The legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice once said, “Golf gives you an insight into human nature, your own as well as your opponent’s.” Attendees who love golf would undoubtedly agree with Rice. The nature of the game, especially its casual pace, allows business people to bond while sharing the fun and joyous frustration of a very trying game.
That’s why golf is often a centerpiece of meetings and incentives. Many attendees need golf to make their experience feel complete or special. Even attendees who aren’t avid golfers want to participate if only to network and advance their careers.
Over the years, Charisse Duroure, the spa director at the award-winning G Spa & Salon at MGM, has developed a keen interest in all things that promote wellness for the body and mind. A 30-year fitness veteran, Duroure started her career managing athletic clubs and spas. All told, including the four years under her belt leading spa activities at G Spa at Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort & Casino, Duroure has witnessed firsthand the evolution of the spa/wellness field.
No longer just a pampering luxury, spa treatments can be an integral part of a corporate meeting and event. As companies began to retreat from the ubiquitous cocktail party and search out more fitness and wellness-related activities, especially non-alcoholic ones, the resort spa took on a new life and mission.
And as Duroure points out, spa activities are held primarily indoors, whereas golf programs are subject to Mother Nature’s fickleness. When rain spoils the day, Duroure and her staff get to work and move schedules around to accommodate the deluge of additional attendees.
Even during the economic woes of the last few years, Duroure notes that those client companies that never ceased rewarding and incentivizing their employees with spa treatments continue to thrive. After all, spa treatments are designed to reduce stress, improve productivity and bolster positive outlooks.
Duroure works very closely with resort sales teams to coordinate the appropriate spa treatments to meet the company’s objective. The spa menu includes chair massages post-meeting or on the golf course, modern hydra facials, a session in the rejuvenating private waterfall room, steam room and relaxation time in the beautiful and spacious setting. Also, customized massages from among a menu of more than a dozen offerings such as sports massage are available. Corporate attendees are assured that fellow patrons will be of the same ilk — only those 21 and over may use the G Spa; families are welcome at their sister spa — Norwood Spa at Foxwoods.
Duroure fondly remembers an event she staged for 20 spouses of attendees (19 women and one man). After a healthful breakfast hosted in the pool area, Duroure presented an educational talk on wellness and an engaging demonstration of a hydra facial. Participants also received a Foxwoods gift bag as a token of appreciation. Duroure received an outpouring of positive feedback, and the planner already booked a similar program on their next visit. By the way, Duroure notes that men are so enthusiastic about spa programs that many of them nowadays choose spa services instead of an afternoon on the links — unheard of a decade ago!
Five Tips for a Successful Group Program
Duroure and her staff aim to please their corporate clients. They also want to make the spa visit a memorable one; thus, they advise planners and attendees to consider these five important tips, one or more of which can transform a GOOD experience into a GREAT experience for a corporate group.
Simply including golf on the agenda doesn’t guarantee that a meeting will be memorable. What’s the key to success? Create a golf outing that is fun, drives home meeting objectives and goals, and strengthens business relationships.
Golf is the planner’s ultimate networking tool. “People like to do business with people they like,” says Donna Collins, senior account executive for Total Event Resources, a meeting and event planning firm located in the greater Chicago area. “When people do things they like together, opportunities surface. A golf outing brings the boardroom to the fairway, greens and 19th hole. Competition, fresh air, good food and drinks work together to break down barriers to reinforcing relationships, making the sale and mining new opportunities.”
Planners always want golf to be an ideal mix of networking, fun and enjoyable competition. But the mix can differ according to meeting goals and the make-up of groups.
Networking and fun were primary considerations for a three-day meeting in April for 325 executives, staff and distributors of Glenview, IL-based Beltone, a leader in patient-focused hearing technology for more than 70 years. Grace Defilippis, trade show and business meetings manager, planned the golf tournament before the business meetings started at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, Tucson, AZ. “Golf is a good way for us to kick off the meeting and allow our people from around the U.S. and world to get reacquainted and learn from each other,” says Defilippis. “Golf develops camaraderie and team spirit. For example, our Canadian attendees all wore the same pants and polo shirts. People from the Northeast all wore the same color shorts.”
