Text: R.J. Weick
For Trevor Tkach, president and chief executive officer at Traverse City Tourism in Traverse City, Michigan—formerly the Traverse City Area Convention and Visitors Bureau—the regional story is a compelling one and, for the city, it is about the indoor and outdoor experience that often goes hand in hand. While a self-described novice golfer, Tkach recognizes the importance of the industry and its role in the larger northern Michigan story—and is excited about what the future holds for both.
The Golf Explorer: Michigan’s Journal to Incredible Golf had the opportunity to catch up with Tkach to learn more about his role—and the game of golf—in the Traverse City region.
Tell me about your role at Traverse City Tourism and what you do on a daily basis.
Tkach: I am the CEO of Traverse City Tourism and have been for just over three years. I’m a native of Traverse City and prior to this job, I was the Executive Director of the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, which celebrates and promotes the cherry industry and agriculture in northern Michigan and across the state. It is one of the biggest agricultural festivals in the country. So, I have a great deal of passion and history with the region that I represent now.
On a day-to-day basis, I’m talking about it, pitching stories, celebrating, promoting, and advocating for our region. There are basically three big areas we focus on and those are marketing and partnerships, destination and development, and policy and funding. It is where a lot of my time goes.
I’m marketing the area, I’m selling it, and I’m looking at ways to enhance the experience in our destination either by doing a better job of telling the story or physically trying to enhance the assets we have. We also work on big issues like Pure Michigan funding or legislation that effects travel.
How does golf play into that? How do you view golf’s role for the region?
We are lucky. We live in a state where there are more than 600 public courses, which is phenomenal. As a state, we have so much great storytelling to do when it comes to golf and when I travel with Pure Michigan and my colleagues from across the state—Gaylord, Petoskey—we in northern Michigan definitely like to talk about the great golf that we have.
It is a great selling point, especially if you take into consideration the timing and seasonality in Michigan where we, in Traverse City, have worked hard to penetrate markets like New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and more recently—and effectively—Dallas and even into Houston. In those southern states, it is extremely hot in the summer and we know there are a lot of golfers in that space.
Dallas has proven an effective campaign; if we can go down and tell a compelling story about cooler temperatures, freshwater, and excellent golf—and we really do have excellent golf—that sells. It sells really well and we see more direct flights, non-stop flights, to-and-from destinations like Dallas who is committing year-over-year to increase capacity of flights and total dates of flights.
From a national standpoint, golf can be a very important piece of the puzzle in trying to solidify and increase our number of travelers into markets in the spring, summer, and fall.
Do you play?
I play a little bit. I’m no pro.
What drew you to the game, beside what you do for work?
Honestly, I’m not an intense golfer by any stretch of the imagination, but I think having been in the industry and in circumstances in my lifetime that have allowed me the opportunity to play golf in a lot of places and see a lot of variety in golf, Michigan and especially the Traverse City region, have some really premiere offerings. For somebody who lives here, we could easily take it for granted, how great golf is here. Having seen other things now and coming back to the great state of Michigan and playing here, we are blessed: the prices tend to be more affordable, the variety of courses—from fairly novice to very challenging—and the environment that you are playing in; the beauty, the splendor.
I love being outdoors. It is a big part of my lifestyle. I have three young kids and my wife, and we like to be outside year-round. We ski in the winter, we hike trails in the spring, and then in the summer, the boys like to hit the golf course. We like to see it, be outdoors, smell the grass, and have fun together. For us, for my family and me, it is less about the competitive nature of golf and more about the experience of being outdoors and having a good time with your friends.
What excites you about the game—from either a playing or industry standpoint—looking forward?
It’s interesting—I’ll address it from an industry standpoint—I think a lot of us in Michigan and across the country have been somewhat anxious about the future of golf. It doesn’t necessarily fit the model of today’s athlete or just today’s consumer, where people are expecting to get things done quickly. There is an immediacy to everything, and golf is more of a slow, deliberate game that is meant to be enjoyed. I think there was a point in time where there was less interest in the game and maybe saw a drop off a little bit in demand to play 18 holes or to play in general.
I think that has flattened out. At least in northern Michigan, I can say things have started to pick back up. When I talk to the courses in the Traverse City area—it never probably dipped as much as some of the other markets dipped—we definitely heard stories of many courses getting back to record-breaking years in total number of rounds, which is great.
It’s compelling. It lets us know golf is still in high demand and may be more reflective of the economy than of people’s willingness to commit time to the game. It is good, because we have such premiere offerings. You can get on our courses and see Lake Michigan or go deeper into the woods and play some challenging courses with amazing undulations, bunkers, traps, and just unbelievable terrain. We do stand out, we are different, and it fits well into the story that we tell.
We tell a good outdoor story and a good indoor story in Traverse City. Golf is a big part of the outdoor story, but a lot of times that outdoor experience is linked to some really, great, indoor experience. From an experiential standpoint, golf fits really well into what we have to offer and it plays well for the consumer who wants to get more out of the travel than just golf, who wants to have fine dining, or who wants craft beers or local wines.
What is one shot or one golf experience that you have had that you will never forget?
We had a group of international golfers in town this past September. It was a great event; really spectacular. We had travel agents, writers, and group business decision makers—a lot of higher-level people from groups from all across the globe.
I had one day where I could go golf with the group and have some fun with them and it happened to be my birthday. We were playing The Bear, which is really, really challenging and for a novice golfer like me, that is a tough one. We were playing with the group, we were having fun, and it was the last hole—I’m no scratch golfer—and the last hole we played, I played it perfectly.
“As a state, we have so much great storytelling to do when it comes to golf.”
— Trevor Tkach, president and chief executive
officer, at Traverse City Tourism
It was one of those days and I think it is what brings a lot of us back: everything lines up on that one hole or that one shot. I sank probably a 60-foot putt to finish that hole. It had been a long day, challenging one in the wind, but we all just go bonkers. We’re so happy, because it’s a good finish to what was a challenging, but beautiful day.
That is the one that is fresh in my mind. Most of my memories of golf courses are looking for balls in the woods, so that was a good one to see the ball roll all the way across the green on The Bear golf course at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa—and see it go in.
If you could choose any three people to play on a foursome for a round, who would it be?
It’d be my kids. Yeah, I’d play with my kids. I’m a busy person, my attention gets pulled in a lot of different directions and I absolutely cherish and covet the time I get with my family. I’ve got three kids and I’ll tell you what, there is no three people more important in the world to me than them and that is who I’d want to be on the course with.