Producers in the insurance industry may see the golf course as a metaphor for the challenges they face and overcome in the field: closing a deal, reaching a sales quota, getting a promotion and so on. Other agents may see their experience on the greens as an escape from the pressures of the office, and still others see golf as a vehicle for networking with peers and clients.
However golf is perceived, a top-tier resort course is generally a welcome feature, whether the event is an incentive, sales training conference, annual meeting or client-facing program. The same is true of a luxury spa, which provides the ultimate respite from the rigors of the meeting schedule. Many of the country’s finest golf and spa properties are clustered in Florida and Arizona, and it’s no surprise that these resorts reliably draw insurance meetings business. The following review of developments at major golf and spa resorts focuses on those two states, along with a selection of key properties in Colorado, Texas and Georgia.
Speaking of courses that inspire overachievers with their challenging design, the Trump National Doral Miami is home to the aptly named Blue Monster, featuring a slew of deep bunkers, Bermuda rough and water hazards. Golfers who need a bit of help with their game before they face the Blue Monster, or the Doral’s other three courses, can take advantage of the resort’s new partnership with the Rick Smith Golf Performance Center. On the wellness front, the Doral offers one of Miami’s most comprehensive spas, a 48,000-sf facility with a menu of more than 100 treatments.
Groups who have not visited the Doral recently are sure to be impressed by the property’s $250 million modernization. The hotel’s 643 guest rooms and 100,000 sf of indoor function space have been upgraded as part of the project, yet the Doral still retains “a classical, traditional feel,” according to Aron Steck, meeting planner with Global Event Management. Steck indicates that the Doral’s aesthetic was well suited to an Insurance Designers of America (IDA) group that met at the property for the first time this spring. IDA is a consortium of about 55 insurance marketing organizations (IMOs), and their spring and fall meetings are attended by the IMOs as well as life insurance company representatives.
“Because they’re financial services (professionals), they tend to be fairly conservative in terms of their tastes and values. And I think that’s a reason why, at least in terms of the aesthetics, (the Doral) worked pretty well for the group,” Steck comments.
But more important, the function space at the property was a match for the IDA program, which includes a general session, trade show and breakouts. “The Doral fits the bill very nicely because almost all of their (meeting) spaces are in their main building,” says Steck. “It’s very consolidated and central, and works really well, particularly when you have a situation where people are leaving a general session, going to breakouts, coming back to the general session and going to meals.”
Helping to partner groups with Miami’s fine golf and spa properties is the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. The organization is a great resource for planners who want to take advantage of the latest developments in the luxury resort market, such as the expanded and reflagged Turnberry Isle Miami. The resort is adding the 323-room Orchid Tower and renovating its lobby and other facilities, becoming a JW Marriott upon completion. Turnberry Isle offers the 40,000-sf Conference Center and Magnolia Courtyard, two 18-hole championship golf courses and the three-story full service spa, âme Spa & Wellness Collective.
A bit farther north, The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, a Curio Collection by Hilton has completed a $100 million transformation that renovated the property’s 1,000 rooms and suites, and introduced 10 new dining concepts. The Diplomat is one of South Florida’s premier meeting hotels, with 209,000 sf of function space including a 50,000-sf Great Hall, 20,000-sf Grand Ballroom and 39 breakout rooms. During free time, attendees can repair to the full-service luxury spa overlooking the ocean or the infinity pool accented by two waterfalls.
Another masterful spa can be found at Eau Palm Beach, located on seven acres of oceanfront in Manalapan. One of only eight Forbes Five Star resorts in the state, the property houses the award-winning, 42,000-sf Eau Spa, whose features include The Self-Centered Garden, private villas, Eau Zone Relaxation Lounge and 19 treatment rooms.
But the property itself is a transporting experience, according to Eric Czerlonka, principal and creative director, Czerlonka Productions. “The water is right there when you’re outside and it almost has a cruise ship feel,” he says.
