Golf Programs: Are Your Events Up to Par?October 1, 2013

Experts’ Strategies to Engage Players and Score More Business By
October 1, 2013

Golf Programs: Are Your Events Up to Par?

Experts’ Strategies to Engage Players and Score More Business

Great Golf Events put together the 14th annual CenterLight Health System Golf Classic held in July at Century Country Club in Purchase, NY. Credit: Kate Drew Miller Photography

Make no mistake about it. There’s a lot that can be accomplished on a golf course that has nothing to do with hitting a spectacular drive straight down the fairway or making a difficult putt. There’s just no telling how many business deals have been brokered or cemented while the participants were hitting the greens.

Roger Caldwell, owner and founder of Great Golf Events, headquartered in Prairie Village, KS, has been planning corporate golf tournaments for 15 years. He says that after nailing down the date of the tournament, the most important question to ask is “What is the business purpose?”

He shared an example of how one of his clients uses golf events to achieve stellar business results. “A corporate client of mine (a software company) created an event called ‘Revenue Accelerators.’ They brought in their top 10 clients that they were anticipating on closing by a certain date along with 10 existing clients that were running similar applications. Then they paired their customers with the potential clients along with the sales rep and somebody else. For all intents and purposes, we had 10 to 15 groups, and they were all foursomes.”

“They did four of these events within a 30-day period and 30 days after the golf tournament, they closed $15 million in new business. Now, was it totally attributed to golf? No. But did it help the sales cycle along? Yes, it did.”

— Roger Caldwell, Owner and Founder, Great Golf Events, Prairie Village, KS

Caldwell then revealed the smart strategy behind the plan. “They put the potential client and the current client in the same golf cart,” he explains. “Here you are in a non-threatening world — you’re not behind a desk. You get to talk one-on-one with somebody running (the software you’re considering) and you can get the skinny: How’s the sales rep? Does he respond to you? How’s service? How’s tech support? How is the installation process?”

He adds that the golf tournament also gives the prospect an excellent opportunity to learn about the character of the sales rep. “Now you’re playing in the same group with them. Does he cuss when he hits a bad shot? Is he staying sober? Is he talking about his kids? What’s this guy all about?”

The results of these carefully orchestrated foursomes speak for themselves. “They did four of these events within a 30-day period and 30 days after the golf tournament, they closed $15 million in new business,” Caldwell notes. “Now, was it totally attributed to golf? No. But did it help the sales cycle along? Yes, it did.”

He explains that the company’s executive vice president of sales attended every event and made the most of the opportunity to network with clients during the pre-tournament breakfast. “He went to every single table asked questions like ‘What’s keeping you up at night? How can we help?’ And that was important.

“When I talk to corporate entities I always say, ‘Golf is getting them here, but what are we trying to accomplish?’ Then we start talking about venues and budget because the golf course is your No. 1 dollar figure in this whole element.”

The Art of Appreciation

Another common reason for staging a golf tournament is to thank customers for their business. Barbara Cole, administrative assistant, commercial, for Crosstex, an energy company based in Dallas, TX, plans a tournament called the Crosstex Energy Services Annual Customer Appreciation Event. The company limits the tournament to 72 golfers to keep it small enough so that Crosstex employees can have ample one-on-one interaction with their top customers.

This year marks the third consecutive year that Crosstex hosted the event at The Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort in San Antonio, TX. The 250-acre hilltop resort includes two championship golf courses: The Resort Course at La Cantera, which was designed by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf; and The Palmer Course at La Cantera, which was designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer. Both courses deliver spectacular views of the Texas Hill Country, and The Palmer Course includes the Winnie Palmer Memorial Bridge, a touching tribute to Palmer’s late wife.

While the Crosstex event is strictly golf-related, Cole says, “We do have a couple of people that are key customers that are not golfers that are still going to attend.” She described one non-golfer in particular. “I guess he becomes the cheerleader. He rides around on the golf cart with them and enjoys the day with them, as well.” Once the tournament is over, the group meets for dinner and awards, and mingles at The Gantry, the resort’s poolside cafe.

Cole describes what it takes to pull off a successful golf tournament. “Plenty of pre-planning. We definitely allow enough time to send out invites to our customers so they can get it on their calendars, but not too much time to where it goes on their calendar and gets forgotten.”

