Golf and spa resorts are more than places to play and indulge. Yes, they provide ways for hardworking corporate employees to recreate and relax, and they typically offer a setting in which incentive qualifiers are truly rewarded for all that they contribute to their company’s bottom line.
Yet the best golf and spa resorts offer so much more than that, not the least of which is well-conceived meeting and function space with all the technical and design aspects necessary to support corporate gatherings and the professionals who plan them. The public may not fully understand the extraordinary business value of corporate meetings and incentive programs, but those in the hospitality and travel industries do. Golf and spa resorts ably play their part in providing industry leaders with what they need to create positive strategies, build client bases, educate and inspire employees, increase production, enhance business, launch new products and, ultimately, excel over competition.
Of course, they also offer some of the top golf courses and spas in the nation.
When Ileen Hattem, Southeast regional event planner with UnitedHealthcare, was looking for a setting for an October 2016 broker event with approximately 60 attendees, an ideal choice presented itself in Streamsong Resort. “We tried this resort for the first time in August 2016,” Hattem says. ”It is a great location for our brokers coming from Tampa and Orlando. The resort is located in Central Florida about one hour from Tampa, 11/2 hours from Orlando and three hours from South Florida, so it is a central location for most of the state. Also, for those flying in, there is a choice of two major airports, which gives more flexibility for our guests.”
“The golf staff is wonderful and our attendees absolutely love the courses (at Streamsong).”
— Ileen Hattem
Hattem adds that the resort’s excellent reputation was also a key reason for choosing Streamsong. “The golf, spa, resort and service are second to none,” she says. “I also liked that it is more secluded.”
This group did not go off-property as everything needed was at Streamsong.
While staff and service at the resort received kudos in general, Hattem singles out several staff members who went above and beyond. “Andrea Smith, senior sales manager, and Joy Valenti, conference services manager, were wonderful. I truly feel like we are a team and the relationship is one that benefits all of us. I am a former hotel sales director, so I really appreciate the relationships that I form with my hotel sales and support staff.”
Hattem notes that Streamsong’s meeting and function space is diverse and flexible, and that large windows in some rooms ensure that receptions and dinners do not have that “typical ballroom” feel. “There are also some great outdoor options,” she adds, “and AV is extensive and the staff is great. We had one program that required additional labor, and we got exactly what we needed.”
The group has included golf as part of each of the three events they’ve held at Streamsong. “Not a tournament per se,” Hattem says, “but rather a group of golfers. The golf staff is wonderful, and our attendees absolutely love the courses here. We did have a small group that mainly came to golf and have a small meeting, so we housed them at the Golf Clubhouse. There are a limited number of rooms there, and it was wonderful to keep these guys all in one small place close to golf. There is also a great restaurant there called Restaurant Fifty-Nine, as well as some meeting space and a lounge where they could ‘hang out’ after dinner.”
Hattem arranged spa treatments for meeting guests, calling the spa personnel “excellent and flexible with all of the changes and late additions that typically come with a group.”
The only challenge came when more rooms were needed than had been contracted for on busy nights. However, Hattem notes, “My conference service person and reservations person were great in keeping me informed about availability and helping me get what I needed.”
In April, Streamsong Resort was doubly honored. Golfweek listed the resort’s Red and Blue golf courses as the No. 2 and No. 3 golf courses, respectively, to play in Florida. They bested 27 other Florida golf courses on the list. The courses at Streamsong — unlike any others in Florida — are designed around the unique, rolling landscape once occupied by phosphate mines.
The new Streamsong Black championship course, designed by Gil Hanse, will debut this fall. Hanse also is the architect of the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and co-designer of Castle Stuart Golf Links in Scotland. With the addition of Streamsong Black, the resort will become 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. And the resort plans to add a second practice facility, clubhouse and restaurant to serve guests playing Streamsong Black.
For an annual advisory council and producer summit in April, Maxum Specialty Insurance Group, based in Alpharetta Georgia, chose Sea Island Resort on the coast of Georgia. The number of attendees ranges from 40 to 76 over the course of six days.
“We are a Georgia-based business so we like that the resort is in our home state and that it’s on the water,” says Tracy Wade, chief marketing officer for the company. “It also offers multiple airport options, which is convenient as our guests travel from across the United States.”