Defilippis says the resort’s improvements enhanced the attendees’ ability to network as well as their overall enjoyment of the event. The Westin La Paloma recently rejuvenated all of its 487 guest rooms and suites as well as its 60,000 sf of ballroom and function space. In addition, the 27-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course was upgraded with new bunkers and greens.
Defilippis undertook several efforts to make the tournament memorable and run on time. “We developed a flier that we sent to attendees. We told them we would pay for shoe rental and greens fees,” she says. “We told them what type of shoes and attire to wear and to bring sunscreen. Attendees were told to arrive at the club by 7 a.m. for a shotgun start at 8 a.m. About 70 golfers showed up. We used a shotgun start because we had a big group. It keeps everything moving because everybody tees off at the same time at different holes and finishes at roughly the same time.”
Players competed for prizes such as closest to the pin, longest drive and longest putt. They also enjoyed box lunches and beverages, and a professional photographer snapped photographs. After the meeting, Defilippis sent photos of the foursomes and award winners to the players.
Beltone also took several steps to connect its brand with the enjoyable experience of golf. “We gave away shirts to every golfer with our logo and that of a sponsor. We put logos on golf balls, tees and tee packs. We wanted to keep our name in front of them,” says Defilippis.
Some groups focus more on competition and challenging golf courses when planning golf programs, such as Oasis Outsourcing, a West Palm Beach, FL-based PEO — professional employer organization. The company held its annual national sales conference for 180 attendees in May at the 379-room PGA National Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens, FL. It was the meeting’s fifth consecutive year at the AAA Four Diamond property.
Oasis chose PGA National partly because attendees were impressed by the resort’s many amenities, including a 40,000-sf European spa, 19 tennis courts, nine restaurants and lounges, and 39,000 sf of meeting space. However, it is the resort’s five championship golf courses that keep the group returning. Oasis encourages attendees to hit the fairways on their own starting the day before the meeting begins.
Larry Doiron, director of sales training and meeting planner for Oasis, says attendees take golf to heart and constantly want to sharpen their games. As a matter of fact, Doiron says the group is composed of avid golfers. “We have a lot of golfers around the country with four and five handicaps among our salesforce,” says Doiron. “These people are very serious about their golf, so when they get here they want to take advantage of the PGA. That’s one reason why we moved to the resort. We can also keep the golf and everything else on property without paying to shuttle people.”
In addition, Doiron is very satisfied with the value he receives from PGA National. “We now have a two-year contract that we signed a year ago. I’m the one who negotiates the contracts, and we got a good deal. It’s an absolutely gorgeous facility. It has been a first-class experience, and I don’t ever intend to leave,” says Doiron.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina, the site of the 2012 PGA Championship, was selected as the site for a technology company’s three-day sales incentive because it hosted the PGA Tour event. “That was a huge selling point for us to take our guests where the pros played,” says the event planner. “It’s an exciting and challenging course that was a treat for them. Location was also a factor, and the fact that the resort pays such attention to detail from the salesperson and valet to the housekeeper. Some people who don’t golf hadn’t heard of it, but they were impressed upon arriving. It has that Old South feel that everyone loves.”
The 280 attendees found the golf experience to be memorable, partly because of exclusivity. “We did a buyout and had the course to ourselves. You don’t want other people starting ahead of you or in the middle of your group. You want the experience to be pretty exclusive. That’s typical of most group golf outings,” says the planner.
No matter which resort a planner chooses, a key to making golf memorable involves knowing attendees’ golf skills and pairing them according to ability and other factors.
That’s exactly what the technology company planner did. “We handled the pairings within the company,” he says. “We paired according to ability and people wanting to make connections and network. Some people were paired with spouses, others with friends. It ran the gamut. We turned the list over to the course when we were done, and they helped us facilitate everything. They were great to work with and very knowledgeable about pairings.”
Beltone took a similar approach. The company’s sales director handled the pairings, sometimes with input from regional sales managers, who wanted to put certain salespeople together with clients in the same region. The pairings were then turned over to The Westin La Paloma’s golf pro.
Golf experts say that some groups aren’t paired well because planners, or whomever in the company does the pairings, aren’t familiar enough with the group’s golfing abilities. “You have to know your group, first and foremost,” says Kent Instefjord, general manager of La Paloma Country Club. “You tailor the pairings generally around ability and remember that the goal is to have fun.”
