As more event and meeting attendees look for programs that combine work and leisure activities, meeting planners are turning their attention to golf destinations to satisfy attendees’ need to work a little and play a little. The good news is that many golf destinations appeal to a variety of budgets and interests — for golfers and non-golfers alike. And while high-profile courses of Florida, Arizona and California are certainly the epitome of a classic golfing experience, award-winning courses can be found across the country, beckoning meeting attendees to hit the links.
For Carolyn Davis, CMP, owner, meeting and event planner at Strategic Meeting Partners, adding a golf component can help in “taking the edge off” of a conference. “The event may contain hard-core content and could possibly intimidate some attendees, but a couple of rounds of golf can sometimes help ‘soften’ the attendees’ perception of what’s to come. Golf also offers a unique socializing opportunity that fosters camaraderie, helps build relationships and can be a great equalizer,” she says.
So what do golf programs offer attendees? Quite simply, the opportunity for attendees to relax and have more casual conversations than they would in a traditional conference or meeting environment. As Davis explains, out on the golf course people have a tendency to let their guards down and be “themselves” — allowing others to learn about who they are. It’s also an opportunity for a savvy businesspeople to find out what truly motivates them or drives their decision-making process.
Davis and her team have produced many golf tournaments — some more unique than others. “Of course, we have planned the basic tee times, best for small groups without a time restriction, all the way up to full-field shotguns,” Davis says. “Adding uniqueness has come in the way of food and beverage — from box breakfasts and lunches to hosted snack carts to an award ceremony barbecue.” A recent tournament Davis planned ended with a tabletop trade show, silent and live auctions, award ceremony, reception and dinner. “We’ve been involved in tournaments with hosted and sponsored holes, and those are a lot of fun. I’ve seen all kinds of golf-related giveaways and games at the holes and, of course, libations,” Davis adds.
Alissa Johnson, meeting and event planner at Nexstar Network, agrees that golf programs are a good option to attract another audience that planners may not get with a traditional celebration dinner, trade show, conference breakouts, etc.
“The golf program also is a great way to network and put certain people together that have similar interests, needs or anything else,” Johnson says. “Since it’s a group of four people that golf together, it’s a great networking option for vendors, salespeople or others to meet within a specialized organization that may have not connected while attending a traditional conference.”
Indeed, golf programs also provide an incredible opportunity for meeting and conference attendees to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding links. Take The Resort at Pelican Hill, for example. With 36 holes designed by Tom Fazio, a luxurious clubhouse, a signature restaurant featuring al fresco dining, an expertly appointed practice facility, dramatic architecture and a stunning natural seaside setting, Pelican Hill Golf Club is one of the nation’s premier golf clubs. And the adjacent Golf Pavilion at Pelican Hill offers a generous event space to host events of all sizes that can easily be paired with a golf outing.
Kristine Liggio, CMP and executive director at the Center for Automotive Education & Training, organizes an annual golf outing as a fundraiser to raise money for student education in her industry. As Liggio explains, the event starts with brunch where the organization holds its annual business meeting, along with a mini trade show for vendors who help sponsor the event. The afternoon consists of golf, and the evening is geared toward cocktails and dinner, along with a huge raffle.
“We do a lot of little things to surprise our players throughout the day,” Liggio says. “We put gifts on the golf carts to start the day. We offer them ice cream, hot pretzels and popcorn as they leave the dinner, along with a little thank you gift for coming to the event. And there are various food stations on the course so refreshments are never far away. Vendors might give little surprise gifts on the course as well.”
And most golf programs include organized practice lessons. For example, at Twin Warriors Golf Club at Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico, attendees and groups can also take part in a learning clinic led by Sandy Lemon, the state’s first woman golfer to be named both an LPGA and PGA professional. Twin Warriors also features a full-service practice facility, which includes a driving range, two short game practice areas, a practice putting green, and a private teaching area and learning center. In addition, a variety of golf rentals, golf clinics, instructions and demo days can be customized for corporate and social gatherings. And the course can also arrange scramble-style tournaments where players form a group of four. Each person tees off, and then the team plays from the best shot until the ball makes it into the hole.
While golf events can take many forms, it is important to infuse unique elements to make the golfing experience memorable for participants. For example, one of Davis’ partners specializes in providing female golf pros to play with groups. The pros go out of their way to nurture the lesser-skilled players and also have the necessary golf skills to humble or keep in line the more raucous players.
