Some of the most successful corporate meetings mix business and pleasure in ways that are actually good for business, and great golf & spa resorts enable planners to achieve that effect. When attendees partake of a resort’s recreational amenities, they are not merely getting a break from business. They are refreshing themselves, which tends to improve attention and productivity at the next session. They are often socializing with other attendees, whether at the golf course, tennis court or spa, which can promote cohesiveness among coworkers. And they are building memories of a great overall meeting, which is exactly the impression planners want attendees to leave with.
The recreational amenities of Streamsong Resort, located in the lush, natural environs surrounding the town of Bowling Green in Central Florida, made quite a first impression on the 60-plus sales representatives of Zeno Office Solutions when the company held its annual sales kickoff meeting at the resort in February. Keith Roher, president of Zeno, a division of Xerox, describes the luxury property as “the Ritz-Carlton meets Wild Kingdom” and notes that the hilly terrain, partly manmade from land recovered from a former phosphate mine, gives the Florida-based group a sense that they’re out of state. “Central Florida is pancake flat and all of a sudden at Streamsong Blue’s first hole you’re 150 feet in the air where the tee box is. It gives you a really cool panoramic view in the direction of both sides of the state,” he describes.
Streamsong Red and Blue were ranked No. 1 and 3, respectively, as the “Best Public Golf Courses in Florida” by Golf Digest this year. In the fall of 2017, they will be complemented by Streamsong Black, designed by Gil Hanse, architect of The Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and co-designer of Castle Stuart Golf Links in Scotland. Yet Streamsong offers many other ways to enjoy its scenic location, including bass fishing, sporting clays, nature trails, tennis and an infinity pool. Inside, attendees can rejuvenate in AcquaPietra, the resort’s European-style spa, and choose from three restaurants, including a fine steak house, sophisticated Italian restaurant and a casual American eatery.
The Lodge houses 216 guest rooms that Roher describes as “large, beautiful and modern,” together with an additional 12 guest rooms in the Clubhouse. The resort’s 24,600 sf of meeting space includes 14,000 sf in the main conference center, complemented by 40,000 sf of outdoor event space. Zeno held training sessions in the breakout rooms, and the group was quite pleased with the facilities. “We’re a tech company, and they said you don’t need to bring a thing” in terms of AV equipment, “and that usually worries me, but they had everything ready,” Roher relates. “Being that they built the resort in the last few years, it’s got the latest and greatest, so that made everything go very smoothly.”
“Being that they built the resort in the last few years, it’s got the latest and greatest, so that made everything go very smoothly.” — Keith Roher
After that positive first experience with Streamsong and a kickoff that got all the reps “fired up,” Roher notes evidence that a significant ROI was achieved. “The message that we were trying to convey directly related to 2015 and our expectations from the sales side. And we had our biggest first quarter in probably three years; traditionally the first quarter for us is soft.” Roher also plans to start holding quarterly golf outings at Streamsong with some of Zeno’s current and potential clients in Florida.
Meetings at golf & spa resorts can certainly be conducive to a strong business focus, and another fine example is Greene, New York-based Raymond Corporation’s meeting at Kingsmill Resort, in Williamsburg, Virginia. More than 300 middle- and upper-level managers attended the Summit, which includes a variety of workshops and “a lot of movement,” says Eric Montalvo, project manager customer solutions at The Raymond Corporation, a global provider of material handling solutions. “The meeting aspect of it is very important to us. We look at IACC-certified facilities for that very reason, to make sure the meeting space is adequate, that everything is ergonomically correct, that the AV is good, and so on.”
Kingsmill’s staff also was very adept at fulfilling the event’s logistical needs, Montalvo adds. “Many of our workshops are tailored to go in certain directions, but they can change, so there are times when we are changing room dynamics on the fly. And they were very accommodating in that regard; they did a great job of giving us space that we weren’t allocating at one point for additional planning sessions. From a meeting perspective they were on the ball.” The AAA Four Diamond, 425-room resort offers a 16,000-sf conference center.
On the less formal side, business objectives also were achieved. “The second level of this (program) is the learning process continuing in the evening, and the Kingsmill has all of those nooks and crannies where people can network and talk about best practices. Of course the golf courses come into play there as well,” Montalvo explains. Kingsmill offers two public 18-hole courses, the River Course and Plantation Course, complemented by a new, million-dollar spa with views of the James River.
Golf and spa are two amenities that often serve as touchstones for attendees: Even when groups venture to an unfamiliar destination or resort, they will get a sense of comfort from the presence of these well-known recreational options. Maryville, Tennessee-based Clayton Homes, for example, had almost always taken incentive groups to the Caribbean, but for their latest program, upper management decided to “look at unique domestic destinations that maybe their people haven’t been to before,” explains Erica White, account executive at Knoxville-based Liaisons Meetings & Incentives, who planned the program. The chosen destination was the coastal town of Rockport, Maine, home to Samoset Resort on Penobscot Bay.
