A successful golf outing can boost attendee camaraderie, fun and networking that forges professional bonds and friendships.
Planning a successful golf program doesn’t require experience in the sport, however there are several keys to success, according to Maureen Berardi, global events manager with Bain Capital LP, a Boston-based private investment company.
Berardi suggests planners use a golf format that involves everyone; that planners communicate goals to golf course staff; that planners know the skill levels of participants and that planners have a manageable number of golfers.
“The golf outings I organize are approximately 40 to 50 people and our format is ‘scramble’ so that everyone with different skill levels can feel comfortable playing together,” Berardi says. “The ‘scramble’ format works well because groups start and end at about the same time and have more interaction with each other.”
“It is also important to provide details on the group’s goals because it gives the golf pro organizing the tournament insight on the golfing ability and work culture of the group and how many people are hardcore golfers versus those who just want to have some fun,” Berardi says.
Balancing the skill levels of golfers is crucial as it can determine whether or not some attendees enjoy the outing, and perhaps even the entire meeting.
“Those with lower skill levels may feel intimidated by higher-skilled golfers that are competitive,” Berardi says. “Some golfers will opt out of golf and select another activity once they know the other players in their foursomes or pairings are better because they feel uncomfortable. That’s why some of the most challenging details of planning a golf outing involves organizing foursomes because the skill levels are difficult to balance. Another challenge is not understanding the level of difficulty of the golf course itself, which means that some people will be discouraged by how hard it is.”
An essential element of planning a successful golf experience includes providing details to resort golf staff about the event’s goals, whether it’s team building, networking, leisure or just plain fun.
That’s the approach of Paget Kirkland, owner of Lake Worth, Florida-based Kirkland Event & Destination Services Inc., who has planned several golf outings for financial and insurance firms.
According to Kirkland, “Communicating the goal is important because it will set the tone of the event. If the goal is leisure time for attendees, the format will be set for everyone to play their best and to have fun. If the tournament was intended to build business relationships, we would set the pairings to be meticulously organized to achieve that goal.”
Team building was a goal for a golf outing that Kirkland planned for 60 employees of a financial firm last year. Other goals included ensuring that attendees have fun before, during and after hitting the greens. That’s a big reason why Kirkland chose the ‘scramble’ golfing format, which provides even inexperienced players a chance to compete.
Under the ‘scramble’ format, each team has four players. Every player tees off and then hits the second shot from where their best drive landed. After that, all golfers play from where the best of the four shots landed until the end.
“Scramble, in my opinion, is the best format for team building,” Kirkland says. “In addition to keeping the pace of the tournament, it allows golfers to play their best while still giving the beginner level players a bit of boost.”
The 60 golfers arrived for the tournament and got breakfast “followed by time for golfers to warm up,” Kirkland says. “We then had a surprise, fun component with a trick golfer doing some amazing shots, which really wowed the guests. They were then briefed on the format and provided housekeeping notes related to the tournament. During the event, two beverage carts made their way across the course offering drinks and snacks. The carts and beverages were branded for client recognition. Having a photographer take team photos while the group plays is always a nice touch.”
The tournament wound down with relaxation at the clubhouse lounge.
“At the end, an open bar with hors d’oeuvres were served,” Kirkland says. “This allowed slower teams time to catch up and time to collect and calculate their scores. The winners were recognized at that night’s dinner. The group had a good time, partly because the format allowed beginner golfers and experienced golfers to compete on a level playing field.”
Depending on the group, planners may want a pleasurable golf outing with minimal competition, according to Ed Elsner, manager of golf events for Destination Kohler in Kohler, Wisconsin, who has planned several golf events for financial and insurance firms, and who planned such a golf tournament. “The group was for 80 players with a goal of having a little competition, but keeping in mind that they will have a very large mix of skill levels,” Elsner says. The group enjoyed the format as the good players were able to play their own ball and nobody felt like they must win or contribute. We planned a shotgun start, which allows everyone to tee off from different holes simultaneously and finish in a timely manner. That made transportation to the course, and lunch and dinner, easier to plan than when using straight tee time. Everybody arrived on time.”
Advice from golfing experts helped the golfers get the most out of their outing. “The group requested some golf instructors and paid for use of a private portion of the practice facility,” Elsner says. “The instructors gave tips to all and then walked up and down the line giving individual advice when asked. The guests really enjoyed the advice and camaraderie with the golf professionals.”
Top-notch golf instruction, which greatly enhances the experiences of attendees, is available at many resorts, including Ojai Country Club and Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Southern California. The resort offers personalized instruction that’s tailored to events of various sizes, including the “mental game,” a psychological approach to golfing.
At Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, a small golf outing for an insurance company included instruction and focused on an “end-to-end” experience before, during and after golf.
“The insurance agency was looking to have its agents use golf to improve sales,” says Patrick Dill, director of golf at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. “They put together a two-hour instructional clinic, rotating between three stations putting, short game, and full swing followed by three holes played on the course. Cocktails and snacks were served throughout the golf experience followed by a cocktail reception and round table for agents to discuss what they learned and how it could be applicable for business use. The same company used the same format for a customer event to present a life insurance presentation on obtaining potential customers.”
Planning a successful golf tournament requires planners to overcome several potential pitfalls. One of the challenges involves obtaining player handicaps to match players by skill levels.
According to Elsner, “If you are hosting an event that requires a handicap index, this can be a challenge as many golfers do not post scores for handicap purposes or just do not play enough to receive an official handicap. There are many scoring events that do not require handicaps, so they should be considered in such cases.”
