Golf resorts succeed in the meetings market when they do not primarily rest on the laurels of a great championship golf course, but consistently strive to attract planners with quality function spaces off the greens.
Excellent temperate weather also plays an important role when planning a golf program, therefore, it’s a good idea to consider resorts in regions that boast 300+ days of sunshine such as Florida, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, California, the Caribbean and many more.
Many of these areas promote themselves as golf capitals of the world, but Florida, with more than 1,000 golf courses, usually takes the prize.
On the west coast of Florida, the popular Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa completed a $5.5 million renovation last February, covering the resort’s 32,000 sf of indoor meeting space, the AAA Four Diamond Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood and the common space of the 400-room Emerald Tower.
A $12.5 million transformation is currently under way, refurbishing all 200 Spa Tower rooms, redesigning the indoor pool, and recreating the main lobby experience.
Given the 598-room hotel’s slew of attractive features for groups, including access to four championship golf courses, these renovations may well be gilding the lily.
Among the insurance firms that have found the resort a draw for incentive trips are the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Louisiana Farm Bureau.
The Missouri Farm Bureau held a family incentive for agents at the Hilton Sandestin last summer (returning this June for the third time), and James A. Perch, marketing resources director for the bureau, notes that “the golf courses there are well maintained, and the hotel provides us with some discounting for our people as far as greens fees, etc.
“When you’re paying for golf at a resort, you’re usually paying more than back home, and you want to get value for your dollar. At the Hilton Sandestin you definitely do.”
The four golf courses also are an advantage. “At least 50 percent of our qualifiers are repeat winners. So we’ve had people who have gone there a couple times and intentionally play a different course each time,” says Perch.
Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa guests have access to four golf courses that wind through the community of Sandestin: Raven Golf Club, Burnt Pine Golf Club, Baytowne Golf Club and The Links Golf Club, which are owned by the neighboring Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort. Baytowne Golf Course holes No. 13, 14 and 15 are located directly in front of the Hilton Sandestin.
“At least 50 percent of our qualifiers are repeat winners. So we’ve had people who have gone there (Hilton Sandestin) a couple times and intentionally play a different course each time.” — James A. Perch
Not only does the Hilton Sandestin offer variety in golf courses, but also in recreational activities overall.
The Louisiana Farm Bureau, which held an incentive program at the Hilton Sandestin last year, is returning to the resort in September. “About 60 of our 120 to 150 attendees are golfers,” says Jennifer N. Meyers, director of agency services for the bureau. “Non-golfers will do charter fishing, for example. And there is a shuttle to the Village of Baytowne Wharf where all those shops and restaurants are, so that really works well for our group.”
The resort offers 32,000 sf of indoor meeting space and 20,000 sf of outdoor deck space. “For our welcome reception last summer, we were able to use their outdoor space right on the beach, which worked wonderfully,” says Meyers.
Florida’s west coast is home to another standout, the Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club in Palm Harbor, part of Salamander Hotels & Resorts’ Grand Golf Resorts of Florida collection, which also includes Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast and Reunion Resort in Orlando.
Like the Hilton Sandestin, Innisbrook offers attendees a choice of four golf courses, including the top-rated Copperhead Course, a favorite of golf tour professionals and the site of many PGA and LPGA tour events.
More than 100,000 sf of meeting space is available at the 600-room resort, which also features the luxurious Indaba Spa.
On Florida’s east coast, near Jacksonville, lies the AAA Five Diamond Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, which boasts the Ocean and Lagoon golf courses. Opened in 1928, the Ocean Course has the distinction of being the first golf course in the region.
Golf can be integrated into group functions at Ponte Vedra. For example, “putting green coffee breaks” and “closest-to-the-pin cocktail receptions” are popular options.
The 250-room Inn & Club offers 30,000 sf of function space (17,400 sf of meeting space), while the Lodge & Club has 13,000 sf of function space and seven meeting rooms.
