Spending a beautiful day on the links playing a round of golf has long been a great business tool. And in today’s busy world, where it’s tough for companies to find extended periods of time to meet with business partners and clients, organizing a corporate golf event is a great way to solve that problem.
After all, golf provides a great avenue for conversation in a relaxed environment, and when a corporate outing is set up correctly, it can be fun and competitive for everyone.
Corporate golf programs can be sponsored tournaments, incentive-driven or coordinated with a company meeting. Most resorts offer a wide array of options for groups, including tournaments and competitions, as well as clinics and lessons for groups or individuals. Some contests that are often included in corporate golf events include closest to the hole, straightest drive, longest drive and best putt.
A symbiotic relationship between a company’s meeting planner and the golf director at a resort is the key to a smooth golf program for a corporate group.
“It is the job of the corporate group planner to put together a great program for their company/client, and it is our golf program team’s job to ensure that we live up to the expectation,” says Craig Allan, Golf Performance Center manager at Sea Island Resort in Sea Island, Georgia. “We are very confident in the wonderful golf programs we put together with our group golf professional who has years of experience, is always open to new ideas and is very detailed orientated.”
Carrie Ruiz, director of golf and travel industry sales for Trump National Doral Miami, says when planning an event, a planner must provide the resort team and golf course with as much information about the goals of the outing or program as possible.
“They are the experts and can truly help a planner create the best day possible for the golfers,” she says. “Is it strictly leisure play? Teambuilding? Or are we giving golfers the opportunity to bond and build relationships with clients? The resort team and golf staff can set up the proper format for the day to ensure that everyone has a great time.”
Mark Kelbel, head golf pro at The Broadmoor Golf Club, Colorado Springs, Colorado, says companies should book a stay or trip with a venue used to taking care of group business and dealing with their needs, wants and concerns that go well beyond golf.
“We have to show that we value the fact they have chosen The Broadmoor for their outing. If we don’t, someone down the street will be more than happy to,” he says. “We pay attention to details and go the extra mile to make sure the stay is enjoyable and meets their satisfaction.”
Kelbel’s best advice for meeting planners who are scheduling a golf event at his club is to plan everything out, covering all scenarios, and understand the group dynamic.
“You want to set up the format so that everyone has a great time, and you don’t ever want someone to be in an uncomfortable position based on their particular game,” he says. “Plan enough activities to provide a great value experience, but don’t try to cram too much in.”
For the past five years, FirstBank Florida in Miami has held an annual charity golf tournament at Trump National Doral Miami, with proceeds benefiting ASPIRA of Florida, charter schools in underserved Miami-area communities.
“Working with those at Trump Doral has been a great experience. The tournament is very well planned each year, and their golf team is wonderful,” says Hernando J. Novoa, vice president of FirstBank Florida’s consumer banking group. “Every year has gotten bigger and better as we add more things, such as events at different holes. Plus, the golf course offers a competitive edge that others don’t, and our players enjoy that.”
Novoa says he appreciates that Doral’s director of golf serves is a one-touch contact and helps with all communication, logistics and support from the contract stage through the tournament.
“Right before, we have our vendors going to different holes and logistically, the golf team helps get them out there with their tents and helps set everything up,” he says. “There are people constantly running around in carts, and it’s vital we give them the support they need, and we’ve always gotten that.”
John Oxford, director of corporate marketing for Renasant Corporation, a financial services company with banking locations in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, helps to plan the company’s golf events throughout the year, and says the key to success is being able to serve a diversity of skill levels while allowing all players to have fun.
“On corporate outings, many participants are nervous about making impressions with their associates, and golf can increase those butterflies, especially for the less talented that need to be there for networking,” he says. “Making people hurry up, overzealous rangers and lack of cart services can really bring down a great corporate outing. It’s important to work with a golf resort that will work with you in planning the perfect day.”
Melissa Georgieff Champany, director of membership outreach and member engagement specialist for the Florida Association of Insurance Agents (FAIA), Tallahassee, Florida, heads up the organization’s annual Young Agent’s Council Golf Tournament. In 2018, the event is planned for Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando.
“We have a larger event that goes on — our FAIA Annual Convention — affiliated with the golf event, and nearly 2,000 attendees come through our exhibit hall with approximately 312 exhibitors,” she says. “The golf tournament is primarily for the young agents but it’s open to any of our convention attendees.”
The 2017 tournament had 140 players, and the FAIA raised approximately $60,000 in sponsorships.
