OC Council Split Over Golf Co-Op Marketing Plan

OCEAN CITY – Tensions ran high this week during the Ocean City Mayor and City Council meeting, as the discussion turned toward the proposed Golf Co-Op Marketing Plan with half the council attempting to persuade the other half to approve of the idea.

Tourism Director Deborah Turk and Eagle’s Landing Golf Professional Bob Croll presented the council with the co-op initiative for the second time during this week’s meeting.

According to Turk, the Golf Co-Op Marketing Plan’s objective is to intensify the marketing of Ocean City as a desirable golf destination by partnering with Ocean City Golf packagers to increase related revenue to the town and increase rounds booked at the town-owned golf course Eagles Landing. The marketing dollars that the eligible packagers match will double the investment made by the town resulting in extended reach, frequency and increased bookings.

When the plan was first presented, some on the council were concerned over issues, such as the partnership with Pam’s Golf due to past history, even though it is now under new ownership. In the past the town had a partnership with Pam’s Golf. The company went bankrupt while still owing the town $125,000. Another concern was that golf packagers would manipulate their share if the town would match it, having the taxpayers pick up the packagers’ slack.

Others on the council approved of the idea since the town would “get more bang for our buck.” But at that time the motion to approve the strategy died in a 3-3 vote.

This week, Turk and Croll returned with a tighter plan and addressed some of the council members’ previous concerns. The advertising funds for the co-op would be drawn from the existing budget for golf in the destination-advertising budget. The year-end package rounds report from Ocean City Golf Getaways would be used to determine the percentage of funds’ eligibility per packager.

The example presented was if a packager’s year-end results show that it booked 30 percent of packaged rounds in Ocean City it would be eligible for $20,000 in matching funds provided it meets the eligibility and disbursement requirements.

According to Turk, the co-op would benefit the town by bringing the entire group of businesses that benefit from golf together creating more of a powerful force for building golf travel to Ocean City. There were 80,000 golf package rounds played on area golf courses in 2010, compared to 10 years ago when it was 100,000.

Turk referred to the plan as a “win-win-win” proposal. Cooperative marketing will bring more visitors, increasing the revenue for other businesses in town. More golfers in town will increase tax revenue, which could mean more advertising money for the future.

Mayor Rick Meehan, Council Secretary Lloyd Martin, Councilman Doug Cymek and Councilwoman Mary Knight attempted to persuade the rest of the council to support the plan.

“I know the council has had issues with Pam’s in the past but that was a different entity all together,” Meehan said. “I know we have backed away from the new entity for a number of years, and I think that they have established themselves and their credibility.”

Cymek said approving the plan is a “no brainer.” He explained that the town is not spending any more money, and that it is the same $60,000 in the golf budget just allocated differently.

“There is nothing wrong with this. Four to one internal investment, Eagle’s Landing is going to get all the benefit, it makes sense,” he said.

Knight said that by giving golf packagers an incentive it will give them more of a reason to spend money in advertising.

“I see this personally as even growing more than four times to one, I would like to invest $100 and next year have $400 let alone have $60,000 and then getting $224,000,” she said.

Meehan asked the council to give the strategy a try for at least a year.

“It’s the same knowledge…we should be able to see the results, we should be able to look at the rounds played in Ocean City as a whole and also at Eagle’s Landing…I think you’re going to be able to see those dollars are well spent. If not we will be in the same position and we will re-allocate next year,” he said.

Martin reviewed the list of golf packagers that the town would be partnering up with, such as Harrison Group Golf, Clarion Resort and Commander Hotel.

“All these people book golf…if we can bring those dollars to our room [hotels] that’s our room revenue…I think it’s a win-win,” he said.

Councilman Brent Ashley said he thought the co-op just complicates the matter, saying, “The rounds are already up. I think what you are doing here is creating a monitoring nightmare.”

Councilman Joe Hall said he was closer to approving the idea but “not there yet.”

“If the motion could be adjusted to endorse the concept and allow Deb to go forward in front of TAB [Tourism Advisory Board] and present the idea, I would ask them to give a recommendation and give oversight on the marketing budget,” he said.

The Golf Co-Op Marketing Plan died for the second time in a vote of 3-3, with Council President Jim Hall absent.

“I think we have the ability to make decisions, I’m sorry you don’t,” Meehan said. “You win the battle but loose the war Mr. Hall.”