She says that they do the pairings for the foursomes internally, and then she turns them over to La Cantera’s golf pro. “They’ll make a tournament board for us so when we have our dinner after golf and our awards, we’ve got our pairings up there, and we know the scores and what awards were given out.” She has high praise for the resort’s staff. “They’re great. I come out a day before. They’ll do a walk-through with me on our meeting space. We’ll go out and look at the course and see if there’s anything that has changed or anything that I need to know. We’ll hunt down my boxes and get those transferred into our dinner room and over to the golf course — whatever I need. The golf pro will have people on staff that will help me get the golf carts ready as far as the different things we’ll put on there — the little goody bags. They’ll get the signs made up with the pairings, and they’ll have those all set. We’ll have a check-in table, and we’ll have lunches available and all set up. They take a lot of (tasks) off of me before I get there and even before, as well.

“The golfers love the course,” she continues. “We’re actually flipped this year in terms of which one that we’re doing. I think we’ve got the Palmer first. The Palmer’s harder than the resort (course), but the courses themselves are absolutely amazing. They are top notch.” After two successful years at The Westin La Cantera, she’s looking forward to a third successful event. “There’s no reason for us to look anywhere else.”

Bob Harrington is president of US Tournament Golf based in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. His company plans more than 100 tournaments a year and offers additional event planning services. One of the events he manages is called the Core-Mark Classic.

“Our client, who is a distributor in the convenience store industry, brings in suppliers and their customers for a customer/client/vendor appreciation day. We have a full field, we have breakfast, we have lunch, and they have awards. There’s time for networking to develop new and existing relationships. We have over 120 golfers, and they just play a friendly scramble tournament.”

For the past five years, the event has been held at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa located in Santa Ana Pueblo, NM, just 30 minutes north of Albuquerque International Sunport. The resort is home to the Twin Warriors Golf Club, a nationally ranked, high-desert championship course designed by Gary Panks.

Harrington says his top three reasons for choosing the Hyatt Tamaya are its outstanding golf course, the hotel and the staff. “It’s one of Hyatt’s top properties in the country as far as we’re concerned,” he states. “We’re the event organizer, so we’re the go-between (with) the Hyatt and our client. We want our clients to have a wonderful experience, and there’s no question that the Hyatt is able to provide that. That resort is the best.”

When asked about any trends that he’s seeing in terms of golf tournaments, he commented that people are now more selective. “There are a lot of events out there, and before, they would participate in all of them. Today, they’re very selective on what events they choose.” He says it’s important to find a top destination, put on a well-organized event and create a good networking environment. “People now have higher expectations, and those tournaments (that meet those expectations) are the ones they’re going to participate in.”

Tee Times for Free Time

Golf tournaments are often included as part of a meeting to offer attendees a relaxing way to bond and spend some free time. Jan Lane, director of purchasing and event coordinator for the law firm Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP headquartered in Kansas City, MO, plans an annual retreat for her firm. Every other year, the event is reserved exclusively for partners and counsel.

This year, the firm is holding its retreat at The Broadmoor, a AAA Five Diamond historic resort in Colorado Springs that has been dazzling guests with its elegant accommodations and spectacular Rocky Mountain vistas since it opened its doors in 1918. “This will be the second time that we are holding a retreat at The Broadmoor,” Lane notes. “If we could do it every year there, I’d be happy! The Broadmoor is absolutely just a fantastic venue.”

The firm conducts meetings on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, and then gives attendees free time on Saturday afternoon, which is when the golf tournament is held. The format they use is a shotgun start with a scramble. With a shotgun start, all of the foursomes start at the same time on different holes instead of having everyone start on hole No. 1 and playing through. For a scramble, all four players make their best shots, and then they each play their next shot from the position of the ball with the best lie. “We pair them up based on their handicaps so we have even foursomes throughout,” Lane explains. “We also do contests for lowest score, closest to the pin and the longest putt, things like that.”

The Broadmoor offers 54 holes of golf on its East, West and Mountain courses. “Of The Broadmoor’s three courses, everybody much prefers the East Course,” Lane explains. The East Course, which is known for its wide, tree-lined fairways, is listed among Golf Digest’s Top 100 Public Courses.

Eyes on the Prize

Another question Caldwell asks is “What are we going to do for awards? Do we want to do awards that keep your brand in front of them? There are a lot of different things that come into play here.”