Kelsey Anderson, CMP, CMM, founder and managing director at Lynn David Events LLC, has incorporated golf into a convention as a way to highlight sponsors of an event while giving the attendees a way to cut loose and have fun.
“I took the trade show concept of the event outside the exhibit hall and onto the golf course. Each sponsor was given a hole to brand and create an interactive activity or competition like Closest to the Pin, Hole in One Wins a Car, etc.,” Anderson says. “They could feature their products and services at their hole and offer giveaway items, and food and beverage. Foursomes came up with creative team names and decorated their golf carts. Golfers and non-golfers alike enjoyed it. One thing to keep in mind is that this slows down the game considerably, so avid golfers who don’t like to wait should be put in the first group.”
When adding a golf program to an event, it is important to know your group. If a planner makes the decision to add golf to the event prior to opening registration, the planner can include questions about golf in the registration process.
“This will help easily identify interest, skill level, whether or not the registrant needs to rent clubs, etc.,” Anderson says. “Once you have this data, it’s easier to match up foursomes, arrange for club rentals and identify those who would rather do something other than golf. It’s important to put experienced golfers with experienced golfers at the front of the group and novice golfers with novice golfers behind those more experienced. This will keep everyone in good spirits during the game and avoid potential frustrations.”
And, remember, most of the more socially active courses have an in-house group or events directors who can assist with planning an event.
For instance, upon arrival at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the players will have their golf bags taken from them at valet to be transferred to the golf club for the entirety of their stay. The Broadmoor creates custom tags for each golf bag, custom scorecards with all the players and the team’s name included, and the company’s logo, as well as putting the logo on custom scoreboards and rules sheets. Companies can even customize cart signs with their logo and the names of the players riding in each cart. They also can have the tournament rules of their choosing.
While they are playing on The Broadmoor’s two beautiful East and West courses, players will have access to hot and cold food and beverage from the F&B carts on a constant rotation throughout the day on the courses.
The not-so-serious golfers may enjoy a golf clinic on The Broadmoor’s driving range to hone their skills so the next time the group comes to The Broadmoor, they can play on the courses as well. Once finished with their round, while their clubs are being cleaned and put back into storage, The Broadmoor’s tournaments team collects the scorecards and starts posting them on the scoreboard.
At Ojai Valley Inn in Ojai, California, the resort’s tournament directors can help orchestrate a golf tournament that best suits a group’s players’ skills and integrates competitive challenges within its 18-hole course. Groups can expect a flawless execution from planning, cart organization, gift distribution and scoreboard management, along with an event area where players can watch the finishers come in after their rounds. Ojai Valley Inn also partners with 360 Destination Group to create incentive and meeting itineraries at all levels.
Ojai Valley Inn can support any format of golf program — from various individual competitions to all sorts of team games, such as Scrambles, Shambles, best or better ball outings, etc. In addition, they can provide groups with fun activities, such as clinics, obstacle course putting contests and a few different Glowball options for after dark. Finally, there is Speed Golf and a Horse Race available.
Making It Memorable
Johnson suggests planners make the golf outing a package deal when booking with a venue. “You will want to provide a bar, box lunches, social hour or dinner,” she says. “Also, don’t be scared of a golf activity. People who are interested will sign up and see the value in it. Go see an actual golf venue hosting an event to get ideas and see how the venue handles a golf event.”
Other tips to make a golf event successful include the following:
• Lock down your pairings and rental list and get it to the course ASAP.
• If you’re hosting the snack cart, be sure to review their inventory. For instance, you may not want to host shots or cigars.
• Use drink tickets if you need to be careful of liquor liability.
• Always take out event insurance.
• Once registration has been completed, provide the course with your final list of participants and pairings. If anything has adjusted or if the count has dropped, ask them if they will allow a guarantee.
• Also, try to match serious players with other serious players if you have to create foursomes. The same thing is recommended when a planner is organizing the rest of the lineup.
“Better players go through the course faster and they get annoyed if they constantly have to wait behind a slower team,” Liggio says. “Be prepared for them to ‘play through,’ which might cause confusion, especially if there are photographers taking team photos on the course.”
Whether a social or a corporate group, the experts at Ojai Valley Inn say allowing enough time to play and knowing whether a shotgun start is available are essential pieces of the puzzle when timing and scheduling are being fine-tuned. Shotguns, for instance, take up less overall time and make it easier for all participants to finish if time is tight. Format, too, can impact both pace of play and the level of enjoyment. A group of serious or regular golfers will prefer a format that lets them play their own ball, whereas a group of occasional or relatively unskilled golfers will be slow unless put into a team game like a Scramble. Planners could enhance the experience by finding one or more sponsors who might be willing to host the beverage cart. They could also consider giving some kind of swag or goody bag to each player.
