From border to border, the United States offers golfers of all skill levels an array of inviting, challenging and breathtaking courses. From formidable courses that test the golfer’s skill level at every hole to wide-open fairways designed for high-handicap players — golf is a part of many meeting and event programs. Cozy rather than commercial, many golf resorts offer unique accommodations and amenities aplenty — all while providing ideal locales for groups to work some and play some.
For decades business professionals have recognized the need to connect with each other outside of the conference room. While wining and dining is still a prevalent relationship-building tradition, more meeting attendees prefer to do business on the greens as part of a corporate insurance or financial group event. Moreover, a round of golf on a lush golf course is a far more healthful way to build a relationship than overindulging.
Every year, golfers from around the world travel to Florida, Arizona and many other areas in the U.S. to walk in the footsteps of the iconic, legendary men and women who made golf the great game it is today.
At issue for many meeting professionals looking to orchestrate a golf program as part of a meeting or event is sourcing golf courses that meet the needs of young and old alike. When business professionals play golf together, each person is going to have different needs and want different challenges.
“Tournaments don’t have to be 18 holes. We could do nine-hole events as well if time is restricted during the conference. It takes about 4½ hours to do 18 holes and a little over two hours to do nine holes.”
— Barry Ryder
According to Barbara Schoenfeld, meetings coordinator for the Austin, Texas-based Insurance Council of Texas (ICT), golf is an important element in their meetings. Thus, the Board Year 2017 Planning Meeting held in August at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was an ideal setting for the board to meet with the executive director and management of ICT to discuss the direction and future goals of the organization.
“Because of the length of this meeting we encourage our board members and staff to bring their spouses, so we had a total of 39 attendees, not counting the children who came, too,” Schoenfeld says. “Golf has been a part of this meeting long before I took over as meeting planner for this event. It is a welcome opportunity for our board members to build relationships and get to know each other in a more casual situation other than always sitting in board meetings and then leaving. We have golfers who have a two handicap, and we have golfers who say golf is their handicap. So don’t worry so much about the expertise and encourage your players to go out and enjoy.”
The ICT golf program is a key example of the way businesses and golf courses work hand-in-hand to make golf outings special for attendees. Amenities such as a personalized outing coordinator for group outings, group clinics from PGA professionals, prepaid food and beverage coupons to give to your attendees, pro shops with merchandise from a PGA Tour stop, catered meals and personalized prize packages are some of the unique attributes that often are incorporated into an event.
“Our board loves the opportunity to go out to the golf course after spending the morning in the planning meeting for ICT’s upcoming year, laying out the goals and needs of the membership,” Schoenfeld says. “There is nothing more inviting than the beautiful rolling courses offered at The Broadmoor. The mild temperatures are a real break since most of our attendees are from Texas, and you know how hot August can be in Texas.”
Schoenfeld says she simply wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to do a golfing event, especially at The Broadmoor.
“The staff is so accommodating and knowledgeable,” Schoenfeld says. “They pay attention to detail. Everything we need is always there waiting for us. Whether it’s rental clubs, shoes or box lunches, it’s all taken care of and ready to go.”
The Broadmoor Golf Club is home to three 18-hole golf courses: East, West and Mountain. Designed by legends including Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus Design, the courses have hosted countless tournaments and challenged players of all skill levels.
And to meet the needs of today’s golfers, resorts and clubs are offering a wealth of different course options. George Willard, head golf professional and director of golf at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club in Naples, Florida, says the club’s new Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole championship golf course is great for groups and golfers of every skill level.
“The new course was designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus along with the very talented golf course architect John Sanford to challenge the best players but also to be enjoyable for all golfers,” Willard says. “Plus, in addition to the new course, we also added a 300-yard practice and teaching range, and have new golf carts with GPS tracking systems, which help golfers with yardages on each hole and which also helps the pace of play.”
The director of sales and marketing at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, Charles Mullins, says that meeting professionals often ask the facility about activities that can help them with their meeting objectives, while being mindful of time and cost constraints.
“Golf is a fun and effective activity that can help planners achieve their meeting’s goals,” Mullins says. “And, at our hotel, golf also is logistically very easy to conduct, since our course is onsite. By having a full 18-hole championship golf course onsite, planners do not have to worry about the cost and coordination of transportation to and from an offsite golf course. If time is a concern, attendees can step right out of our main ballroom directly onto the golf course.”
The Naples resort team can work with the planner and have a tournament scheduled in the morning or in the afternoon, and have an 18-hole or nine-hole tournament. After golf, attendees can be back in the ballroom or out on the beach in minutes.
Mullins says, “You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘most business happens on the golf course,’ well, that saying is not just for millionaires. As planners hold meetings, they seek venues and activities with the objective of bringing people together and minimizing distractions.
“Golf is a unique activity where attendees have the chance to engage face-to-face, uninterrupted,” he says. “With so many distractions surrounding us, few activities can match the focus and invaluable time together like the game of golf.”
