert Sun reported. Naturally, much of the money flowing into the area trickles down to the golf industry.

Palm Springs and the surrounding area are home to some of the country's most sought-after plays, including the Greg Norman Course at the La Quinta Resort and the new Escena Golf Club. Tim Hurja, a PGA golf professional who runs packaging agency Palm Springs Golf Central, said he has seen a 10 percent increase in demand in the last year.

"This area has definitely experienced its ups and downs over the years, but it's definitely on an up right now," Hurja said. "This is the largest summer I've seen [recently]. The European market is booming. The resorts I've talked to have said this has been the year of turnaround."

Weather is one of the main reasons Palm Springs has always been popular with Europeans, and it's been a particularly balmy summer. Another factor is the dollar's decline against the euro in recent years.

"Those $200-plus, high-falutin' courses are not so expensive when converted to euros, with the state of the U.S. dollar," Chris Baldwin wrote in a story for GolfCalifornia.com in May 2005, when the exchange rate was comparable to what it is now (about 78 cents to the euro). "Certain Europeans can come to Palm Springs and live and play golf at a level they could never imagine back home."

Palm Springs itself has also done a lot to attract visitors, Hurja said, citing increased marketing by tourism agencies and efforts to attract conventions and trade shows.

"The Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism has really stepped it up in terms of becoming a professional organization to sell the destination," he said. "I've seen a big change in their marketing strategy. Dollars are being spent in the right place."

The recent renovation and expansion of the convention center, which has helped the city bring in lucrative conventions capable of filling thousands of rooms a night with people who are likely to take in a round or two during their stay.

"The town's finally catching up with other deserts," Hurja said. "Let's just face it, this is a great destination."

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