And one can’t leave out Orlando when highlighting the Sunshine State’s golf resorts, particularly Rosen Shingle Creek, one of Orlando’s finest. The par-72 Shingle Creek Golf Course, named by Golfweek as “One of America’s Top 40 New Courses,” features a David Harman design stretching along historic Shingle Creek, with interconnected waterways and undulating fairways.
The 1,500-room resort boasts 490,000 sf of function space and also is home to the Brad Brewer Golf Academy.
Farther down the east coast is a par-72 golf course accentuated by banyan and royal palm trees at The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa near Fort Lauderdale.
Overseen by Troon Golf, the golf experience includes carts equipped with Prolink GPS, which offers game assistance and allows for food and beverage delivery during play. The 998-room Westin houses more than 200,000 sf of flexible function space, including a 50,000-sf unobstructed Great Hall.
It may be exciting for attendees to tee off on a “Top 40 New Course” such as the Shingle Creek Golf Course, but there is much to be said for the appeal of historic greens.
The Omni Homestead, in Hot Springs, VA, is home to the Old Course, completed in 1892 and featuring the nation’s oldest first tee in continuous use.
American presidents such as Taft and Eisenhower have teed off on the Old Course, while the Cascades Course affords panoramic views of the Allegheny Mountains and has hosted multiple USGA championships and PGA Tour events.
The 483-room Omni Homestead offers groups 72,000 sf of meeting space, and plenty of memorable experiences apart from its fabled golfing, such as falconry, archery, carriage rides and kayaking.
Attendees of Scottsdale, AZ-based Wells Fargo Bank’s recognition program at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa enjoyed local tours and wine tasting in addition to a golf tournament at TPC San Antonio, a 36-hole PGA Tour golf club. Opened in 2010, the Pete Dye- and Greg Norman-designed course is situated on 2,800 rolling acres at the base of the San Antonio Hill Country and is the site of the annual Valero Texas Open.
The scramble tournament “was on a day where all the other activities were four to five hours, so we did a nine-hole tournament in order to work within the time frame we had,” relates Mindy Gunn, CMP, CMM, vice president, meeting and event planning manager, enterprise meeting and event services, Wells Fargo Bank NA.
“The golf itself was recreational, but we paired our hosts (senior leaders) with members of their department in order to facilitate connections within the department. This was valuable to the team members being recognized. It created a casual, fun environment for them to get to know the leadership team.”
Among the advantages of the JW Marriott, Gunn says, are its location (outside a major city), sheer size at 1,002 guest rooms and 265,000 sf of meeting space, and amenities such as the 26,000-sf Lantana Spa.
San Antonio’s Hill Country also is home to another top golf property La Cantera Hill Country Resort. Two championship 18-hole courses are onsite: The Resort Course and The Palmer Course, the latter designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer.
Adjacent to the Resort Clubhouse is a 3,100-sf pavilion with views of the city lights and Texas Hill Country. The 508-room La Cantera houses more than 39,000 sf of meeting space, including a 17,000-sf ballroom, and its design reflects native textiles, artwork and color palettes.
In nearby New Mexico is a golf resort that also is beautifully integrated with its landscape and local culture: The Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa. Situated in Santa Ana Pueblo between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the resort’s Twin Warriors Golf Club rests on land sacred to the Tamayame (people of Tamaya). The high-desert, 18-hole course wends its way around 20 ancient cultural sites at the base of the Sandia Mountains; there is, for example, an abandoned horse corral off the 17th fairway.
The club’s director of instruction, Sandy Lemon, is both an LPGA and PGA professional and a 28-year veteran of the golf industry. The 350-room Hyatt features more than 21,000 sf of indoor function space and more than 25,000 sf of outdoor function space.
In Mescalero, near Ruidoso, the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino offers a little extra “game” beyond the greens, ranking 23rd in Golf Digest’s “Top 40 Casino Golf Courses.”