“People anticipate the tournament and sign up months in advance, Champany says. “They want to see their buddies and work on the relationships they have established. What I’ve learned through the years is that the key to running a smooth event is communication — and that includes how we send out notifications about the event, working with those we partner with on where the proceeds are going, and staying in touch with those at the golf venue.”
The first step in planning the FAIA event each year, Champany says, is to make contact with the resorts she’s considering and discussing the details on an initial call to find which one is best for the organization’s needs. Price is discussed, as well as how much time, space and amenities will be needed and utilized.
“Once we talk everything out, I’ll have them send over via email a rough draft of what we spoke about, have it reviewed and make comments and notes, and we’ll keep that dialogue open for a few weeks as we iron out details,” she says. “We’ll set up conference calls and make sure everyone is on the same page.”
Communication during that time involves working on sponsorship for holes, signage, the beverage cart, preparing different contests and getting a photographer and arranging lunch.
“I work with the golf course and the people at the hotel so it’s as seamless as possible,” Champany says. “It’s important not to be a pushover, and I always look for someone who is willing to work with me. I’ve found they appreciate it if you know what you want.”
Ryan Hosford, director of golf at Rosen Shingle Creek, Orlando, Florida, says contract negotiations can take some time, but it’s important to ensure that the client is getting what they want out of the program.
That includes knowing their expectations and the goal for the event — fundraising, networking, thanking clients for business, etc. Regardless, the golf resort team is constituted to meet and exceed all expectations.
“If you’re talking about a golf tournament, it’s important to know who will be participating. You don’t want to have some person who has never played golf before thrown into a position where they are going to be embarrassed,” he says. “The meeting planner should know who are really golfers, and those who may need to be advised by our golf academy first, as that might be a less intimidating situation to be in.”
Creating the perfect event for a corporation is all about listening and communicating effectively, Allan says.
“Before you can make any suggestions or begin to set anything up, you need to understand who the group is, what they are looking for, and how much time they have,” he says. “We try to involve leaders and coordinators from all appropriate departments with groups so that everyone stays in the loop throughout the process in order to provide the very best program experience. Our group golf professional will be in constant contact throughout the event to ensure that it goes smoothly from start to finish.”
Things that should be discussed very early on, Ruiz says, are the caliber of golfer (low or high handicaps), the goal of event, day, time, course and pricing per player, food and beverage options, format of any contests and prizes, arrival, pre-golf activities and post-golf events.
Oxford’s three best pieces of advice for meeting planners on how they can help create the perfect golf program experience are to be friendly, help create games such as closest to the pin, and have an app for the day’s events that helps with as many things as possible.
He also advises planners to reserve some extra carts so that those running the event can attend to any problems that golfers may have along the course.
Kelbel notes that planners should familiarize themselves with the course and facilities ahead of time, as he’s seen planners panic because they don’t understand the logistics of it all.
In a tournament setting, he suggests putting golfers with similar abilities together, and coming up with other things for non-golfers to do and succeed at.
For those who take part in a symposium or golf academy, Hosford says they, too, can learn some important lessons that can help their future business needs.
“If a company wants to focus on golf as a way to teambuild or sell or network, a lot of time people are going to feel intimidated,” he says. “We can advise people who might not play much golf about how to get around the course, what to say, how to book a tee time so they feel more comfortable.”
Some meeting planners (especially those fundraising) are interested in doing a helicopter drop, where a helicopter drops hundreds of bouncing golf balls onto a putting green, and prizes are given to those that land closest and farthest from the hole. The reality is most courses don’t do this, and even those that do need time to get it all worked out, so planners need to communicate that interest early.
“Some courses might not have a company that can help with that. There are liability issues, airspace issues, and planners shouldn’t assume every one can come through,” Hosford says. “We’ve done them often at Rosen Shingle Creek and can guide them along and make it a success.”
One thing that Champany learned early on in planning the FAIA event is that you need to be prepared for weather and have a backup plan in case of heavy rains.
“In the early days, I just assumed we could make things work, but you need to have a designated rain plan and work things out with the resort ahead of time — it has to be part of the contract,” she says. “What will they charge? What are they willing to do to help? Can golfers stay in the clubhouse and do something inside, like cornhole? These are all things that need to be planned in advance.”
Another mistake that many meeting planners make is overbooking the number of people golfing and going over the magic number of 140, which can slow down the day and upset participants. Champany recommends always underbooking by a foursome in case someone comes in and is willing to “double the rate” to play, which often happens.
Problems that Novoa has seen over his five years of planning include deliveries not happening on time, inclement weather and things not being set up on time. The fix to all of these problems is planning ahead.
