Meeting planning can be a complex affair, but when it comes to coordinating group golf programs, planners can to an extent “leave it to the pros.” In her six years of planning meetings for Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Farm Bureau Insurance, Jennifer N. Meyer, director of agency services, has found that “usually the golf pros are really good at what they do” and the director and staff can autonomously handle a multitude of tasks relating to the tournament.
Her most recent experience with this expertise was at La Torretta Lake Resort & Spa in Montgomery, Texas, about 40 minutes outside of Houston. Louisiana Farm Bureau Insurance held its Sportsman’s Holiday incentive trip at the resort in September, and the agents enjoyed a Ryder Cup-format golf tournament on the lakeside course. The services of La Torretta’s PGA-certified staff are myriad, including pairing sheets, registration, personalized cart placards, pre-event announcements, scoring and customized scoreboards, conducting special contests, bag drop, sponsorship signage, prize distribution and more. That’s quite a lot of details that a planner needn’t stress over, and golf pros will even advise on which tournament format and course (when there is a choice) will best suit a group’s skill level and goals.
When golf is a key recreational component, however, course choice can inform site selection for the meeting itself. An incentive trip for avid golfers, for example, will be more motivating when qualifiers are scheduled to visit a resort with a famous course, especially one they haven’t played. And here again a planner can rely on the advice of the pros, namely upper management and agents: Which resort courses are on their bucket list?
“We want them to be healthily competitive with one another in the office, and that kind of transfers over to the greens.”
— Jennifer N. Meyer
Louisiana Farm Bureau Insurance, Meyer notes, is considering the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, for a future program in part due to the famed TPC Sawgrass course (home of the PGA Tour’s Players Championship). Last year the group played on the Torrey Pines Golf Course (home of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open), adjacent to the AAA Five Diamond Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California. While the agents commented it was a very challenging course, it was definitely one of their “must plays,” she says. Courses such as “TPC Sawgrass, Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach are all places where the masters have played and (sites of the) great golf tournaments that you watch on TV, so getting to play some of those courses is a big incentive.”
The near future will bring new resort courses to the Southeast that will surely incentivize many agents. In White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, The Greenbrier is developing an 8,042-yard, 18-hole mountaintop championship golf course. Set to open next fall, the course will be designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino — the first-ever collaboration among these greats of the game.
Out West in Arizona, the AAA Four Diamond Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa offers newly rejuvenated bunkers and greens on its 27-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature desert golf course, framed by the Santa Catalina mountains. Nongolfers can experience the beauty of the desert on the resort’s Sonoran Desert Walkway, offering an educational glimpse into the flora and fauna of the desert. The resort also recently underwent a $35 million rejuvenation encompassing all 487 guest rooms and 64,000 sf of meeting space.
In Central Florida, Streamsong Resort is building Streamsong Black to complement Streamsong Red and Blue. Scheduled to open in autumn 2017, Streamsong Black will be 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, among other prestigious courses. The new course will stand apart from the Red and Blue courses and challenge players with rolling elevation changes, accented by native grasses and panoramic views of ridges and the surrounding landscape. Yet Streamsong’s existing courses are already strong draws for experienced golfers, having recently been named to Golf magazine’s list of “Top 100 Courses in the U.S.” In less than three years since opening, the courses have garnered accolades from Golfweek and Golf Digest as well.
Also in Florida, the Innisbrook Golf Resort’s famed Copperhead Course recently reopened after a six-month restoration. Managed by Salamander Hotels & Resorts, the Copperhead is one of the 10 resort courses that constitute the company’s new Salamander Golf Collection. (Salamander is offering a variety of packages to entice groups to play all 10, including Salamander Resort & Spa’s new golf package with the acclaimed Creighton Farms Golf Club, a Nicklaus Signature Design, located in nearby Aldie, Virginia.)