Its Ted Robinson-designed, 18-hole championship golf course features an island fairway and fast-breaking greens among tall pine trees under the majestic Sierra Blanca Peak. The 273-room resort offers 40,000 sf of meeting space, a 38,000-sf casino, as well as skiing and snowboarding.
One of the world’s top-ranked golf properties, The Resort at Pelican Hill, Newport, CA, gave a sure sign of being serious about both golf and gatherings when it debuted its Golf Pavilion last spring. The 7,000-sf terrace accommodates 500 attendees, who can easily transition from the resort’s two Tom Fazio-designed courses to an al fresco barbecue, reception or a more formal seated gathering for up to 300.
The Pavilion complements the 204-room resort’s 20,000 sf of meeting space, and groups also enjoy golf service that reflects the property’s five-star, five-diamond status, from the clubhouse to the valet parking to the cart amenities, according to Dan Walker, principal of Signature Golf Events. “They have a forecaddie system, which really intensifies and elevates the service level. It’s one caddie for the entire foursome, and their job is to help select clubs, rake bunkers, give participants tips based on how the course is laid out, and so on.” The Pelican Hill Golf Academy also is on hand, offering four different half-day golf schools.
In short, if a group wants to go to a golf resort on the West Coast, “one of my top recommendations is Pelican Hill,” says Walker, who has brought meeting groups from firms such as Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Continental Advisors to Pelican Hill. He adds, “Groups tend to like the South Course because there are three holes right along the ocean. It’s breathtaking. That’s part of the reason you go to California, to see the ocean.
The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson is set amidst the beautiful Sonoran desert. All the bunkers and greens of the 27 holes of La Paloma Country Club’s Jack Nicklaus Signature design were rejuvenated to the tune of $600,000. This update dramatically changed the aesthetics of the golf course, creating the look and feel of a new facility, while keeping the traditions of this award-winning championship layout.
Enchantment Resort in Sedona now provides guests with exclusive access to Seven Canyons, which is ranked among America’s top golf retreats. The Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course is spread across 200 acres that border the national forest and red rock canyons.
The championship course offers groups the opportunity for innovative teambuilding events designed by the resort’s golf pro to strengthen group dynamics; customized golf tournaments or putting competitions complete with company-branded materials; professional instruction to improve skills; and more.
In addition, Seven Canyons offers groups the Range House — a new venue space — and The Meeting Village at Enchantment Resort offers more than 13,000 sf of dedicated, flexible indoor meeting space.
Keystone Resort & Conference Center is known for its world-class skiing and award-winning terrain park, but also boasts two stunning golf courses. They have been rated among the best golf resorts in America by Golf Magazine and Golf Digest.
With 36 holes nestled between breathtaking Rocky Mountain views, planners have a choice of two 18-hole golf courses. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Keystone Ranch follows the links style of a traditional Scottish course on the front nine, and the back nine presents a rolling mountain valley layout. The River Course is a par-71 course that winds around the Snake River on the front nine and rolls through a lodgepole pine forest on the back nine.
The iconic Broadmoor, located in Colorado Springs, offers 185,000 sf of meeting space, 744 accommodations and three highly ranked golf courses.
The East Course is known for its wide, tree-lined fairways and expansive greens.
The West Course, a combination of the original 1918 Donald Ross design and the 1964 Robert Trent Jones Sr. design, also is a challenging course with spectacular views.
The Mountain Course, which reopened in July 2006 after Nicklaus Design’s renovations, features wide, forgiving fairways and large greens with beautiful mountain vistas, ideal for a range of skill levels and handicaps.
Indeed, the ideal golf resort offers much more than golf in its recreational amenities. Unless one is planning a small executive retreat that happens to be comprised strictly of golfers, it is important to consider recreational options for those who will not be on the greens during their free time. Otherwise, you’ll only find golf aficionados raving about the resort around the watercooler. I&FMM