Elsner points out another challenge: “If you are a corporate event and the company is paying, your biggest challenge is getting commitments to participate,” Elsner says. “Since it is not their money, you end up with many changes and usually don’t know your final count until the day of the event. This can be tough for planning for competitions and ordering the correct amount of food, gifts, prizes etc.”
Elsner cites common mistakes in other areas:
Beware of golf fees. “If your event is one that needs to collect entry fees, that is always the most challenging,” Elsner says. “There will always be guests who fail to or do not want to pay in advance.”
Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. According to Elsner, “It’s a mistake to assume that what you have done in the past is good and can work at every location. All facilities have different policies when it comes to events and should be reviewed in advance.”
Another potential pitfall involves mismatched pairings, which can involve disparate golf skills as well as playing pace.
According to Kirkland, “Some golfers prefer fast play while others like to take their time. If you put a fast playing team behind a slow playing team, it can be frustrating for the team in the back that’s constantly waiting. It’s also important to factor in what you want to achieve — for example, pairing sales employees to appropriate customers, or pairing all levels of employees together to enhance team-building goals.”
Miscalculating how much time a golf event takes can also leave a sour taste among attendees and cramp the meeting agenda.
Says Kirkland, “Underestimating how long it takes to play a full round of golf is common. So often we have tournaments ending late which, in turn, makes the attendees late or rushed for dinner. Pairings and placement of the pairings can also impact the timing.”
Don’t over-complicate things. “Another mistake is trying to do to many things,” Elsner says. “Most guests just want a good golf experience and do not really care about all the crazy contests. Keep it simple. Keep the real golf experience as the point.”
Don’t single-handedly take on every detail of planning a golf tournament. “The biggest mistake I have seen planners make is not delegating tasks,” says Jeff Larsen, golf sales manager at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. “The most successful events are run by planners who use committees instead of one person trying to take it all on. For example, if a planner is meeting with our banquets team to coordinate dinner and an issue with golf pairings arises, it’s challenging for that one person to juggle both at once. Having several different points of contact increases efficiency and better ensures the event will run smoothly.”
Communicate golf event goals to attendees: “It’s extremely important to communicate the goals to all the guests,” Elsner says. “Some come to play just to support events such as charity fundraisers, and golf is a small reason why they attend. Others are more competitive and prefer a challenging format. Being surprised by the goal, format or style of the event can cause a negative attitude.”
Planners who don’t provide thorough information about their groups make it difficult to get the desired result from the golf experience. That’s why it’s crucial that planners provide every detail from the number of rental clubs required to information about the corporate culture of the financial or insurance firm.
In addition, one of the biggest mistakes first-time planners of golf events make is becoming discouraged by poor attendance. According to Jane Broderick, director of golf at PGA National Resort & Spa, who has organized several golf events for financial groups, “Rome was not built in a day, so sometimes it takes one or two events to fill a course,” Broderick says. “Our best advice is that planners not give up even if the first year is smaller than originally planned. Execute the event, show attendees a great time and the event will grow organically year after year. We currently host events that began as 40-player events that have grown to over 200 players.”
Finally, planners and resort golf experts say that some planners underestimate the golf day from arrival to departure. Traditionally, golf events begin 2-3 hours prior to tee times for pre-golf activities. Total time typically amounts to five hours for most golf events with up to 100 people, including arrival, post-golf activities, scoring, meals and prizes.
From start to finish, an entire golf event could range up to 10 hours. If the golf event drags on too long, or if there isn’t enough time to complete it, there is a chance that attendees will become discouraged and drop out. A key to ensuring that golf events start and finish on time is managing the size. Avoid including too many people in the tournament. “Fifty is the ideal size,” Kirkland says. “This allows spacing between a few holes and prevents having to double up the tees. Everyone already plays at their own pace and having all golfers start at the same time helps reduce the chances of the group waiting for people that started later.”
Picking the wrong golf format can ruin a golf event. When choosing formats, don’t focus on the score-keeping aspect. Instead, select a format that suits the entire group and keeps it entertained. Planners and golf experts cite ‘scramble’ as the most popular format because it is suited for golfers of average or below-average skills, which accounts for most corporate participants. Scramble also lowers the intimidation factor posed by experienced golfers and encourages team building because golf partners must work together. Alternatively, many planners choose the Best Ball format, where everyone plays their own ball but the best score on each hole is counted. This format is also good for team building, in addition to building business relationships. Formats other than ‘scramble’ include ‘closest to the pin,’ in which the winner makes the tee shot from a par-three hole closest to the pin; ‘straightest drive,’ in which the winner lands a shot closest to a line painted down the middle of the fairway; ‘shortest drive’ and ‘longest putt.’ These options can involve separate contests for women and men.
Providing details about the group up front can also lead to suggestions for activities for non-golfers on courses. According to Dill, “We need as much detailed advanced information as possible from planners so we can suggest alternative activities. We have rented out the courses for fun runs, charity walks and runs, biking events, fishing tournaments and group yoga/meditation classes. We also have rented equipment to do laser skeet shooting on our 10th hole.”
Other examples of courses with a slate of activities for non-golfers include Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, which offers Golfboards and Phat Scooters, two types of electric vehicles that allow users to “surf the earth.” Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate features Crane’s Adventure Golf, a family friendly, themed miniature golf course.
A well-planned golf program can enhance attendee experiences on and off the course. However, success requires planners to match group goals and attendees’ golfing skills to the right type of golf program and playing format. When all the parts fit together, golfing attendees will reap the benefits. I&FMM.