B A C K G R O U N D . . .
Keith Hall grew up in Norfolk, Virginia and has spent every summer on the Outer Banks since he was 13. He first started playing golf when Sea Scape Golf Links opened in 1969 and immediately fell in love with the game and the outdoors. He joined the Sea Scape maintenance crew as a teenager and those experiences served him well upon opening United Turf Inc. on the Outer Banks in 1978.
His turf farm on the Currituck mainland just past the Wright Brothers bridge was transformed into The Pointe Golf Club in 1995. He was then approached to finish developing The Carolina Club 10 miles further north in 1998. For the past two decades, Keith has been promoting golf and travel to the destination renowned as the Birthplace of Flight and home to the Wild Horses, Lost Colony, lighthouses and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
MATT WARD: What lessons were learned by the OBX Golf Association following The Great Recession that ended in ’09?
KEITH HALL: It was imperative to develop partnerships with both our destination marketing organizations — Currituck County Tourism and Outer Banks Visitors Bureau — and offer a one-stop booking resource through OBX Golf Travel promoting our two courses along with The Currituck Club, Kilmarlic Golf Club and Nags Head Golf Links.
MW: What are the key feeder cities for the OBX Golf Association?
KH: Virginia Tidewater, Richmond, Metro DC, Northern Virginia, Greater Philadelphia.
MW: What are the top items visitors are seeking when coming to the greater Outer Banks area?
KH: OBX has long been known as the natural choice and an outdoor adventure haven with clean beaches, quality local restaurants, great golf and fishing. What we have here on the Outer Banks is very authentic unlike most coastal communities that have become over commercialized. Visitors are more apt to read a book rather than come for the nightlife.
MW: How did 2016 stack up in terms of total rounds played versus 2015 at your member clubs?
KH: Overall, we were slightly down in total rounds played due to two storms along with the extreme heat and weather during the summer months. On the positive side, our overall golf package rounds showed a 12.5 percent increase with a 50 percent bump in fall play. The Outer Banks weather is spectacular in the fall months as the water is still warm, seafood still fresh, courses in pristine condition and rates are very affordable.
MW: How much of an impact did Hurricane Matthew cause for your member golf clubs?
KH: Though our courses lost a week to two weeks of play during the peak fall season — there was minimal damage and the courses are in great shape as we head into the 2017 season. We did lose several key golf package groups over those two weeks. Otherwise we would have realized an 18.5 percent increase in golf package rounds.
MW: Many within the golf destination category stress the importance of customer service. Define the term?
KH: Customer service is a series of different interactions with the golfer before, during and after their visit. It is all about being able to adjust to the many different personalities and expectations of the guest. Our member course partners strive to deliver an outstanding experience from the time a guest arrives until he or she leaves. The golf world is much smaller than you think and we appreciate the value of positive word-of-mouth discussion about the OBX golf experience.
MW: The major golf organizations are seeking ways to attract new players to the game — especially Millennials, women and minorities. What advice would you offer to them in doing so?
KH: Golf should be positioned as the sport to take a break from our increasingly high tech and high energy lifestyles. Come enjoy the beautiful environment, family and friends and disconnect for a few hours from our connected world. We also need more outlets like TopGolf that provide a less threatening environment for people to be introduced to the game.
MW: If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be?
KH: We should focus more on golf being a family activity. Today’s family schedule is so overbooked with activities and functions. Golf is a sport that gets you out and away from the hustle and bustle of life. There’s just something about it that makes you forget about the day’s stress and I can’t think of a family that couldn’t benefit from a day on the links.
MW: It’s been said by a few observers of the golf market — that more golf course closings will actually help the overall health of those that remain. What’s your assessment on that statement?
KH: That is very true. Simple economics, really. The supply is far greater than the demand. Ultimately, our industry needs to find creative ways to bring costs down to help introduce more golfers to the game. We have just experienced eight challenging economic years that negatively impacted golf but I do feel the industry is poised for a strong year in 2017.
MW: Given the time crunch many people believe they are facing — can golf still be relevant in the 21st century?
KH: Golf’s relevance is tied to individuals and families seeing value in spending two to four hours together. This goes back to my earlier point about hectic schedules. At some point our fast-paced society is going to hit a wall and the light bulb will go off. When it does, golf will be ready.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?