“And when you walk into the Eau your senses just go crazy, the aroma in the air, the décor, the arrival process…that is what drove it home for us.”
— Eric Czerlonka
Czerlonka staged an incentive for an insurance client at the 309-room resort that included intriguing offsite events at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach and the International Polo Club Palm Beach. “It’s a VIP event, so we take into consideration every moment of their experience, and going to the Polo Club and the Flagler checks those boxes,” he relates. “We had the entire Flagler, so we did cocktails and receptions in the main gallery and then they allowed tours to happen throughout the rooms. Then we moved them into the pavilion for dinner, which is just the most magnificent space that houses Henry Flagler’s train car.”
Czerlonka also commends the Eau Palm Beach’s fitness center, which met the wellness objectives of the 200-attendee group. “Our group is big on health and wellness; the company drives that through on the corporate level and they like to carry that through on the incentives as well for their agents. (The Eau) has many different types of classes through the fitness center. We found it really easy to offer new and unusual activities that people could try from a fitness standpoint.”
And despite being an incentive, the program included a daily general session that was accommodated by the resort’s 30,000 sf of function space, which includes a 9,680-sf ballroom divisible into three salons.
Another beachside property renowned for both its golf and spa offerings is the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, located in Miramar Beach on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast. Robert Trent Jones Jr., Rees Jones and Tom Jackson all have contributed to the Sandestin golf experience, comprised of four courses: Raven Golf Club, Baytowne Golf Club, The Links Golf Club and the exclusive Burnt Pine Club. The resort has recently renovated its 15,000-sf Linkside Conference Center, part of the property’s 65,000 sf of meeting space.
The guest room experience has received an upgrade at Rosen Shingle Creek, one of Orlando’s finest golf resorts. Rosen Hotels & Resorts has installed Sonifi Solutions’ world-class in-room entertainment at the 1,501-room Rosen Shingle Creek, as well as the 1,334-room Rosen Centre Hotel and the 800-room Rosen Plaza Hotel. The service includes interactive TV solutions and free-to-guest, over-the-top streaming via Staycast. The service also provides a group messaging system that will allow meeting and event planners to send mass messages, photos and video to their entire room block.
The AAA Four Diamond Rosen Shingle Creek houses 524,000 sf of flexible function space, which includes one of the nation’s largest column-free ballrooms at 95,000 sf. The property is also well-stocked in golf and spa options: the Shingle Creek Golf Club features the Brad Brewer Golf Academy and an 18-hole, par-72 championship golf course newly redesigned by Arnold Palmer Design Company. The 13,000-sf Spa at Shingle Creek includes nine treatment rooms and a state-of-the-art fitness center.
In Ponte Vedra Beach, the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa is home to TPC Sawgrass, a PGA Tour Experience, including the 18-hole Dye’s Valley Course and 18-hole Stadium Course. The recently renovated Sawgrass Spa is surrounded by 15 acres of lagoons and lush landscaping. The 493-room Sawgrass Marriott offers 61,000 sf of total meeting space across 26 meeting rooms.
A surprisingly different Florida experience awaits in Central Florida at Streamsong Resort, where three golf courses feature a rolling, dune-like landscape unlike any other golf experience in the Sunshine State. The property’s third course, Streamsong Black, debuted just last year along with a new clubhouse and restaurant. Designed by Gil Hanse, the course was named the Best New Course of 2017 by Golf Magazine — the latest of several honors that Streamsong’s golf courses have received since the property opened about five years ago. With the addition of Streamsong Black, the resort is the only location in the world where guests can enjoy three distinct courses designed by four legendary architects, including Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw of Coore & Crenshaw and Tom Doak of Renaissance Golf Design.
Streamsong Resort features 228 guest rooms, 25,000 sf of indoor and 40,000 sf of outdoor meeting and event space, five dining options, conference and event facilities, the grotto-style AcquaPietra Spa and infinity pool, as well as bass fishing, sporting clays, nature trails and tennis.
