Many articles have been written about the value of golf as a business tool. Certainly it provides several hours of networking between shots and facilitates face time between people in different departments or at different levels within a company. It can help forge or deepen relationships between colleagues, corporate management and clients, and buyers and suppliers. It can facilitate teambuilding and drive healthy competition.
It’s probably true that you’ll learn something about a person’s temperament, focus and integrity based on how they play golf. And tournaments are a proven platform for funding charitable causes.
All of that makes including a golf tournament in corporate events good business. But someone has to organize it, and often that person is not a golfer, which can be a disadvantage.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of help on hand. We asked experienced planners and golf staff for tips and strategies on how and where to create successful corporate golf events that drive business and fun.
Brenda Randolph, event specialist with MarketSource Inc., a Georgia-based sales and marketing company, has planned several corporate tournaments at Hammock Beach, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort in Palm Coast, Florida. The tournament is part of an annual leadership conference for about 200 attendees.
The resort features two golf courses: the famed Ocean Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, and the Conservatory Course, designed by Tom Watson. The Ocean Course reopened last fall after a 13-month restoration project.
Randolph says the goal of golf at this conference is teambuilding. Her top considerations when planning the tournament are customizing for the groups, options for contests and overall value. The MarketSource group played the Ocean Course.
About golf at Hammock Beach, she says, “Expect your golfers to be pleased with the course and the folks who make it happen,” noting that the resort’s golf staff assist with the right groupings for contests and play on the course. “Our folks thoroughly enjoy golf at Hammock Beach.”
There have been no challenges, and Randolph says there’s nothing she’d do differently. “We have over 10 years coming back because of the consistent partnership and outstanding customer service.”
In terms of the resort, Randolph says, “Location is important and pricing aligns; however, the value and customer service are what are key for our company. There’s a willingness to align with our budget, as well as to accommodate the needs of our attendees to make sure our program is a success,” she says. “Plus, everything we need is onsite — it’s the complete destination package for meeting planners.”
The company has a long history with Hammock Beach. “This is a property that delivers with a unique offering versus the standard hotel options. They truly partner with you through all facets of your event from start to end.”
Among the resort employees who stand out for Randolph are, “Stephen Baker, outstanding sales professional, Beth Townsend, providing incredible customer service, even down to the AV team under Glen, and the banquet staff under Sonny — all of these folks deliver!”
Her advice to anyone considering a meeting or tournament at Hammock Beach: “Definitely utilize the resort from indoor to outdoors to create a memory for your groups. The various settings for meals, teambuilding and breakouts, along with the amazing scenery, bring a relaxing element to an event yet excite attendees at the same time.”
Heather P. Allen, executive director of Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine, Florida, helps plan an annual gala for about 250 at Hammock Beach Resort each May. Her top three considerations when putting together a golf tournament are the size of the group, best course to accommodate the group, and additional amenities and activities available for attendees.
“We used the Conservatory Course to host our guests for an all-day Friday shotgun start with box-lunch option,” she says. “The courses are magnificent and our guests feel honored to play on either of the courses — it’s a very special treat.”
Allen calls Hammock Beach “a wonderful destination for us because it provides a little getaway for our guests close to home. The beautiful yet secluded resort provides many amenities that make for a fun and relaxing three-day event.”
Among the resort features Allen likes are the three-bedroom suite options and the golf courses, as well as “the ability to hold multiday functions all in different venues, which provides variety in our guests’ experience. We use the lounges, outdoor spaces, golf courses and formal ballrooms. In addition, the staff is extraordinary in their preparation, responsiveness, customer service, pride and overall level of excellence. The sky is the limit with the staff and their support of the overall event success,” she adds.
“Each year we do significant transformation of the ballrooms with the help of a local décor company, and the staff is all part of that experience. Give the resort a try,” Allen recommends to those considering bringing their groups here. “You will be a repeat customer!”
Exclusive and secluded in Central Florida is the 16,000-acre Streamsong Resort, which received golf accolades in April from Golfweek, which listed Streamsong Red and Streamsong Blue as the No. 2 and No. 3 golf courses to play in Florida. Built around the contours of former phosphate mines, the courses feature rolling elevation changes, native grasses and stunning views of ridges and the surrounding landscape — a delightfully distinctive golf experience unlike any other in Florida.
Debuting last fall, along with a new clubhouse and restaurant, is the third championship course, Streamsong Black, designed by Gil Hanse. 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 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. And the resort plans to add a second practice facility, clubhouse and restaurant to serve guests playing Streamsong Black.
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. Streamsong’s Clubhouse includes 12 guest rooms, a restaurant and bar, an award-winning golf shop and meeting space with breathtaking views. In addition to golf, guests can enjoy such activities as bass fishing, sporting clays, nature trails and tennis.
On the other side of the country, in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, is Terranea Resort, a Destination Hotels-managed property overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Southern California coast. Terranea features a links-style course along the ocean presenting plenty of interest and challenge.