The primary decision-driver to set the meeting at Sea Island, however, was the initial RFP. “The Cloister delivered the best variety of activities, rooming options and meal venues with the service and class our customers appreciate,” Wade says about one of the most popular of Sea Island’s several lodging options. “Subsequently, over our eight years of hosting there, they have continued to invest and add on to the property so we get the benefit of the continuity of expectation with enough changes to make it fun for our guests.”
Wade says the resort delivers on multiple fronts, including activities. “The Rainbow Island experience is unique and always a crowd pleaser; I have not seen it duplicated anywhere else although a few try. The setting and the outside firepits and oyster roast are also always a highlight for our guests.”
In addition, the décor team has never let Wade down and is amazing. “Through the years we have tried a lot of out-of-the-box themes, and the team has risen to the challenge each time. The catering team is also great and the two really work hand-in-hand to ensure a seamless delivery. “
The golf and spa facilities have been part of these events as well. “We host golf every year and have used all of the Sea Island courses including Retreat, Plantation and, of course, Seaside,” Wade says. “Seaside remains the big draw, but our players like the variety of all of the courses. We do tournament style for two days with various ‘hole’ contests, and the Sea Island golf team has been great to work with. They suggest ideas as well as execute those ideas we bring to the table.”
The planning team arranges spa time for the guests, and Wade says working with the spa director has been a very positive experience. The spa atmosphere and services also get top survey results from Wade’s guests who use the spa facilities.
Wade encourages any planners considering Sea Island Resort to do a site visit, but also to follow the resort team on Instagram and other social-media outlets. “I get a lot of great ideas from both. By partnering with the team we have been able to create some lasting themes and to execute them by working together.”
When it comes to meeting planning, it’s less about the problems and more about the solutions. “There are always challenges and changes when planning an event,” Wade notes, “but the Sea Island conference managers are great at bringing solutions and flexibility to the table so you don’t have to worry or micromanage.”
For groups considering Sea Island, Wade says, “Book early if you want to use The Cloister or The Lodge as the secret is out, and it’s getting more difficult to get the rooms and dates you want year after year. That’s a good problem for them to have but meeting professionals need to plan accordingly to secure the desired dates.”
Heather Fueger, manager, sports marketing, with RSM US, an audit, tax and consulting firm, also works closely with Sea Island Resort. RSM is the title sponsor of the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic, a popular tournament held each fall at the Georgia resort that has raised millions for charitable causes.
The RSM group brings in approximately 500 guests throughout the days of the tournament. The Cloister, The Lodge, Beach Club Residences and The Inn are among the resort’s lodging options used to accommodate RSM guests.
“The accommodations and amenities are world-class,” Fueger says. “The staff is welcoming and showcases the epitome of Southern hospitality. Sea Island provides an ideal setting for our partners and principals to entertain our guests.”
Fueger gives the staff at Sea Island rave reviews across the board. “Every department strives to meet our needs and provide the best possible experience for us and for our guests,” she says.
During the week of the Classic, RSM guests use the golf facilities, particularly the Retreat and Plantation courses, which Fueger says garner rave reviews. But she notes that Sea Island has many other activities as well, including a top-of-the-line spa.
“While we don’t arrange spa time for our guests,” Fueger notes, “many of our guests choose to visit the spa on their own while at the resort. The guests with whom I have spoken have raved about the amenities and services available at the spa, and many have loved it enough to visit more than once during their stay!”
There’s no question that Sea Island Resort offers enough all on its own to keep guests happy and occupied for a multiday stay. However, there are good reasons to explore off-property, too.
“Most of our functions during the RSM Classic are held on resort property,” Fueger says, “but guests often try other Golden Isles restaurants. “Some of our favorites include Southern Soul Barbeque, Crabdaddy’s, Tramici, Halyard’s and Sal’s Pizza.”
When it comes to describing Sea Island Resort, Fueger uses descriptors such as “world-class” and “spectacular.” That goes for the accommodations, the golf, the meeting space, the amenities and the people who work there. Translation: a meeting planner’s ideal destination. Sea Island’s secluded location does require extra travel time from the region’s airports, but Fueger says the resort is well worth that time spent.
Peggy Berg, administrative assistant with Wells Fargo in Richmond Virginia, helped plan the company’s Central and Eastern Virginia Conference in October 2016, which was set at Kingsmill Resort in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and included approximately 36 participants. The resort worked well, Berg says, because it is centrally located between commercial banking offices. The conference has been set there more than once.
