Golf tourism’s expanding presence in the Cape Region
January 19, 2024
Last October my wife Sue and I drove to the Cape May Lewes Ferry terminal off Cape Henlopen Drive to take the 4:15 p.m. crossing, heading to northern New Jersey for a family visit.
Sue noticed several cars around us were filled with guys wearing logo’d golf hats and shirts. An SUV’s opened trunk held four golf bags as the men stood around chatting.
After boarding the ferry and a bit of her prodding, I walked up to a few gentlemen standing at the second deck rail and asked if they were returning home after a golf trip.
They were, and they were happy to talk about it.
John Laielli lives in south Jersey and was part of a 27-player group of golf tourists. “It was supposed to be 28 but one of the dudes got Covid,” he said. “Today we played Bear Trap [Dunes]. Yesterday was River Run, and the first one was Man of War/War Admiral. The Sussex County courses we typically play on the way down or the way back. We did Bear Trap to make sure we could catch the ferry.”
Laielli’s group have a long history of traveling to the Cape Region and Ocean City, MD for golf. “It’s been 20 years of doing this, pretty much the same gang. We gave up playing stuff that could kill us, like baseball, softball, football, so we started playing golf. We used to come down with eight guys, rent a big van, bring a lot of our own food because we were playing all the time. We would start with 27 at Bear Trap, 36 the next day, 36 the next day, and 18 at Baywood Greens on the way home,” he said.
Laielli said they now limit themselves to 18 holes per day. “It’s great. It doesn’t matter if you play bad or not. You come down for the camaraderie,” he said.
Most of the group’s trips head to Sussex County and Ocean City area courses, but not always. “A couple of times we [went] to New York [or] Pennsylvania. I think a lot of them are underrated as far as taking a trip, but with the choices you have down here, you can’t beat it. Especially with the rooms, you get better deals,” Laielli said.
For this trip his group stayed at the Grand Hotel on the Ocean City strip. “One of the other guys set it up. Usually, the same guy makes the arrangements until he gets tired of it. It’s fairly well organized,” he said.
I later talked with Sandra Kerstetter, the general manager of Pam’s Ocean City Golf Getaways, the area’s leading golf package trip company. The Selbyville, DE business has been in operation for over 34 years.
She said the South Jersey group I met last fall was typical of most golf tourists they help.
“There will always be a need for companies like us,” Kerstetter said. “We can do it all for them. Repeat customers are a huge part of the business.”
She said the average group size is eight, though they can handle any group from 1 to 120 or more. Most come from New York, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania. Others make the trek from Canada and Ohio.
The Cape Region and other Sussex County golf courses are a major draw, with local accommodations also seeing increased business. Kerstetter said Bayside Resort, Bear Trap, Baywood Greens, Plantation Lakes, Heritage Shores, and The Rookery are among the fifteen or so golf courses they use regularly, in addition to Ocean City standouts such as Lighthouse Sound and Glen Riddle Golf Club.
Kerstetter said many groups stay in Delaware, at places such as the Hampton Inn Rehoboth Beach, the Hyatt Place in Dewey Beach, or in villas at Bear Trap or homes in Bayside. “The Delaware locations are becoming more and more popular,” she said.
She confirmed that their groups most often play the Delaware courses either on the way down or the way back. However, if Ocean City is holding big events such as the fall Ocean’s Calling Music Festival or the Spring Car Cruisers, the Pam’s staff focus on Delaware courses and places to stay overnight.
The golf packagers see most of their trade in two distinct seasons. “They start coming in early March through mid-June,” Kerstetter said. “They come back the week after Labor Day and go to early November. Weekday travel is becoming more popular. We’re also booking more packages without accommodations because people made their own arrangements,” she said.
A major part of the Pam’s marketing effort is a magazine-sized package planner. Available through pamsgolfoc.com, the planner lists the participating golf courses and accommodation options.
The course descriptions include charts with yardage and course ratings, along with listed amenities and special offerings.
Several packages offer specific course combinations for the best bargains, as well as off-season discounts.
Golf tourism from way out of town helps the Cape Region, Sussex County, and Ocean City economy by filling in tee times (and hotel rooms) that might otherwise go un-booked.
Local golfers should consider themselves lucky to routinely play golf where other folks choose to travel hundreds of miles for the experience.