Yet another golf hotbed in Florida is the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, where attendees enjoy golf privileges at four championship Sandestin golf courses — Baytowne Golf Club, Burnt Pine Golf Club, Raven Golf Club and The Links Course — as well as The Dunes putting course at Sandestin. Irving, Texas-based SEI Meetings & Incentives planned an incentive program for an insurance and financial company at the Hilton Sandestin in July.
Among the 600 total attendees (including families) were many avid and casual golfers who participated in a tournament on the Raven course, relates Lisa Lisenbee, senior account director with SEI. Contests such as closest to the pin and ladies’ and men’s longest drive were part of the outing. “They are very competitive, and we don’t announce our winners at the course; we wait until later that afternoon to post it on our hospitality desk, and people are chomping at the bit to know,” says Lisenbee. “We also build a lot of competitiveness and engagement through our mobile app.” For example, an event app can be used to send teasers to golfers about the upcoming announcement of the winners.
In North Florida, the AAA Five Diamond Ponte Vedra Inn & Club aims to spur good-natured competition with its new Shoot for the Pin activity for groups of up to 25. Each attendee receives two balls to hit from the first hole tee box toward the resort’s famed ninth hole on the Ocean Course, and attendants measure which shot is the closest. A scoreboard and prizes also are available. The contest allows plenty of time for socializing and networking while other guests tee off. In general, building camaraderie among a sales team is a well-known benefit of golf, which affords the space for conversations. Yet at the same time, the sport fits with their competitive natures. “Camaraderie is a big benefit, and healthy competition is good,” says Meyer. “We want them to be healthily competitive with one another in the office, and that kind of transfers over to the greens.”
For Lisenbee’s client, the golf outing was an opportunity for senior management to “spend some quality time on the course just to get to know certain reps a little better and what motivates them. They have offices all over the U.S., so they don’t really get that one-on-one time.”
Mindy Gunn, vice president, meeting and event planning manager, with Wells Fargo Bank NA in Scottsdale, Arizona, suggests a way to enhance the social component. “If your group has more seasoned golfers, consider adding a club or ball fitting to get golfers to arrive early and increase networking opportunities,” says Gunn, who has derived many of her ideas on planning golf events from consulting with Mark Stutes of Type A Marketing. “Ball fittings (the process of finding the best ball for a player’s game) have become very popular because they can include a free sleeve of balls, don’t take much time and are a little less ‘personal’ than club fittings. It really depends on how much you are planning to invest.” Gunn’s most recent golf event was Wells Fargo’s employee recognition meeting at the TPC San Antonio, which included a casual tournament with optional scramble for 60 golfers.
While the resort’s golf staff typically handles most of the logistics surrounding the tournament, there are certain best practices for planners that can ensure the event runs smoothly. The first step is to make the golf event scheduling part of the contract. “Usually I write it into the contract that we’re going to want to play golf on Tuesday with an 8:30 a.m. start, for example,” says Meyer. “Some clubs are closed on Mondays or they only allow members to play in the morning. So you want to make sure that all those details are not going to be a problem.”
Relaying all the logistical details to participants is also vital. “Tell them what to expect, what time to be where, (and when to arrive) if they want to hit golf balls beforehand to warm up,” advises Lisenbee. “Let them know what time the first shuttle and last shuttle runs, and provide them the address as well if some will drive themselves over to the course.”
With so many great courses in warm climates such as Arizona and Florida, corporate golfers may find themselves battling too-hot temperatures on occasion. Scheduling the outing as early as possible can help. “We try to do very early tee times when we do golf in August,” says Meyer, usually as early as the course will open, 7:30 for instance.” The golfers who were part of Lisenbee’s client group at the Hilton Sandestin thoroughly enjoyed the course but “were sweating from being out there all day,” she recalls. “We do start early with an 8 a.m. shotgun, so we get them out there before it gets extremely hot. But we also take precautions, such as having plenty of branded water on the carts.”