Among the crown jewels of Arizona’s resort industry is the Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, located in Phoenix. Currently celebrating its 150th anniversary, the Biltmore is a staple of Arizona golf with the 50-year-old Adobe course and its rolling fairways. The 740-room property is also home to the award-winning 22,000-sf Spa Biltmore, as well as 100,000 sf of indoor meeting space. The Biltmore recently completed a renovation of its original main building, marking the latest phase in more than $35 million resort-wide enhancements to the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design.
Equally renowned is The Phoenician in nearby Scottsdale. The 585-room AAA Five Diamond luxury resort is complemented by a 60-room, Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond boutique hotel, The Canyon Suites. Meeting space is an ample 109,000 sf. On the recreational side, The Phoenician recently introduced the Athletic Club, which includes both tennis and fitness centers, and a new, three-story facility for the spa. The resort has also embarked on a 10-month redesign of the golf course, which will be reconfigured from 27 to 18 holes.
Among Scottsdale’s highly rated golf resorts is the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa, home to 27 holes of championship golf. The Gainey Ranch Golf Club includes three distinct, nine-hole courses: The Lakes, featuring varied terrain in a garden-like setting and a variety of water features; The Dunes, set along dramatic terrain reminiscent of Scottish courses; and Arroyo, featuring a meandering desert wash that provides a natural hazard throughout the nine. Other property highlights include a 2.5-acre waterpark and the Spa Avania, featuring 19-treatment rooms, a French-Celtic mineral pool, relaxing lotus pond and trellis-covered outdoor relaxation areas. The 493-room Hyatt Regency offers more than 70,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space.
Fresh off a property-wide, Old West-inspired renovation that ended last year, The Boulders Resort & Spa in Scottsdale is known for its Sonoran Desert ambience. As such, it can be an ideal getaway for an insurance company sales training program. Insurance Agency Marketing Services Inc. has hosted both small trainings (15-20 producers) and a larger meeting for about 150 representatives at The Boulders. The partnership with the property has lasted seven years, and one of the reasons is the fine golf available onsite.
“Insurance producers love golf, and The Boulders’ having two different courses is great for us,” says Lisa L. Heuring, vice president of internal operations. “We do try to have at least two afternoons of golf, and so it’s kind of nice to get those two different onsite golf outings. We usually have our small groups in the Boulder View Room, which is by the golf course. So the producers come dressed for golf, get a grab-and-go lunch box and they can just head right out on the golf course. It makes the transition very easy from meeting to golf.”
The Boulders recently introduced “Dine & Dash,” a personalized meeting program that takes place on the fairways. Attendees embark on a “discovery hunt” on a golf cart that leads them to various scenic spots to enjoy a variety of tasty appetizers and entrées. At sunset, desserts and after-dinner drinks are served on the 19th green with live entertainment ranging from a jazz band to celebrity musicians. Another engaging special event is the Evening Spa Party, where groups buy out the 33,000-sf Boulders Spa and partake of hors d’oeuvres, a variety of treatments, yoga, dance classes and more.
The Boulders’ renovation added a new outdoor deck at the spa’s Organic Garden. The project also debuted the 5,500-sf Latilla Ballroom and refurbished Main Lodge, Clubhouse and the 160 casitas, adding Native American motifs. “The casitas are newly renovated, and they’re a great quality of rooms for a great group rate,” remarks Heuring. “They have a gentleman that will pick you up from any of the casitas within minutes of when you call.”
En route to the meeting space, attendees can appreciate The Boulders, which is “spread across the Sonoran Desert foothills. It’s a captivating location,” Heuring says. “And the majority of our producers had never been down in that area before. You see the wildlife, bobcats, quail, roadrunners — things you wouldn’t see normally.”