Mullins believes that golf is great for events where planners are looking for teambuilding and networking opportunities. People of all ages and skill levels can enjoy a round of golf on the new course — you don’t have to be a golf pro, he says.
“For corporate events, when a planner chooses to bring golf into the program, they are combining quality time with a fun activity, and that is why golf is such an effective tool for meetings,” Mullins says. “A common mistake is not picking the right course. For most events, planners should consider a course like ours — one that is challenging enough for those who golf often, but not too difficult for newer players.”
Also in Florida, for example, the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, a luxurious, full-service Destin resort and beachfront hotel in Miramar Beach, offers several options as they enjoy a partnership with the Sandestin Resort and their four golf courses — allowing guests to experience challenging golf play at different levels due to the diversity of the different courses.
“Our guests get to choose from The Link course, with its game-changing challenges and views of the Choctawhatchee Bay; Baytowne course, excellent for all skill levels; Raven course, where you elevate your game playing through the marshes, wetlands and pines; or Burnt Pine course — recognized as one of the ‘Top 30 Courses in Florida’ by Golf Digest and Golfweek,” says Lisa Jones, director of sales at Hilton Sandestin.
Jones stresses that golf programs offer ample opportunity for meeting attendees to get out and have some fun.
“Whether it’s a scramble or bogey and par play for teambuilding, or a leisurely match play competition, the opportunities are many,” Jones says. “The most common way to incorporate golf into a meeting is either in a teambuilding or a leadership-building atmosphere. There are several different tournament styles of play to accomplish both.”
She also notes that golf programs are an enthusiastic way to build rapport and cooperation among colleagues.
“Far too often competitions reward only one person,” Jones says. “There are several golf opportunities that focus more on the contribution of each player for the team to be successful and have fun in contributing.”
Stephanie Bednar, vice president, executive administration at Richmond, Virginia-based Davenport & Company LLC, arranged a recent meeting at The Omni Homestead Resort, a historic Hot Springs, Virginia, resort in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains. She wanted to have one or two group activities for their attendees to participate in and spend time with their coworkers. To accommodate the non-golfers in the Davenport & Company group, the company provides each room with a $600 credit that they can use for whatever activities they want (including golf).
“Everyone gets to decide how they want to spend that $600,” Bednar says. “The only limitations are that they cannot use the $600 to purchase merchandise, and the room credit expires upon checkout. If they don’t spend it, they lose it. But golf is one of the activities that covers a fair number — but not even close to all — of our event attendees.”
With 36 holes of championship golf, The Omni Homestead can handle any type of golf tournament. According to Barry Ryder, PGA, director of golf at The Omni Homestead, the resort offers daily golf clinics and has hosted several prior tournaments with groups this year.
“Clients seemed to enjoy them. I would suggest doing shotgun starts so everyone can finish in a timely manner,” Ryder says. “We meet with the planners and try to find when the groups have available time during their conference and determine if we can incorporate a tournament into their program.”
Ryder says planners should consider pitching the idea of a golf tournament to allow their participants to meet new people.
“It would give them the opportunity to spend time with different people in their group that they might not even meet while they were here,” Ryder says. “And remember, tournaments don’t have to be 18 holes. We could do nine-hole events as well if time is restricted during the conference. It takes about 4½ hours to do 18 holes and a little over two hours to do nine holes.”
And whatever size golfing event you plan, make sure the proper tournament person is in charge of pairing the groups up.
“That person knows their clients and the areas they are from, so they could mix it up and consider it as a team-building event.”
Indeed, a group golf outing needs to be fun and relaxed. It is important to get everyone involved — including beginners.
Erik Broka, director of golf at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona, advises planners to do their homework and be aware of the level of skill of all their attendees who will participate in a golf program.
“Knowing the abilities of the majority of guests will help in planning a successful event,” says Broka. “Common mistakes occur when the play is more individual in nature, making it a pure competition. Everyone typically has more fun when prizes are involved, such as for closest to the pin, longest drive and longest putt. However, it helps to think outside the box here. Get creative in your award competitions, developing on-course contests where everyone has a chance to win. In most cases, it is best to play a scramble format, due to your guests’ varying abilities.”
The Phoenician boasts 27 holes of golf, lessons from PGA-accredited staff, a full-service golf shop and 100 sets of rental clubs — the latest from the Callaway line. Program offerings include shotgun starts, clinics, glow-in-the-dark putting, launch monitor events and retail concept shops. The group experience is fully customizable.
Broka and his team at The Phoenician enjoy working with their clients to create a personalized experience that resonates with all their guests, whether they are golfers or not.
“We work closely with event planners to understand the group dynamic,” Broka says. “The more knowledge we have, the better suited we are to create a collectible experience for each and every guest. It is very social, fun, a great way to network — and to get to know your colleagues outside of the office. Just think: When was the last time you spent four-plus hours with three other people in one day?” I&FMM