Particularly on warm days, planners should “make sure the course has enough beverage carts to service the group — request additional staff if needed,” Gunn suggests. “The courses don’t always volunteer it but will typically provide it if asked.” The availability of bottled water throughout the course is always well appreciated, she has noticed, as is “a ‘goodie bag’ on each cart with the basics: a healthful snack, sunscreen, lip balm, bug spray (if in an area that needs it), etc.” One word of warning: “Never give out sunflower seeds (they wreak havoc on the greens), greasy chips or anything messy (cleaning your hands or getting it on your gloves is no fun),” she says.
When it comes to gifts for golfers, some of Gunn’s favorites include: “shoe bags, preferably compact and simple ones that players can take home easily; and a divot repair tool, which is great if you have a group that’s traveling and renting clubs. For high-value groups, consider bringing in a choice of sunglasses, shoes, shirts, etc.,” including appropriate choices for female golfers.
It’s also important to cater to nongolfers by booking a resort with a variety of recreational options, whether other sports, spa or exploring the local area. La Torretta Lake Resort & Spa, for example, is located about 20 minutes outside of the Woodlands, “which is a really good area for shopping,” Meyer says.
Boating also was popular. “Many of our agents from South Louisiana brought their own boat, which they could dock at the hotel for free.” Given that about half the group was comprised of nongolfers, it was important that the incentive destination offer plenty of activities for them while the others were on the greens.
Between nongolfers and the golf aficionados are the casual players and beginners, and Gunn shares several tips for making these participants feel comfortable. Planners can offer “a casual day of play, with no scores and free drops. They also might consider side games on the greens: blackjack for a sleeve of balls, putting contests on reachable greens, etc. A wine/bourbon/tequila tasting on a green can be a fun addition,” she says. But she cautions not to “overwhelm your players with paid contests for a corporate outing.”
A golf-related game that can put golf aficionados on par with the beginners and casual players is Footgolf. Developed in the mid-2000s, Footgolf is essentially golf played with a soccer ball, where players kick their way through a course of nine or 18 large “cups” instead of golf holes. Reunion, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort, introduced Footgolf this summer on its award-winning Watson Course, a Tom Watson Signature Design. “We are thrilled to introduce FootGolf at Reunion,” said Kevin Baker, director of golf for Reunion Resort, in a statement. “It is a great sport for families and can be played in a fraction of the time as a traditional round of golf. It also provides a youthful and exciting aspect to the game.” Planners can offer a round of Footgolf where golf pros, casual players and beginners, and even nongolfers can all get out and experience a great course together.
Brock Bulbuck, president and CEO of Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Boyd Group Income Fund, notes that “we have a broad range of golf skillsets” among the attendees of the company’s leadership meeting held annually at The Wigwam in Litchfield Park, Arizona. That calls for “more of a fun event than a serious golf event. We play golf one afternoon during 2½ days of meetings. It’s just a very informal, low-key Texas scramble to ensure speed of play.” (The Texas scramble requires that at least four drives of each of the four team members be used during the round, thus getting the weaker drivers into the game.) Having partnered with The Wigwam for seven years, the group has found that “many of the staff that are serving us there currently were there seven years ago. They know us, we know them, and it just makes for planning and execution much easier and much more seamless,” Bulbuck comments.
The resort also has kept its Gold Course (nicknamed the “Arizona Monster”) well maintained, he observes. “The course has improved over the years, (as they) continue to upgrade its quality, conditions and playability.” This year marks the 50th anniversary of both the Gold and Patriot courses, and the former underwent an extensive renovation and redesign this summer. “With this update, the course is more playable for the average golfer while continuing to challenge even the most accomplished player,” asserted Leo Simonetta, director of The Wigwam Golf Club, in a statement. The Wigwam consulted with Tom Lehman, former British Open champion and winner of numerous PGA Tour events, in revamping Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s original design.
Here again, a planner effectively relies on the expertise of the pros to ensure that attendees’ experience on the greens is top notch, which reflects positively on the meeting as a whole. I&FMM