Instefjord suggests that planners determine attendees’ skills by sending a golf questionnaire to attendees prior to the meeting. He advises asking the following questions:
Do you play golf? How often do you play? What do you usually shoot? Are you left- or right-handed? Do you need rental clubs and shoes? What size? Also offer a reminder of the golf course’s dress code. “It’s helpful to planners if they turn over the results to the facility and let them do the pairings with input from the planner,” says Instefjord.
Pairings also depend on meeting goals and the preferences of executives and attendees. “If the goal is for everyone to have fun, then ability may not be as important,” says Instefjord. “Or it may be more important for networking or friendships to pair certain people with others, and abilities have nothing to do with it. You may want to pair certain salespeople and clients. But you don’t want to pair your best clients with salespeople if there is big difference in their golf abilities.”
A great golf experience also depends on providing pairings to the resort on time. “Sometimes facilities get pairings or rental club information an hour beforehand, and you have 30 people who need them, which makes the resort have to scramble,” says Instefjord. “The more info the facility can get to set things up, the better the experience will be. There are always last-minute changes and cancellations, but they are easier to deal with if the information comes a day or two before the event.”
Play format is another key to a successful golf outing. A scramble is one of the most popular formats, especially for larger groups.
In a scramble, each foursome consists of players with four different skill levels — A, B, C and D. Every player tees off but members of each team play their second shots from where the longest drive lands. A scramble may fit a group with mixed golf abilities because it awards one score for each foursome. The format also moves play along to help planners keep attendees on schedule, says Instefjord.
A scramble also helps attendees with limited golf abilities feel more comfortable. “If you aren’t a golfer but willing to have fun and be part of a team, the scramble is very attractive because if you mess up most of your shots it doesn’t matter. Sometimes, if you don’t use that format, you lose a lot of players, or some may play but get frustrated and have a bad experience,” says Instefjord.
Conversely, skilled groups may find a scramble less enjoyable. “Let’s say you are a really good golfer, you are going to a course you’ve always dreamed of, and you are playing a scramble. Memory of that experience might be less than it could be because you aren’t playing your own ball,” says Instefjord.
Groups with many advanced golfers may benefit from a best ball format. In this setup, all foursome members play their own balls. However, the best score for each hole is the team score. This format appeals to highly competitive golfers. Using more than one format is also an option. Instefjord has worked with groups that used two different formats — one for competitive groups who want to play their own ball and another that will use a scramble or another easier arrangement.
Attendees’ golf skills and level of passion for the game are among several factors planners should consider in choosing a golf resort and planning golf events. Planners and golf experts offer the following tips.
• Identify the golf event’s goals and objectives, including the desired return on investment. Keeping within the budget, “create the experience from the moment they drive up in their car to when they depart. There are endless opportunities to customize the golf experience,” says Collins.
• Consider a course’s size and level of difficulty because they impact the pace of play. Usually, planners want to challenge players without making play too difficult.
• Provide amenities during play. Collins suggests “neck massages at one hole, strawberries and champagne at the next, cigar rolling at the next, and soothing music at the next to calm the nervous golfer.” Also, ask the golf pro to give pointers to golfers who may be waiting for the group ahead of them.
• Is the course on-property or is transportation required? Paying to shuttle employees to and from a course increases meeting costs as well as the time it takes to complete a tournament.
Location and reputation are key factors, too. Take for instance one of the golf capitals of the world: Myrtle Beach, SC. The area boasts 14 million visitors annually who come for the beautiful beaches, challenging golf courses and fresh local seafood. As leisure-only vacation areas cater more and more to business travelers and groups — a trend that some call ‘bleisure’ travel — planners are quickly learning that the destination is ideally suited for meetings and events. The Southern charm and hospitality of the area blends with modern amenities to provide the best of both worlds. For example, the expanded and renovated Myrtle Beach Convention Center features the 100,000-sf Exhibit Hall; the 18,000-sf Grand Ballroom; 20 meeting rooms; spacious, sunlit, glass-enclosed prefunction areas; an adjacent 400-room luxury hotel; and more.
With nearly 100 championship golf courses in the greater Myrtle Beach area, the 200-unit Marina Inn at Grand Dunes’ claim to fame is to have two of those best golf courses located onsite — The Resort Club and the Members Club at Grande Dunes. Also, the Marina Inn is centrally located within a short drive to the best of the north and south Myrtle Beach golf courses.