“Planners generally fit into two categories: Those who are savvy about golf events and those who aren’t,” says Matt Pavin, golf sales manager at Ojai Valley Inn. “If the latter, they ought to identify someone within the organization they are supporting to act as a liaison with the tournament director at the facility or delegate golf to an assistant, or both. Planners should also instruct participants as to where to go, when to be there and what the dress code is. They should be prepared to provide both pairings and rental club needs, giving the facility personnel the best opportunity to be completely ready when the group is good to go.”
And what about the non-golfers in attendance? “For the non-golfer, we add activities that range from a spa session and cooking classes to racing exotic cars and playing with bulldozers, and other heavy equipment, at a mock construction site,” Davis says. “Sometimes, the non-golf option is a lot cooler than the golf, and we lose the golfers to the non-golf activity.”
As Liggio explains, many golf resorts also offer spa days for those who don’t golf. Sightseeing tours and shopping trips are other options.
“It’s best to know what your audience is interested in and work with the destination to come up with options if your golf event is part of a bigger conference,” Liggio says.
Golf resorts across the country continually evolve and enhance their golf experience offerings for both individuals and groups. Sea Island Resort in Sea Island, Georgia is consistently rated one of the best golf destinations in the U.S. In addition to its championship golf courses, Sea Island is celebrating its all-new, state-of-the-art Golf Performance Center that regularly trains some of today’s top professional golfers. As such, Sea Island offers first-class events and exceptional golf experiences for groups from instructional programs to fun activities and contests. The Golf Performance Center boasts covered hitting bays for teaching, chipping greens, putting greens, a GEARS studio and an indoor putting lab.
Synonymous with golf and South Florida, Trump National Doral Miami is considered the ultimate golf getaway and tops most golfers’ “bucket lists.” And, new for this year, they added an outdoor pavilion of 20,000 sf as an extension of the DJT Ballroom. This new addition is available to all groups and is ideal for outdoor dining and exhibits.
For groups looking to enhance their golf experience, the golf team at Trump Doral offers full tournament services on the resort’s four famed courses. The 7,000-sf Golf Shop can even customize merchandise based on group needs, including individualized VIP gifting, equipment demos, Titleist specialized fittings and on-course pop-up shopping experiences with leading brands. Custom corporate clinics, private instruction and multiday golf schools are also available at the onsite Rick Smith Golf Performance Center.
Even those who are completely unfamiliar with the sport can experience a taste of playing at one of the world’s premier golf destinations with the Moonlight Golf Experience at Trump Doral. Popular with golfers and non-golfers alike, this unique group activity provides a fun and healthy teambuilding experience that pairs well with an interactive evening reception.
The putting green of the resort’s legendary Blue Monster can be transformed into a glowing miniature golf course that can be enjoyed by the novice as well as the pro. Players use glow-in-the-dark golf balls to navigate the dark terrain of the putting green, which is situated between the 1st tee and the 18th green.
At French Lick Resort, in French Lick, Indiana, they offer golf outings for all size of groups, whether for eight people all the way up to 144 players. The golf professionals there can customize that event in any facet the attendee would like. They also offer special food and beverage functions for groups, and can reach out to their vendors, and do extra things on the course for their event to set it apart. And for smaller events, French Lick offers custom apparel, accessories and golf balls. These extra touches help with the attendees enjoying their round and making a memory so they will want to make sure to play in the event again.
The historic Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia is also the place groups have come to experience the 177 most-historic holes of golf in America. The resort’s one- to three-bedroom condominiums, with kitchens and spacious living areas, are ideal for golfers and non-golfers alike. Located in a stunning James River setting, the resort offers three must-play championship golf courses and a wide range of recreational activities and leisure pursuits right on the grounds.
Kingsmill also offers a handful of teambuilding activities related to golf groups in addition to actual group golf tournaments on the River or Plantation courses. The resort’s team is on hand to help create that custom group golf experience.
Planning and executing golf programs that are part of a meeting or event is like planning an event within an event. It requires its own strategy and project plan, budget, committee, volunteers, registration and so on. Making a golf program unique for participants requires a clear understanding of the audience, and their needs and expectations. | I&FMM |