“You need to have a team at the ready for ‘disaster recovery,’ ” he says. “We start preparing the evening before, around 6 p.m., so if something is missing or broken, we have all that night and the next morning to react and fix the problem. The golf team support is welcomed at these times.”
Mistakes often happen because the planners don’t put their faith in the resort. Allan says some group planners tend to micromanage their programs, which can create stress and handicap the facility from really “doing their thing.”
“Group planners are under a lot of pressure to provide a top-notch program experience, so you can understand their desire to manage every little aspect of an event,” he says. “However, they brought the event to you because they were impressed during the site visit, so it will turn out best if they trust us to provide the experience we promised we could and would.”
And never wait until the last minute to book the program, says Ruiz, as it’s very easy to miss the opportunity to book the exact day, course and time you want.
“Also, keep in mind that it’s more than just the four-hour round that makes up the guests’ golf experience,” she says. “Did they have the opportunity to warm up? Were the players welcomed? Was the event clearly set up with cart signs specifically for them? Was food and beverage provided and available on course? Was the format of the event fun and clearly communicated? Was pace-of-play on the course satisfactory?”
The answer to all of these questions better be “yes” if a golf resort expects to be successful with group outings and corporate tournaments.
Four hours on a golf course is a great way to get clients somewhat alone and without digital distraction. Planners say this could be one of the biggest advantages of the day.
“Since the golf event requires that you spend almost an entire day with a client, there couldn’t be a better way to engage and grow closer, improving the business relationship,” Novoa says. “The key to an event like this is to focus on networking opportunities for clients. It provides a platform for us and our clients to get to know each other better and provides an opportunity to expand our services and relationships with customers.”
Renasant Corporation is the shirt sponsor of PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players Dominic Bozzelli and Ally McDonald, respectively. “This makes for a cool golf inclusion when you can work your sponsored pros in to play rotating holes with your teams,” Oxford says. “It’s something that can improve the business relationship even more.”
Ruiz says that it can be a great teambuilding event, especially during a “scramble” format, where everyone in the foursome has an opportunity to contribute to the team, but a player won’t feel so pressured if they hit a bad shot.
“The most important thing to remember about golf and business is that it has the opportunity to build relationships,” she says. “A golf round usually takes four hours to play, which is valuable time to build a relationship with a potential client, partner or staff member.”
Trump National Doral features four championship golf courses, a state-of-the-art practice facility with LED lighting for nighttime play, a leading golf academy and the nation’s largest golf shop, all self-contained in an exclusive, 800-acre tropical oasis just minutes from Miami’s international airport and world-famous beaches.
Sea Island Resort offers world-class facilities in all areas including golf, with beautiful courses, a renowned Golf Performance Center, and, Allan says, “the service to back it all up.”
“We pride ourselves on providing unique programs individually catered to each group so that year after year our clients are surprised, wowed and excited by what they experience,” he says.
Approximately 70 percent of business at The Broadmoor is comprised of groups, and most of the time meetings are involved. But companies almost always take advantage of the five-star, five-diamond golf course as part of the group activities.
“They may spend Sunday night and Monday morning in a meeting and then do a shotgun tournament on Monday afternoon and come out here to play,” Kelbel says. “The physical property is incredible; we’re in a gorgeous, majestic setting right up against the Rocky Mountains.”
The Streamsong Resort in Central Florida is home to three nationally ranked courses, Streamsong Red, Streamsong Blue, and the brand-new Streamsong Black, designed by Olympic golf course designer Gil Hanse. The resort is a favorite among meeting planners both in and out of town, and its staff has an event team at the ready to help plan the perfect corporate golf outing.
Rosen Shingle Creek, designed by the Arnold Palmer Design Company, is famous for its extra-long par 4s and par 5s surrounded by enchanting flora and wildlife, as well as its challenging hazards, twists and bends.
“Businesses can impress clients with a round on this award-winning course,” Hosford says. “Avid golfers will really appreciate playing the course and will remember it for a long time.”
Remember, even if the meeting planner is not a golfer, by working in cooperation with a resort’s golf team, they can execute a flawless golf event.
A golf course is a unique place for teambuilding, particularly when hosting something like a scramble, where there is not a lot of pressure on anyone to do well and everyone supports one another.
“The beauty of tournaments when on a business trip is people’s ability to get together and talk away from normal business offices,” Kelbel says. “Everyone is rooting for one another, and no one is in a three-piece suit sitting across from one another at a desk, so it’s a much less stressful environment.” I&FMM