Golf resorts such as Rosen Shingle Creek Orlando remain popular as planners continue using the game to attract attendees.
Putting together an incentive program rewarding top producers for their over-the-top results is a challenge. Add to the mix the simultaneous task of offering such an enviable event that it entices attendees to re-create their prime performances ensuring qualification the following year, and the assignment morphs from a mission to an uber undertaking.
So, what’s a planner to do? The answer lies in a four-letter word, though not an inappropriate slang, mind you. The answer is golf. Today’s in-the-know planners who capitalize on the game’s ever-growing popularity by incorporating golf into meeting agendas are realizing results.
Here’s the deal. By luring employees who only dream of playing some of the nation’s most celebrated courses with the promise of an actual visit to one of these resorts, company contenders are upping their games — professional ones, that is.
Of Jack Henry and Associates, Inc.’s once-a-year recognition event for its top 125 performers (and their guests) — an all-expenses-paid golfing trip to Southern California’s Ojai Valley Inn — Steven W. Tomson, the corporation’s general manager, sales/marketing, says: “I’ve been hosting this event for 12 years and it is a ‘must-do’ bucket list item for not only my fellow associates, but also for their spouses and significant others who treasure the lifetime memories and friends created by this yearly rendezvous.”
The results are in with Forbes recently distinguishing Jack Henry — one of the country’s leading providers of technology solutions — as America’s 12th-Best Large Employer in 2018. As planner of his company’s annual outing, Tomson says: “I oversee the entire sales and marketing organization — approximately 400 professionals — and this incentive is a meeting/pleasure reward for those whose efforts are responsible for our year-after-year growth in sales success.”
Why Ojai Valley Inn one might wonder? Tomson’s answer is simple and singular: “Climate first and foremost.” He explains that with Jack Henry’s fiscal year running July 1 through June 30 the goal is to unleash this celebration as soon as possible in recognition of the past year’s success, thus the meticulously-timed late July/early August event. “With qualifiers from all over the country, we want temperate weather, gentle breezes and overall comfort, and the Ojai Valley offers that combo and more,” says the planner of this Spanish Colonial-style resort with its red-tile roof, white plaster walls, innumerable arches and terra-cotta floor tiles throughout.
Tomson describes the Ojai golf course as a premier layout with full utilization of the topography.
“It’s not an over-designed resort course but a throwback to a purer period of time when precision, patience, touch and feel were the centerpieces of golf — long before the days of ‘grip it and rip it.’”
An additional back-in-the-day feature is the tradition of caddie services. Recognizing its uniqueness are Golf Magazine, which named the course’s Hole #2 among the “World’s Greatest Holes” and Golf Digest’s award of 4.5 stars and the acknowledgement of the course as one of “75 Best Golf Resorts in North America.”
Beyond golf, however, is a plethora of enticements. On-property inclusions are apiary and immersive beekeeping programs as well as The Farmhouse at Ojai, the resort’s new culinary event center. There’s also easy access to Pacific Ocean beaches and cities such as Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Add to the mix off-road jeep tours, horseback riding, wine tasting in Ojai Valley, Santa Barbara sailing and city excursions and even biking to the beach (though 10 miles, it’s all downhill with the option of wine tasting at the end).
“There’s never a ‘most-popular’ activity,” Tomson says. “Our group ranges from 25 to 65 years old and from subdued to thrill seekers, but what I most enjoy hearing at the closing dinner are spousal demands: ‘You better make your sales quota this year because I want to come back next summer.’” The planner’s assessment: “For those who want to journey out and take on the great outdoors — Ojai is perfect.” He continues: “And for those who want to simply relax and reconnect with their loved one — Ojai is perfect.”
Designed in the 1920s by George C. Thomas Jr. (also architect of the Riviera, Bel Air and Los Angeles Country Club courses), Tomson’s advice to other planners considering golf at Ojai is specific.
“Connect closely with your designated corporate sales representative, in addition to Mark Greenslit, the course’s director of golf since 1995 (also an award-winning PGA Class-A Member).”
The team is comprised of complete professionals, engaged in not only the skill of the game but in the spirit of the experience. They will serve as tremendous ambassadors on behalf of the course, the resort and the community in which the Ojai Valley Inn is the centerpiece.
Bottom line for the Jack Henry exec: “I’m a 16 handicap and play golf for the pure joy of being outdoors, enjoying the views and experiencing the venues, but most importantly for the laughter with friends and strangers alike. I’ve teed up all over the world and like to say, I’ve played some of the worst golf on some of the greatest courses. But I’ve never had a bad round because of those with whom I’ve shared the experience.”
With respect to golf at the Ojai Valley Inn,Tomson says, “It is an especially wonderful, memorable, peaceful, rewarding and comfortably challenging happening for all who play — regardless of skill level.”
Concurring with Tomson’s bucket list assessment is Kim Sky, CMP, manager, strategic corporate meetings and events for Chicago-based company CNA, a property casualty insurance corporation with a more than 100-year history working with various corporate industries.