“This was a repeat conference, Berg says, “because of the quality of the Kingsmill staff and the facility.”
Among the highlights of the conference was an event that took place in the surrounding area. “We hosted a walking tour in Jamestown,” Berg says, adding that it is an activity that’s “highly recommended.”
At the resort, she calls the front desk staff and bell staff “always so accommodating,” and says that the resort works especially well for this group and conference because there is always a golf outing on the agenda.
On the downside, she notes that arranging spa treatments can be a challenge. “I tried to make spa accommodations only to find that appointments were not available. You need to make spa appointments well in advance,” she says. “I actually had to have a customer go to the spa at another site in Williamsburg.”
In Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor, grande dame of the Rockies for the past 100 years, has a long history of pampering its guests as well as challenging them on the golf course. Resort history notes that even back in 1918, “mountain men” were patrons of the spa in equal numbers to the women. The trend continues today, with modern mountain men opting most often for an 80-minute massage, according to Cassie Hernandez, the spa/salon and fitness director. The new 80-Minute Gentleman’s Facial just joined the spa menu this spring.
In golf news, The Broadmoor is now offering a new “Hack and Hook” package for groups that combines fly fishing and golf.
The Broadmoor, a member of Associated Luxury Hotels, encompasses 5,000 acres and offers 784 luxurious guest rooms and suites, 185,000 sf of flexible meeting space, 54 holes of championship golf, a Forbes Five Star spa, 20 unique dining offerings, and 26 specialty boutiques.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been honored with a Golf Digest Editors Choice Award in the “Best Golf Resorts in the Americas.” In July, the resort will open a second course, Shepherd’s Rock, designed by Pete Dye and Tim Liddy.
Up your game at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, where the recently redesigned golf course provides new challenges, intriguing hazards, longer par 4 and par 5 layouts, and more. The redesign, in partnership with Arnold Palmer Golf Company, makes what was already an excellent course even better. A new, open-air covered pavilion for 19th hole events is part of the mix. Additionally, all of the resort’s 1,501 guest rooms and suites, lobby, restaurant and lounge spaces have undergone an extensive refurbishment.
At Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, 29 new villas are scheduled for completion in July. The villas will be fully equipped and range in size from studios to three-bedroom accommodations. The property includes a convention center.
In August, Pebble Beach Resorts will open the new 38-room Fairway One, an addition to The Lodge at Pebble Beach. The new accommodations include 30 guest rooms in three two-story buildings and eight rooms in two four-bedroom golf cottages fronting the first fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links. The Fairway One complex also will include a new meeting facility anchored by a 2,500-sf meeting room. All of these enhancements are being completed in preparation for hosting the 2018 U.S. Amateur and 2019 U.S. Open championships, as well as the celebration of the resort’s 100th anniversary in 2019.
Surrounded by the Topa Topa Mountains in Southern California, the Spanish colonial-inspired Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is as adept at hosting PGA Tour events as it is corporate group tournaments. Expert golf directors help organize tournament pairings and competitive challenges, cart organization, gift distribution and scoreboard management. For less formal — and less time-consuming — golf activities, the resort also can put together a two-hour, nine-hole executive golf challenge that’s fun and competitive, and also includes scoreboard management, gift distribution and more.
The Ojai also boasts a world-class spa, with 31,000 sf of serenity. There are two pools, a fully equipped workout room, Mind and Body Studio, Spa Boutique and Artist Cottage and Apothecary. Custom aromatherapy courses also are offered for groups: In a class setting, participants learn how to create custom blends of aromatherapy oils and diffuse personalized blends into bath salts, soaps, lotions and more.
Meetings and events at Ojai can take place in two ballrooms, a pavilion, a “Big Red Barn” and a private estate.
The U.S. hospitality market is not the only one with golf courses, spas and other amenities that create an excellent base for conferences and incentives. From Ireland to Asia, the Caribbean to Canada, golf and spa resorts provide planners with substantial benefits for meetings. In addition to ample function space, chefs with skills that elevate F&B to new heights and, of course, some of the top golf courses on the planet, many of these resorts are long accustomed to hosting world leaders, celebrities and VIPs. They easily provide the privacy and security required for high-level executives and their guests. I&FMM