KENDALLVILLE — During last fall’s pre-election debate, an audience member asked the candidates onstage why visitors would come to Kendallville. There were several answers but no one mentioned the biggest reason.
Visitors come to Kendallville to play golf.
Great Indiana Golf, headquartered at Cobblestone Golf Course, is a local business cooperative created to generate business for Noble Hawk and Cobblestone golf courses along with the Best Western hotel and Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill in Kendallville.
The cooperative offers a one-stop shop for stay-and-play golf packages. Great Indiana Golf coordinator Kathy Dues figures group quotes, books reservations for hotels, tee times and dinner at area restaurants, collects payments and shares tips on what to see and do when golfers come in off the course. She also pays the courses and hotels their share of revenue.
Tim Dykstra at Noble Hawk Golf Links takes care of agreements for the partner golf courses and goes on the road to golf shows to promote the cooperative.
Cobblestone general manager Tim Kochanski said the cooperative has grown into one of the largest providers of golf stay-and-play packages in the Midwest. The cooperative chalked up sales of $691,000 in 2019, up from $633,602 in 2018.
Dues said the cooperative brought 2,700 golfers to play the two Noble County courses along with seven other partner courses scattered throughout northeast Indiana and southwest Michigan. That translates into 4,000 double-occupancy room nights in area hotels.
Golfers came in groups of two to 50 and came from Illinois, Ohio, southern Indiana, Michigan, southern Ontario, Canada, Wisconsin and Kentucky
Partner courses include Glendarin Hills in Angola, Bridgewater in Auburn, Island Hills in Centerville, Mich., Bella Vista in Coldwater, Mich., Stonehenge in Winona Lake, and Autumn Ridge and Cherry Hill, both in Fort Wayne.
Kochanski said the cooperative is popular because it offers good value to play nine high-quality courses with a variety of layouts to challenge golfers of all levels. The smaller geographic region cuts down on travel time to courses and increases playing time.
Kochanski said the cooperative operates on break-even finances, using the money generated by sales in one year to promote the cooperative the next year, but the economic effect is much broader. The cooperative members divide up any small profit, if there is one, at the end of the year.
He said local businesses rely on income from GIG visitors to sustain themselves.
“These are actual dollars that have come into the community,” Kochanski said.
Dues said visiting players take advantage of local pizza shops that deliver and enjoy the breweries and wineries in the area.
Great Indiana Golf formed in 2002, after Noble Hawk was built in 1998 and Cobblestone followed in 1999. Kochanski said there was a recognition early on that the golf courses would need to find ways to draw business beyond local golfers.
“The golf industry is contracting,” Kochanski said, noting that a number of golf courses have been lost in recent years to residential development.
He said golf businesses have high overhead with the purchase of land and golf carts, building construction, and the equipment and maintenance required for the course itself.
Kochanski said Noble County receives 80% of the economic benefits from business generated by the cooperative. Specially-priced packages encourage golfers to stay in Kendallville and enjoy a discount on meals at the Kendallville Applebee’s, rated No. 1 in the nation by the chain last year. Local golfers support the cooperative with their course memberships.
Kochanski believes the golf cooperative is essential to the vitality of the local economy and key to maintaining quality of life. He mentioned several examples of cities which lost businesses and industries, and never recovered their quality of life.
“The co-op is a community asset,” he said. “Some businesses need it to sustain themselves.”