Having selected Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, as site of CNA’s April 2018 National Sales Meeting for a group of 65, she shares one piece of the selection-process puzzle.
“Among the various outdoor recreational options is a premium golf experience — the noteworthy Copperhead course — host course of the PGA TOUR’s Valspar Championship and a ‘must play’ on most golfers’ bucket lists.”
The setting is pristine. Near the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s West Coast, the rolling terrain is punctuated with tall pines and stands of cypress; and among its nearby attractions are the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay amusement park, charter fishing and more. But for Sky, it started with airlift. Located about 25 miles from Tampa, the impressive array of airlines servicing the area (including Air Canada, American Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines and Southwest) is important to the company with locations in Canada and Europe, as well as the United States.
Though arriving with a trio of goals — to review past performance, strategize a future action plan and facilitate team building — prime-time down time was critical to the meeting’s success.
“The resort offers everything in a nutshell, from various-sized conference center buildings to beautifully landscaped outdoor dining and activity areas,” Sky says. “The setting provides a perfect balance for the group — allowing attendees to focus on their objectives, while also affording them a natural escape to clear their heads.”
Important to Sky is that with everything at your fingertips in one location, there’s no need to bus attendees off property. “With Innisbrook’s natural surroundings, spacious condo guestrooms, attentive staff, creative food and beverage, top-of-the-line spa, resort guest shuttle service — all in addition to views that engulf and transport you to another time — this is where you can ‘be in the present.’”
In the F&B scene, the CNA group hosted a chef’s table for the leadership team. “The chef was talented and personable, and the meal was one the team remembers to this day, “ Sky says.
The entire group enjoyed dinner at the on-site restaurant Packard’s Steakhouse. Overlooking the signature Copperhead golf course, this eatery is celebrated for such offerings as aged premium beef steaks, cold-water lobster tails and fresh-from-the-boat fish, all accompanied by Floridian micro-brews.
In addition to Copperhead, Innisbrook has three other courses — all nestled among tree-lined fairways, rolling hills and small lakes and all designed by architect E. Lawrence Packard. Copperhead was designed with the goal of being a fair challenge to all levels of play but also a worthy venue for the pros playing from the tips. The Island Course is equally challenging and distinctly pictographic with Spanish moss swaying from its multitude of trees (it’s the course on which Phil Mickelson won his 1990 NCAA Men’s Championship.) The North Course (also known as “Baby Copperhead”) was enhanced with new greens in fall 2017, and longer is the South Course, which is also sporting new greens.
Of importance to Sky is the golf staff she describes as professional, accommodating and trained to get groups off and running on a timely basis. To best ensure an at-the-top-of-the-game experience the planner offers these tips: 1) Do your homework, 2) Secure course maps, 3) Confirm the player level that best fits each course, 4) Check the reviews and industry awards and 5) Talk with the Pro.
Giving encouragement to planners who may be considering a golf outing at this Florida resort, Sky is definitive: “‘Go for it!’ Some planners shy away from golf, thinking it is only for talented players, but it’s just a small group experience in a beautiful destination — one that brings people together. Innisbrook celebrates the rich history of golf and the courses offer players of every level a chance to be a small part of that history.” So, whether a group has avid golfers or participants only interested in playing in a scramble for fun, Sky deems the resort as one that offers something for players of every level.
Another beckoning southeastern golf getaway is Sea Island, a private, coastal Georgia resort isle and legendary host known for its genial service and genuine hospitality — it is the only U.S. resort to host a G-8 Summit of world leaders. Home to four Forbes Five-Star experiences — accommodations including The Cloister (a 209-room Mediterranean masterpiece) and The Lodge (an intimate, fairway-surrounded 48-room hotel reminiscent of an English manor), The Spa (a 65,000-sf haven of pampering) and the Georgian Room (a restaurant known for its carved stone mantel, hand-painted china and refined Southern cuisine) — its three golf courses are equally impressive.
Originally created in 1929 and redesigned by Tom Fazio in 1999, the Seaside course is complemented by two additional courses, the Retreat (a course redesigned in 2001 by Davis Love III and his brother, Mark) and the Plantation (a course being completely redesigned by Love Golf Design and expected to open in the fall). The early 2019 renovation of the Golf Performance Center includes an all-new 17,000-sf, state-of-the-art center featuring such facilities as six instruction and club-fitting bays and a putting studio designed by Sea Island’s director of putting instruction, Phil Kenyon, an internationally-recognized golfing specialist. Among the destination’s off-the-links options are 5 miles of private beach, a 16-court tennis center, a beach club, yacht club and shooting school.