While an oceanfront property, the AAA Four Diamond resort is quite a departure from the Caribbean locales the group was accustomed to. Nonetheless, its golf and spa amenities gave attendees “the resort experience they were used to in the Caribbean,” White says. The Samoset’s golf course celebrated its centennial in 2002, and its spa is designed to reflect the coastal Maine environment. “We held tee times each morning attendees could sign up for, and those were always filled,” she adds. The property houses 178 accommodations and more than 20,000 sf of function space, including the 6,000-sf Knox County Ballroom.
Activities for the 230 guests included a welcome reception with a lobster bake and yard games such as croquet, schooner sailings and a farewell evening at the Cellardoor Winery. “We set up dinner and dancing out in the huge lawn area between the winery building and the vineyard,” White relates. “The only issue is that the winery has a 9 p.m. noise ordinance, so no music is allowed after 9 p.m.
“By the end of the program, every person came up to me and said how amazing the experience was and that this was an area of the United States that they would have never seen if it wasn’t for this program,” she says. “It has inspired Clayton Homes to look at more domestic locations in unique areas of the United States.”
One part of the country that planners often look to for great golf & spa resorts is Arizona, whose dry climate and picturesque desert terrains lend themselves to these activities. Boulders Resort & Spa in Carefree worked as a fine retreat for sales representatives of Santa Clara, California-based Gigamon. “One of the reasons we chose the Boulders is its location; we want everyone to concentrate on our meeting and don’t want too much distraction,” comments Anna Moraleda, global event planner for the network visibility solutions developer. The site choice is a proven one, as Gigamon held its sales kickoff at the resort for the fourth time this January. The globally based attendees broke off into foursomes for a shotgun-start golf tournament at one of the Boulders’ two 18-hole courses, and competed for prizes in traditional events such as closest to the pin and longest drive. In addition, “many of the ladies in my group used the spa, including myself. I love that you can decompress at the spa after a stressful event,” Moraleda says.
While the Spa at the Boulders is formidable at 33,000 sf, the resort also is well-stocked in indoor and outdoor function space. The 50,000 sf includes the 17,800-sf Tohono Conference Center, with flexible floor plans. “One of the things I love about the Boulders is their flexibility of meeting space, so we had several outdoor events,” Moraleda says. In addition, “our general session room and a couple of the other meeting rooms we used had natural lighting.” Attendees also were invigorated by the cuisine, which “is not your typical hotel food; it’s not greasy and is geared toward healthy living,” she adds. “Many of my attendees are very health-conscious.” The F&B staff also is very resourceful in terms of providing varied culinary experiences. “We did Argentinian food this year because we’re going there for the incentive trip, and then the year prior to that, we did a Great Gatsby theme, so they created dishes that were popular in the 1920s.”
The Topa Topa mountain range forms a dramatic backdrop to the 308-room Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a AAA Five Diamond property situated on 220 acres about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. The legendary inn features a George C. Thomas-designed golf course and a Spa Village, home to the 31,000-sf Spa Ojai. The spa recently paved a new road to wellness with the introduction of cocoon-like Somadomes, personal meditation pods that use LED color therapy, binaural beat meditation and microcrystalline tiles to induce enhanced levels of relaxation. For attendees who prefer a more low-tech approach to wellness, there’s full moon yoga and personal mandala sessions.
Also new to the resort is an adults-only pool and lounge, with a spacious VIP cabana. A new signature Italian kitchen concept restaurant, Olivella and Vine, features a new culinary team and a new menu featuring seasonal ingredients sourced locally from the region and from the inn’s own onsite vegetable garden.
The resort’s renamed historic center, the 1923-era Wallace Neff Heritage Bar & Courtyard — formerly Neff Lounge — was refreshed, and its newly expanded courtyard boasts oversized fireplaces and cushy seating, making it a welcoming space for networking events. Ojai Valley Inn Spa offers a total of 35,000 sf of function space.
Arizona’s resorts are known for many outdoor activities beyond golf, in particular hot-air ballooning, horseback riding and jeep tours. St. Louis, Missouri-based Belden Inc. offered the latter two activities during leadership meetings at the Wigwam in Phoenix. But golf is still a prominent feature of the programs, given that out of 90 attendees, about 35 are golfers, notes Tina Hennessy, executive assistant to the CEO at Belden, a manufacturer of networking, connectivity and cable products. “My CEO is an avid golfer, so oftentimes when a property is selected, the determining factor would be their golf course,” she explains. The Wigwam certainly delivers on this front with three 18-hole championship courses, the Gold, Patriot and Heritage. The first two courses, designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones, Sr., are celebrating their 50th anniversary. In addition, the 331-casita resort boasts a 26,000-sf Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa and four pools.