Non-golfing activities help make meetings even more memorable, which is why they are a staple of meetings at golf and spa resorts. Oasis Outsourcing’s sales meetings have included an onsite themed event for the last seven years.
This year, Oasis’ meeting featured a Key West-inspired, Margaritaville-themed event. “A street sign saying Duval Street was in the foyer where people walked across a 60-foot boardwalk three inches off the ground and about four feet wide,” says Doiron. “They go to the end of the foyer where they pass a buoy and walk into the reception with a steel drum band. The ballroom was set up with burlap table cloths, tropical foliage, a 40-foot tropical mural and ceiling decorations. We had real and artificial palm trees. A band played Jimmy Buffett songs. The stage had a tropical feel and looked like something that Buffett would play on.”
Beltone’s meeting also featured a themed event. “We held a biker-themed bash in The Westin’s Grand Pavilion. We hired a DMC to bring in three Harleys, and biker apparel such as helmets and leather jackets,” says Defilippis. “We gave out Harley t-shirts. Folks could sit on a Harley and take pictures and get (temporary) tattoos. The room was themed with Route 66 signs and old tires. People also could play pool, foosball and electronic darts. We also had dinner and a live band.”
The 316-room Cheyenne Mountain Resort, located in Colorado Springs, CO, recently completed a major $3.8 million renovation of its Pete Dye-designed 18-hole championship golf course. The slightly longer course is now more challenging as all of the bunkers were rebuilt and tee boxes were elevated in keeping with the original Pete Dye-style of design. The driving range also was updated. Of particular note, the course is more eco-friendly as a new state-of-the-art irrigation system has been installed and approximately 15 acres of irrigated turf have been eliminated and replaced with native grasslands.
Also, 125 non-indigenous, low-water-use trees have been planted throughout the course, and more are planned for the future. It is anticipated that the combined impact of these conservation initiatives will result in a 30-40 percent reduction in water use. Located alongside a private, 35-acre lake, Cheyenne Mountain Resort also offers 18 tennis courts, racquetball and squash courts, a fitness center and an Aquatics Center, all of which are available to country club members and resort guests.
The 720-room Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, located near Orlando, FL, opened a new 55,000-sf conference center that brings the facility’s total indoor meeting space to more than 128,000 sf. The conference center includes a 28,000-sf ballroom divisible into eight flexible meeting rooms, an event lawn and open prefunction area. The AAA four-diamond, 15-acre property features two championship golf courses, the world headquarters of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and the full-service Mokara spa.
The 598-room Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, located in Destin, FL, and well known for its four championship golf courses and The Dunes, a putting course, renovated its 32,000 sf of meeting space, accommodations and fine-dining restaurant.
The hotel’s Serenity by the Sea spa was recently recognized as one of the “Top 270 Spas in North America, Caribbean, Mexico and at Sea” in the Condé Nast Traveler 2013 Readers’ Poll.
The 508-room Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort in San Antonio, TX, recently completed its new Westin Workout Fitness Studio. One of the studio’s innovative features is its blue-light technology that uses energizing fluorescent lighting to positively impact guests’ workouts.
The 998-room Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, Hollywood, FL, just debuted its Heavenly Spa by Westin. Measuring 14,000 sf, the new spa includes 10 treatment rooms and offers a Halotherapy salt steam room, a Vichy shower, a relaxation area featuring a “Wall-of-Rain” and a spa café.
The 1,500-room Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando offers a wide range of golf-related services to help groups plan successful golf tournaments and outings. The resort’s onsite 18-hole course at Shingle Creek Golf Club offers five sets of tees to allow players to adapt their play to the appropriate level of difficulty, and a customized website can be created to help organize and keep track of the tournament. The course also has a state-of-the-art GPS system that makes it easy for organizations to recognize hole sponsors and distribute tournament notes.
Meeting planners continue to meet the challenge of planning memorable golf events, even for attendees who have “seen and done it all” when it comes to golf and spa resorts. While many resort activities and amenities shape the attendees’ experiences, it is usually golf that leaves the most lasting memory, says Defilippis.
When asked what attendees remember the most about golf resort experiences, she says, “Probably the shots they should have made.” C&IT