Minor league ice hockey team in the California desert uses golf for marketing purposes

Grant Fuhr, who knows a lot about hockey and golf, has a quick answer as to why so many hockey players are also good golfers.

“We have summers off,” said Fuhr, a five-time Stanley Cup goaltender with the Edmonton Oilers and a Hockey Hall of Famer. “That’s how you get a chance to play golf.”

That may be true in areas like Canada and the Midwest and Northeast United States, where winter is a time to focus on hockey, with golf courses under a few feet of snow. But for the Coachella Valley Firebirds, the desert’s newest professional team, hockey season is also golf’s best season. So it’s only natural for the Firebirds and the golfing world to cross paths.

One such crossroads occurred Wednesday when Firebirds front office members showed up at the Marrakesh Country Club in Palm Desert, where the men’s club was holding its first tournament of the new season. It’s the kind of community outreach, especially in a golf community teeming with snowbirds from Canada and the Pacific Northwest, that the Firebirds crave.

“It’s crucial. I think you sometimes take it for granted that you come in and think everyone knows,” said Troy Bodie, director of hockey operations for the Firebirds after completing his round Wednesday. “But especially in this community where everything is seasonal, it’s sometimes difficult to get the word out and get people on your mailing list. So just go to the community you are in and you are ready to go.

Bodie and Fuhr, who will be taking on some TV and radio work for the Firebirds this year and who have been trying their hand at professional golf since playing, met a receptive crowd in Marrakesh.

People walk around the putting greens during Shots in the Night at the Indian Wells Golf Resort on Monday, November 14, 2022 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Taya Gray/Desert Sun/USA Today Network

The Firebirds have solicited season tickets, semi-season tickets and group sales, although some members of the club have already purchased season tickets for the Firebirds. Others didn’t even seem to know what the firebirds were but were willing to learn. One or two members of the club said they had no interest in hockey, but that could change with a hometown team.

As for this seemingly easy transition for athletes from the ice to the golf course, Fuhr says there are some natural carryovers from one sport to another.

“If you look at how a guy shoots a puck and how the golf swing is down, they’re pretty similar,” said Fuhr, a longtime desert resident.

New season, old friends

As much as it was an opportunity for the Firebirds to introduce themselves, the day was also about kicking off a new season for Marrakech, which opened with the overseeding less than a week before the event. It was an opportunity for golfers who had just returned to the desert to renew acquaintances over a round and lunch and learn how the desert changes when the Firebirds come to town for their home game on December 18th.

It was not uncommon that day for a foursome to have one player in his 60’s, another in his 70’s, another in his 80’s, and another in his 90’s. It was a scene repeated across the desert in November, when classes reopen after overseeding and snowbirds return to the desert for a few weeks before the holidays.

As for golf’s impact on the Firebirds, Bodie said, laughing, the team will look into it.

“I really believe that people can do and enjoy whatever they do outside of the rink,” Bodie said with a smile. “But we certainly judge them by what they do on the rink and on the ice, if something else distracts you then we’ll take care of it.”

Larry Bohannan is the golf author of The Desert Sun. You can contact him at (760) 778-4633 or at [email protected] Follow him on Facebook or Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.