Meeting planners are always looking to plan the perfect program. Yet, chances are, something will always go wrong.
Several years ago, Chuck Lane, now strategic consultant for incentive travel at Humana, was planning a golf program in which he specifically requested the golf course to provide two beverage carts for his group.
The carts were dutifully provided, but there was just one problem — they came without any beverages. While he had asked for the beverage carts, Lane was informed, he had said nothing about beer or soda.
Another time Lane organized a tournament for a group in Aruba and arranged for a local DMC to provide a motor coach that would run on a continuous loop between the golf course and the group’s resort. “But to my chagrin — and that of my CEO,” Lane recalls, “the bus driver departed for home after his first run, leaving the CEO and all but about a dozen golfers at the course.”
All of which illustrates, Lane says, “that as a planner you have to cover every detail, because if you take things for granted, you’ll get killed.”
Of course, planning a successful golf program requires more than making sure beverage carts are adequately stocked. It also helps if a planner chooses quality venues and has done everything to ensure that his or her attendees come off the golf course with smiles on their faces.
Mac Deaver, president of Mississippi Bankers Association, has brought the association’s annual meeting to the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort for 10 consecutive years beginning in 2004 and has plans to return in 2014 and 2015.
Each year the convention runs from a Wednesday through a Saturday, consists of two mornings of educational sessions, a business session on the final day, a number of nightly social events, and, of course, a golf tournament. The meeting draws an average of 600 attendees every year and also includes a trade show with 60 exhibit booths.
The reason for the group’s continuing affinity for the property, Deaver says, has everything to do with quality. “It provides an exclusive, upscale venue in a great Gulf Coast setting that is affordable for our association and bank members, accessible by car, and offers a variety of activities that are attractive to attendees,” says Deaver.
And golf is particularly important to the group, and one of the major factors bringing the annual meeting back to the Sandestin year after year. The annual golf tournament is the “centerpiece” of the annual convention, says Deaver. “The sponsored event is a major focal point for the many attendees who are avid golfers, and the variety of courses and the support from the professionals and staffs at these facilities makes for an excellent golfing experience.”
Sandestin offers planners access to four different championship and resort courses. The Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed Raven Golf Club has hosted PGA Champions Tour events, while the Rees Jones-designed Burnt Pine Golf Club is highlighted by a back nine that plays along the Choctawhatchee Bay. Planners looking to offer their groups links-style play have the option of The Links Golf Club, while those looking to add some elevation changes to their group’s golf experience can book the Baytowne Golf Club.
“Compared to a lot of other venues, Sandestin enjoys an advantage in that it offers multiple championship courses on property,” says Deaver. “And the availability of top caliber golf facilities is an important attraction for the golfers — both bankers and vendors — who attend the convention.” In fact, Deaver says, many of his attendees make every effort to use one of the Sandestin courses between convention events, in addition to participating in the annual golf tournament.
Dan Walker, principal and founder of Signature Golf Events in San Diego, CA, says that one of the things that sets a golf program apart is the ability of the planner and property to bring an event “to the next level” in order to create a memorable event.
Walker plans between 70 and 90 golf events annually, many of them for insurance and financial services groups. One property that works well for group programs, says Walker, is Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, CA. With two Tom Fazio-designed championship courses, Walker calls Pelican Hill “one of the premier golf resorts in the U.S.”
What makes Pelican Hill particularly appealing to golf groups, says Walker is that it “excels” at customer service. “It’s a golf resort that is able to provide tournament-style golf courses matched with a great guest experience,” he says. “And the fact they can pull that off is really key.”
The par-71, 7,000-yard Ocean North Course has beautiful ocean views from every tee and was opened in 1993, while the par-70, 6,580-yard Ocean South Course, which opened in 1991, has several holes that run along the ocean’s edge. Each course has five sets of tees so that a planner, with help from Pelican Hill’s golf operations staff — can determine an appropriate level of difficulty so that every participant, no matter what his or her skill level, has an enjoyable day on the golf course.
Walker points out that Pelican Hill also has a forecaddie program, with professional caddies who can inform players about hole characteristics and distances, find golf balls, rake sand bunkers, replace divots, clean clubs, repair golf marks and clean balls, and help players with club selection and reading greens.