For the software company’s awards, Caldwell arranged to use custom PGA memorabilia. “It was a photo of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger walking in the fairway at Augusta, and then there were other photos we used. Then the plate that went inside the frame was customized with their logo, (the caption) ‘First Place Team,’ the golf course name and the date. Now it became a trophy, plus it’s a piece of memorabilia. It’s not something they’re going to put in the closet or in their desk drawer. They’re going to hang it up on their office wall. Anybody that walks into this person’s office that’s a golfer is going to go to that photo and they’re going to talk about your event. And if it’s a competitor that’s waiting in your office, they’re going to see their competition’s logo on that plate.”

In terms of awards, Cole says, “We do first through third. We do have one for the worst score. I usually just run over to Target or Walmart before and I get a kids’ game. We’ve given a kids’ golf play game, just something fun. We also do a gift card drawing at dinner. We do have some companies that their policies require that they’re not allowed to take those or they have to pay for their own room. (Otherwise) the only thing you have to do for this event is get there. We pay for the rooms, and everything else that night is on us.”

Making It Memorable

In addition to providing his expertise to organize golf tournaments, Caldwell is also a golf entertainer who performs trick shots to keep the crowd engaged. “I go out there and have fun with their guests. I hit a left-handed club right-handed. I have a two-foot driver in my bag. I hit balls out of boxes. I hit with my putter. I’m the guy that they meet on the golf course, and I do a trick shot for them, and then when the last group goes through, I get on another hole and do something on that hole.”

He stresses the importance of adding an element or activity to make the tournament memorable. “What are they going to remember? Are they going to remember hole No. 17 and birdieing that hole, or are they going to remember the entertainer who took a left-handed club and flipped it upside-down and hit it better than they did conventionally? That’s what they take back with them. Are people going to remember great golf events because of how organized the tournament was, or are they going to remember it because they met this entertainer on hole No. 8, and they saw him do this unbelievable shot?”

Caldwell continues, “There are groups and companies out in the world today that hire me and other entertainers like me on a case-by-case basis to entertain their small groups, and what they’re trying to get out of this entertainment is the memory of it and how special it was and how different it was from any other tournament. Golf entertainment is a big business out there. There are guys that will charge what I charge all the way up to $10,000–$12,000 an event. Some are better than others.”

Caldwell spoke very highly of another golf entertainer Dan Boever.” If you’re a golfer and you have a bucket list as a golfer, Dan Boever’s golf show is on the bucket list. He’s the best on the planet that I’ve seen in 15 years. There are guys that can hit it longer than he can, but he won a long-drive championship four years ago, so he’s no slouch. He’s a partner of mine. He’s very entertaining.”

He says that Boever can be scheduled to perform before or after the tournament. “If we use him pre-event, then we stick him with the major sponsors for three or four holes each, and if we do something post-event, we might put him out on a hole to tease them a little bit. The post-event show is a little bit better at times if you have the right logistics for it. Everybody is relaxed, they’re already there, they have a cocktail in their hand. Their spouses may come. Even dinner guests that don’t even play golf love it.”

Golf News

Shingle Creek Golf Club, which is part of the 1,500 room Rosen Shingle Creek resort in Orlando, now offers a custom golf app for iPhone or Android that includes a tee time engine, GPS feature, laser yardage device and other features. The course offers five sets of tees to accommodate golfers of all skill levels.

As representatives of Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, VA, report, “Golf is war, where men and women challenge the course, and the course usually wins. So why not play on a real battlefield?” The resort, located on historic land that saw action in both the American Revolutionary War and Civil War, is home to three 18-hole courses designed by Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Tom Clark and Curtis Strange. It’s even possible that golfers searching for a lost golf ball could find a historic musket ball, instead. Set on 2,900 protected acres along the James River, Kingsmill offers 425 guest rooms and suites.

A company named Golf RFP has launched a website ( designed to connect golf groups with the appropriate golf courses by facilitating the RFP process. The company also can assist with pre-event planning, tournament operations, procurement of entertainers and educators, and provide access to private clubs in some markets.

Swinging for Success

For Caldwell, the most successful golf tournaments are those that stand out from the rest and give the attendees something to talk about. “A golf event is just a golf event unless you make it a little bit different. It’s what they remember most about the event and about your brand.” C&IT

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