This unusual layout is a collection of nine championship-caliber, par-3 holes — enough to test the skills of low-handicappers yet provide fun and pleasant play for those with less experience. It’s exclusively a walking course, allowing only pull carts. An added positive to the shorter course is that golf doesn’t have to take up as much time on your agenda if you don’t want it to.
Maria Tapia, event planner and executive assistant with Hofman Hospitality Group, a family-owned restaurant group based in California, helped plan the 11th Annual HHG Leadership Retreat for approximately 195 attendees in October. It was based at Terranea Resort and included a golf tournament. She calls the location ideal. “This was the most convenient for many of our local and out-of-state participants. And the views from all over the resort are outstanding.”
Tapia says it’s critical to consider course condition, availability and weather when creating a corporate golf tournament, adding that Terranea’s Dan Marvosh went above and beyond.
Golf tournaments may be traditional but that doesn’t mean you can’t add something new to increase the fun and corporate teambuilding quotient. “Our golf tournament is a vendor and company social opportunity,” Tapia says. “In 2017 for the first time we added a foot-golf open for our company team members only, and it was a huge success.”
Tapia suggests letting players know upfront that the golf course is walking only. “A few guests were unable to participate due to the cart policy and one guest was escorted around the course during foot golf to support her team. Even though guests typically like to drive themselves on a golf course,” she notes, “it wasn’t really a problem. Our overall experience was absolutely outstanding.”
Marvosh and his team provided solid support in organizing the tournaments. “Dan and his team were amazing. We had several phone conversations to brainstorm ideas for tournaments, prizes, teams, rules, etc. At the end of both contests (golf and foot golf), we were provided with winning results to be announced that evening.”
In the end, Tapia says, “Everything about the event and tournaments was amazing.”
Golf at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is as impeccable as every other aspect of the resort. Amanda Crocker, meetings and events planner with Pinnacol Assurance, says the company runs a fundraising tournament every year to benefit the Pinnacol Foundation scholarship fund and calls The Broadmoor a perfect fit.
“Attendee experience is very important to this program. Where else can you have a 200-person golf tournament in Colorado with ample space for an awards luncheon and accommodations that welcome our donors, all at a high level of quality and service?”
The Broadmoor has three layouts: The East, West and Mountain courses. That’s another fit for Pinnacol’s tournament, which requires multiple courses. Crocker counts timing, weather, available space for lunch and an awards program and player experience among the primary considerations when planning a tournament, but notes that anyone planning at The Broadmoor has ample help.
“Use their resources,” she advises. “The Broadmoor service team is there for you and can help think through challenges and propose ideas. The tournament staff at the golf club is so helpful and experienced. They are there to help with everything.”
That service extends across the resort. “As soon as you step out of your car, you’re greeted with a high level of service and ambience,” Crocker says. “There’s something truly special about being on the property, no matter where you are.”
Crocker says pace of play is always an issue, especially with a 200-person shotgun start. “We worked with the tournaments manager to come up with ways to eliminate the bottlenecking on certain holes. They are the course experts, so I rely heavily on them when it comes to on-course challenges.”
Staff assists off-course, too. “They’re there to help from initial planning to the day of the program,” Crocker says. “They are 100 percent devoted to us during that time. They have hustled to help us with load-in, move items from the golf club to the course, with signage and to ensure our guests are happy throughout the day. If I need a cart, an extra hand or something last minute on the course, it’s done.”
One thing she’s learned since she started planning tournaments is that it’s important to know the courses. “I drive the courses before the tournament to review sponsor signage and on-course setups for our volunteers,” she says.
Her advice for anyone considering The Broadmoor is to work with a sales manager on what all of the meeting spaces offer because there are so many options. “And book early if you have a specific date in mind.”
At Sea Island, a Forbes Five Star resort on St. Simons Island, Georgia, senior instructor and group golf professional Chrissy Felton says tournaments require upfront discussions. “We ask planners several questions in front of the event to plan for their needs. Depending on the number of golfers, we offer standard tee times, a double tee start (off both No. 1 and No. 10 tees) or a shotgun start. It’s important to determine the format of the tournament (scramble, Ryder Cup, four ball, foursomes). This allows us to set up the event for success.”
Knowing the number of players is critical. If it’s fewer than 60, for example, Felton says, “A shotgun start is not always the best option. Depending on size, managed tee times can work just as well.”
Like other pros, Felton believes non-golfers can successfully plan tournaments — with help. “They may benefit from assistance and understanding of how the event will operate, and that’s where we come in. If they don’t know what they want, we coach them with our experience to ensure a successful event.”
At Sea Island Resort, every group is assigned its own golf professional at no extra charge, Felton says, “to assist with pairings, cart signs, scorecards, scoring and rules sheets. They handle the details relating to the golf portion of the event, which allows the meeting planner to focus on the rest of the program. The planning for a golf event starts with the contracting process. Our sales team works directly with the client and the golf staff to reserve the right format, whether with tee times or a shotgun start. This process continues with our conference service team as we get closer to the event dates.”