Sea Island Resort’s sister property, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, has an equally impressive array of awards, from having the distinction of being the longest-running Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond designated resort to hosting innumerable national and international golf tournaments. Its history is rich as this is where Jack Nicklaus won his first major title, the 1959 U.S. Amateur. This history is displayed in the recently refreshed Golf Club’s Heritage Hall, which guides guests and golf members through 100 years of the sport’s history through photos and displays. Though noted for championship courses designed by elites Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones Sr., non-golfing attendees also have options: menu planning with a Broadmoor chef, a pickleball round robin, stair climbing at Seven Falls, fly fishing classes and falconry. Set on 5,000 acres (including its Wilderness Experience properties), there’s the additional accompaniment of 185,000 sf of meeting space, three swimming pools (one outdoor, one indoor and one heated lap pool) and 20 restaurants, cafes and lounges.
Selecting Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Arizona, as site of a January 7-10, 2019, sales meeting of approximately 75 representing MindPlay — a developer of educational software created to teach children and adults how to read (with a special focus on children with dyslexia) — Nora Quintero explains her company’s reasoning. Citing the main factor as staying within budget, while still being able to provide guests with a beautiful resort, Quintero elaborates. “We picked this resort because of location, price, golf course and the quality of the food. We felt Loews Ventana Canyon provided a great meeting location and appreciated the staff’s attention to detail, with one of the most important deciding factors the room accommodations, as other resorts seemed in need of room renovations.”
The resort recently completed a soft goods renovation at its signature restaurant, the Flying V Bar & Grill, this year will see a renovation of the Kiva ballroom and on the golfing front there’s a new fleet of golf carts, as well as a planned clubhouse redo in 2019. There’s also news on the food scene with the innovative culinary concept, Flavor by Loews Hotels. Built on partnerships with local artisan food and beverage vendors, this resort’s Flavor affiliations are the Tucson Tamale Company, Barrio Bread and the Dragoon Brewing Company.
In addition to 36 holes of Tom-Fazio designed championship golf, the resort’s made-in-Arizona group activities include the on-property, half mile Window Walk nature trail, koi pond, certified butterfly garden and stargazing. Giving a special shout-out to the resort’s vistas, Quintero says: “The views of the Santa Catalina Mountains from the golf course, restaurants and rooms were breathtaking. Our guests from the East Coast couldn’t say enough about the Sonoran Desert landscape.”
Sharing an affinity for Tucson is Kari Willis, president and co-founder of E Factor, a company designed to give clients, consumers and guests an “experience” they won’t forget — thus the “E” factor. Having picked Tucson’s The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa as site of a networking event for 100 C-Suite executives in June 2017 and 2018, Willis explains her choice. “This location is unique in that you get a five-star-resort experience and amazing golf, all in one location.”
In her search, she sought specifics: An exclusive resort with more than 18 holes (Westin La Paloma has 27) — allowing attendees to play a different combination of holes over the two days. Additional perks to the planner were multiple on-property locations and the ability to walk to the golf course from the resort.
“The conditions of the course, the climate and the resort all on one property make this a premier event and golfing location,” Willis says. She deems Westin La Paloma “A hidden gem for corporate retreats and conferences.”
Here’s the scoop on the resort’s golf. Featuring 27 holes of Jack Nicklas Signature golf, the Golden Bear originally designed it more than 30 years ago. Golf Digest calls it one of the country’s “Top-75 Resort Courses” and Golf Magazine awarded it a silver medal. Following a $3 million renovation, its La Paloma Country Club facility reopened in December with such amenities as a newly created social putting experience — located adjacent to the patio bar and grill — it overlooks the course and a spectacular mountain backdrop. In addition to everything golf are the resort’s 10 tennis courts, access to eight F&B venues, a state-of-the-art fitness center including a junior Olympic-sized swimming pool, a five-pool aquatic playground with a waterslide and mineral spa and The Red Door salon and spa by Elizabeth Arden.
“The group also enjoyed at-the-pool interaction, evening dinners, s’mores and more,” Willis says.
She shares that between the pool’s water misters, swim-up bar and food and drink, all served up a prime-time environment for a casual afternoon networking session. The resort’s F&B offerings included a barbecue-themed dinner with dinner coming right off the grill directly in front of the attendees, a Mexican Fiesta with custom margaritas and an interactive make-your-own-s’mores night.
“We are a repeat customer with this event at this venue,” Willis says. “Returning to Westin La Paloma has definitely been a motivator for those who look forward to it each year and want to attend. As a firm that travels all over the U.S. doing golf tournaments, this location is top notch — the staff is professional and the courses are beautiful.”
Willis’ tips for summer months: Be sure and secure your group with an early tee time and ensure that a lot of water stations are provided, in addition to cooling towels (which can also make great branded gifts).
Final words: “Details matter! Know your attendees and be sure your tournament speaks to them. If networking is a key component, be mindful of this with your pairings and make certain they go directly into networking time following the tournament,” Willis says. “If there will be vendors set up on the holes, be strategic with the number of these purveyors and their placement so as not to slow the pace of play. Try something new each tournament. And if you want something, ask for it. You won’t get a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ if you don’t ask.” C&IT