With 100,000 sf of total function space, including the 10,800-sf Wigwam Ballroom and 25 separate meeting rooms, the AAA Four Diamond Wigwam offered plenty of meeting options for the relatively small group. Eateries include Litchfield’s, Red’s Bar and Grill and al fresco dining at the Wigwam Bar. “I try to get the group outside for all their meals. Our meeting is in February, and my CEO and I are from the Midwest, so it’s very nice to get out there and see the flowers and enjoy the outdoors,” says Hennessy. Groups that really want to feel close to nature can gather at Sunset Point, an Old West-inspired outdoor venue with a panoramic desert backdrop, or an events lawn that accommodates up to 300 guests.
The resort has recently completed a $15 million renovation that updated its interior design scheme with a Southwestern color palette and motifs, as well as historic photography and Arizona artifacts. Guest rooms also have been upgraded with new custom furnishings, state-of-the-art LCD televisions, granite-top vanities in the bathrooms and more. “The feedback we got from some of the attendees was that the property was a little dated,” notes Hennessy, so the renovation is a welcome development. Red’s Bar & Grill, celebrating its 85th anniversary, also debuted new décor and furniture in February,
Last November, Scottsdale’s 496-room Talking Stick Resort, an enterprise of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, completed an expansion of its casino-level lounge, Palo Verde. The new venue’s upper level features LED staircases, oversized couches, coral tables and seating for more than 100 guests. It also features a second full bar and deejay booth for live entertainment. The Talking Stick Resort Golf Club, adjacent to the resort, is one of Arizona’s finest golf clubs, with North and South courses designed by renowned architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. The Spa at Talking Stick, a 13,000-sf open-air venue on the 14th floor, highlights the use of products made with ingredients that are culturally significant to the Pima-Maricopa Indians.
Talking Stick Resort’s 100,000 sf of function space offers groups 21 meeting rooms available in a variety of room configurations; its 25,000-sf grand ballroom can be divided into eight separate rooms. Private dining for groups is available at Talking Stick’s signature restaurant, Orange Sky. Located on the 15th floor with floor-to-ceiling windows, Orange Sky offers 360-degree views of the valley that attendees can “pair” with an award-winning wine list. One of the features that distinguishes Talking Stick is its robust live entertainment, including many classic rock acts such as Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick at its Summer Concert Series. The resort’s 650-seat Showroom features cutting-edge sound and lighting, and The Pool is a new outdoor performance venue.
2014 was a big year for Key Largo’s exclusive Ocean Reef Club, situated on 2,500 tropical acres in the upper-most of Florida’s chain of islands south of Miami. The resort updated its 30,000 sf of meeting space with new carpet and wall finishings along with new in-ceiling AV. Newly added were a 12,000-sf spa, the new Beach Grill casual lunch spot on Buccaneer Island, and a golf academy with digital coaching software. The 36-hole golf course received some touch-ups including new Bermuda grass and an expanded chipping/putting practice area.
The Ocean Reef Club will debut new meeting and function space in early February 2016. The new meeting space will feature a state-of-the-art, 5,500-sf ballroom; five breakout rooms, all with natural light; a 3,000-sf interactive cooking school and related teambuilding programs; and wraparound outdoor decks with breathtaking views of the marina.
The private, full-service resort, which boasts its own private airstrip, has a range of accommodations that include 175 inn rooms, 100 spacious one-, two- and three-bedroom villas, and private homes. The resort also offers a range of group activities beyond golf & spa: Angling aficionados can experience deep-sea, flats, reef or backcountry fishing off the shores of the resort, which features a 175-slip marina. Other group activities can include chartered yacht dinners, beachside events, eco-tours and teambuilding programs such as golf cart scavenger hunts, cardboard boat regattas and beach olympics, to name a few.
Even at resorts known primarily for their golf and spa amenities, there are typically many other recreational options, not to mention some of the country’s best restaurants. A business-centric way to view these numerous amenities is not as distractions from meeting content, but as conversation-starters among attendees. The formality of a general session or training workshop seldom puts participants at ease to really get to know their colleagues, but sharing time on the golf course, refreshments by the pool, or an evening entertainment experience can foster a camaraderie that translates to a better working relationship.
Keith Roher, for example, perceives the meeting at Streamsong as “a chance for attendees to get to know some of the other reps around the state that they don’t see on an everyday basis.” Why not optimize that opportunity with a setting that lets attendees bond over various experiences outside of the conference room? Apart from communicating sales goals and business direction for the coming year, “I wanted everyone to drop their shoulders, relax and have fun,” Roher asserts. C&IT