Sea Island has three championship courses, five-star accommodations and a magnificent setting, making it ideal for high-end incentive programs. It also has a Golf Performance Center.
“This is available for groups to enjoy full-swing instruction, putting lessons, golf fitness, course management and personalized club fitting,” Felton says. “We offer golf clinics before events to help make players feel more confident. The players then go out and play a scramble. We also offer pro-am scrambles so a less experienced golfer can go out with a pro and get some on-course assistance.”
In addition, Felton notes, the resort offers fun events such as glow-ball driving and putting tournaments as well as fun and challenging putting competitions. “Events such as these are great for teambuilding as well as relationship building.”
The resort can accommodate groups of from eight to 450 golfers, and Felton says scrambles and shambles are the best formats for corporate events. Her biggest challenge relates to weather. “Predicting the weather is difficult but it is something we have to deal with when planning an outdoor activity.”
Regarding timing, Felton says the earlier you book, the better. “This is especially the case if the group is interested in peak golf season, March–May and September–November. Tee times are blocked during the contracting process and details are worked out during the planning process.”
To planners she says, “Golf is a wonderful game that brings colleagues, clients etc., together outside of an office or meeting environment. When planning your golf event, always take into account the skill level of attendees. While this typically varies from group to group, you want to make sure the format sets you up for success. The main goal is to have fun!”
Work began in December 2017 on a $25 million enhancement program at The Lodge at Sea Island that 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. The 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.
Bobby Barnes, PGA member, director of golf at Innisbrook, a Salamander Resort, in Palm Harbor, Florida, says providing accurate information is critical.
“The most important thing for me to know about a group in terms of assisting them in planning a golf tournament is first, how many players are in the field. This is critical to determining their rate and how many tee times are required to accommodate their event. Next would be what type of format and what assistance they’ll need from our staff, e.g. scoring, proximities on the course, prizes, etc.”
He says if he can get all details 72 hours prior to the tournament, that goes a long way to ensuring success.
Golf knowledge is helpful but not required. “If planners aren’t golfers there’s no reason to be intimidated, at least not at Innisbrook,” Barnes says. “Our professionals will assist and make sure the planning is easy for everyone. We’ll walk them through each step.”
That said, planners should be very organized and get everything in order early, including selecting the format, getting prizes, setting up rental clubs and providing all player names to the staff. At Innisbrook, golf staff helps by setting up a pre-con meeting to discuss all details. Barnes recommends a year in advance as a good timeline but says he’s run successful programs in less time. “The more lead time, the better,” he says.
In terms of numbers, Barnes puts the ideal at 120 players per course. “This allows for a full field to optimize revenues for the resort but doesn’t over saturate the golf course and allows for a good pace of play.”
He believes a scramble is the best format. “It allows everyone to participate despite their skill level and adds the element of teambuilding that I believe is important with corporate events. As long as I know ahead of time that a tournament will include all levels of players, and I have input regarding the type of format being played, player skill levels aren’t an issue.”
In addition to format, Barnes says it’s easy to accommodate groups of mixed skill levels by having “an A, B, C & D player in each foursome, which evens out the field and prevents a group of a low-skill-level players from holding up the entire field.”
Among Innisbrook’s assets are a staff that includes nine PGA members, as well as four championship courses, one of which has hosted a PGA Tour event for almost 30 years and another that has hosted LPGA and NCAA championships. That can be a big draw for corporate participants.
The biggest challenges in Barnes’ view are “last-minute changes leading up to and on the day of the event. If there are little to no changes,” he says, “tournaments usually go off without a hitch.”
Brad Hauer, director of golf at Hammock Beach Resort, wants to know upfront what a group wishes to accomplish with golf. Is it meant to be fun? Competitive? He lists scramble and captain’s choice as formats that work well for players and pace of play, but says, “We can do any kind of format they’d like and accommodate any number of players.”
Like the other pros, Hauer says his team is ready and able to help planners who don’t have deep knowledge of golf. “It takes more time explaining how golf tournaments work and about the potential challenges they may not understand, but our staff is here to educate and assist in every aspect of running the golf tournament. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Our staff is very knowledgeable and is happy to assist planners to make the experience as easy as possible.”
That said, it’s helpful if planners can enlist a golfer at the company to help, too.
Hauer lists poor communication as a challenge in the process, especially if planners don’t understand the inner workings of a large group tournament and what’s required to run it. From that perspective, planners are encouraged to ask questions, ask for assistance and provide as much detailed information to resort staff as possible.
“We have an inside team that works closely with the group after contracts have been signed,” Hauer says. They find out exactly what the client wants from start to finish. He suggests groups book at least a year in advance to secure the tee times they want.
“We have an amazing hotel, the beach, two golf courses, many activities and a great family atmosphere. Groups can expect service and experience to be top-notch.”
However you plan and play it and whatever the goals may be, one thing is sure: A golf tournament is another worthy business tool in a planner’s conference toolkit. C&IT