Forecaddies “help the advanced player who is looking to improve their scores,” says Walker, “and the beginning golfer who just wants to be more comfortable on the course.” They also help speed up the pace of play, which is a frequent concern for any group golf event.
The larger the group, the more there’s a chance of running into a pace of play issue, and planners persist in the belief that a scramble is the best group format. “I would say about 75 percent of larger groups use a scramble,” Walker says. “But the smaller, more golf-focused groups tend to use best ball (where each player on a team plays his or her ball throughout the round, with the best ball on each hole serving as the team’s score).”
The traditional scramble involves players from a foursome teeing off and using the best shot from the foursome from the tee to the green. A potential problem with a scramble, though, is that it can slow play down and get a little stale as well. A modified scramble could keep things interesting.
One variation Lane has used is called a “shamble,” where groups use the scramble format off the tee, then have each player use their own ball. The advantage of this format is that it gives some help to players who need help getting off the tee.
One variation of a scramble that is used at Pelican Hill involves changing the tee from which a foursome hits depending on the score on the previous hole. So, for example, if a group scores a bogey or worse on a hole they’ll have to hit off a forward tee on the next hole. But, if they score a birdie they have to move back. It’s suggested as a way to speed up play and liven things up a bit. And if groups continue to have pace of play problems, Walker says, a planner can always implement a maximum score policy on a hole.
Groups that are really looking to do something different can always use something like a horse race format. In this format, teams of golfers alternating shots tee-off in a predetermined order on the first tee, with the team with the highest score on the hole being eliminated. This continues on each succeeding hole with the eliminated teams serving as a gallery to cheer on the remaining teams. The last team standing wins.
According to Lane, this format encourages teamwork and camaraderie, but, since it’s possible that a team could get eliminated on the first hole of play, it should only be part of an event that includes several days of golf.
One thing that can give a golf program a little bit of a “wow” factor, says Walker, is the incorporation of electronic scoring. He’ll give each team their own iPhone with a scoring app that allows tournament foursomes to track in real time how they’re doing. “It’s something that gives everyone something to talk about and really builds camaraderie,” he says.
For groups looking to put on a quality program, one of the most prestigious monikers in the world of golf is TPC — or the Tournament Players Club network of golf courses.
These are golf courses that were specifically designed to serve as host venues for PGA Tour events and have got “great brand recognition,” Walker says. “So when you take a group to a TPC course, you know you are going to be providing them with high-quality, high-expectation, tournament-style golf.”
TPCs arouse those kinds of expectations because the numerous PGA Tour events they host get plenty of TV coverage, enhancing their appeal for groups looking to play on the same championship golf courses that professionals such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson play.
There are a total of 34 TPC courses, 18 of which are resort or daily-fee properties, and 16 of which are private clubs. Those 18 resort/daily-fee properties are open for group business and include some of the most popular destinations in golf. The 16 private TPCs are available on a more restrictive basis. This year, TPC courses will host 23 Champions Tour, PGA Tour or Web.com Tour events.
The most popular TPC courses in terms of group play are TPC Sawgrass, TPC Las Vegas, TPC Scottsdale, TPC New Orleans, TPC San Antonio and the Old White TPC Greenbrier. They’re all resort/daily-fee courses, so groups are a core business at those courses.
The courses Walker most frequently books include TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, TPC Las Vegas, TPC Scottsdale, TPC Sawgrass and PGA West in Palm Springs.
Walker brings groups to one of the TPC courses an average of once a month and says that despite the fact that each venue is a demanding test of skill for professionals, they are still playable for typical corporate groups that include golfers with a wide range of ability.
Each course provides a “great experience for the scratch golfer, but won’t frustrate the average golfer,” Walker says, adding that the key is not changing the course to fit different levels of play, but making the right decisions on how groups play each course, such as whether they use the right tees and the right formats.
Playability is something TPC courses have tried to address over the years by, for example, eliminating men’s and women’s tees and replacing them with multiple tees to ensure that players have the option to hit from places commensurate with their abilities, which leads to a more pleasurable group golf experience. Some TPCs even have “family tees,” which effectively creates courses that are extremely playable for children and adults just getting into the game.
All of which can help get all of their attendees — experienced and inexperienced golfers alike — comfortable and at ease on the golf course. And once they’ve achieved that, they’ve gone a long way towards creating a successful golf program.
They just have to remember to order the drinks. I&FMM