Captivating surroundings also can be found at The Broadmoor, at the gateway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs. The iconic resort lets groups immerse themselves in that atmosphere with its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp. The 784-room resort campus includes 185,000 sf of function space, three golf courses, a Forbes Five Star spa and fitness center, among many other upscale amenities.
At press time, the five-star resort was in the middle of a soon-to-be-completed refresh of Broadmoor Main and the golf facility. The main building’s lobby is being expanded to include a seating area and a fireplace. The Golf Club is introducing a new dining concept: the former Golf Club Dining Room is being reimagined as The Grille, with a classic bar and panoramic views of the mountains. The project is part of The Broadmoor’s ongoing Centennial Celebration.
“Nothing compares to The Broadmoor for making attendees feel special. The resort and destination itself has that feeling the moment you step foot on the property.”
— Susan Rouke
Rouke, senior event planner for a major insurance company, adds that “Every staff member says ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ as you stroll the grounds, making you always feel welcome and like The Broadmoor is your second home during your stay.”
Rouke describes two onsite special events at The Broadmoor held as part of her company’s recent meetings: “We utilized Play (at The Broadmoor) and (Restaurant)1858 for our Leadership Dinners. Play was the perfect setting for a casual dinner with the opportunity for our group to bowl, (shoot) pool and play games while enjoying an amazing buffet spread from the Play menu. The slider station was a huge hit! (Restaurant) 1858 is an amazing venue located at Seven Falls. Broadmoor shuttled us up the mountain to this location nestled in the canyon with amazing views and a real feel of an offsite dinner location with The Broadmoor level of service. The dinner was served family-style from the 1858 menu and was superb.”
Home to two award-winning 18-hole golf courses, La Cantera Resort & Spa in San Antonio beckons groups to 550 acres of Texas Hill Country. Its Resort Course has been a PGA Tour stop for 15 years, and The Palmer Course, designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer, is one of the state’s highest-rated courses. The AAA Four Diamond property offers 498 guest rooms and more than 115,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space, including the 17,000-sf San Antonio Grand Ballroom, divisible into nine individual meeting rooms. After sessions, attendees can experience the new Loma de Vida Spa & Wellness, situated on one of the highest points in San Antonio.
The only resort in the United States to host a G8 Summit, the Sea Island Resort is also a great choice for insurance and financial groups looking for a Southeastern golf and spa experience combined with splendid meeting facilities. The property is comprised of the 265-room Cloister, 85-room Inn and the AAA Five Diamond, Forbes Five Star Lodge, with 43 guest rooms. There are also 130 cottages on Sea Island available for rent. The Cloister houses more than 40,000 sf of function space overlooking the Georgia coastline, including 7,800-sf and 5,000-sf ballrooms. Golf aficionados will appreciate the Sea Island Golf Performance Center, which offers an indoor video studio, 300 yards of teeing area, target greens, short-game areas and an exclusive club-fitting service. Sea Island Golf Club includes three 18-hole championship courses: Seaside (par 70), Plantation (par 72) and Retreat (par 72). And the resort’s spa offering is truly world class: The Forbes Five Star Spa at Sea Island spans 65,000 sf and includes a 5,000-sf strength and cardio studio, indoor lap pool and three squash courts.
Last fall Sea Island announced plans for a $25 million enhancement program at The Lodge at Sea Island, which will include six new cottages, a new state-of-the-art Golf Performance Center, an oceanfront pool and pool house, and a new putting course. These new additions are expected to debut in November 2018 in time for the RSM Classic, an official PGA Tour event held annually at Sea Island Golf Club. Additionally, in December 2018, Sea Island’s Plantation Course will undergo a full renovation under the direction of Love Golf Design, reopening in October 2019.
The popularity of golf and spa resorts is perennial, and the fact that so many are clustered in the warmer climes of Florida and Arizona may ultimately work to the planner’s advantage. Competition for group business naturally increases in those locations, paving the way for planners to get a “fair shot” at negotiating a favorable contract with their chosen resort. I&FMM