Resorts with golf and spa facilities have long been favored for corporate and incentive meetings and executive retreats. Golf is popular among executives, and spas are a draw for attendees in their free time as well as for spouses and family members at meetings. These resorts typically have excellent meeting facilities as well as team-building opportunities — golf included, of course — and ample space for networking. They also offer the kind of ambiance and amenities incentive planners seek.
One place offering such ambiance is The Coeur d’Alene Resort in Idaho, which has spared nothing to deliver the ultimate golf experience. It was once described as “America’s Most Beautiful Resort Golf Course” by Golf Digest. The golfing experience begins with a thrilling high-speed ride in a sleek mahogany boat, whisking players across the waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene to a land of meticulously manicured fairways — and that’s just the beginning. Gorgeous lake views on nearly every hole await, with every feature — from hole design to luxury carts and personalized forecaddie service.
Home to the world’s only movable, floating golf green, the resort offers players an amazing challenge. Each day, this par 3-hole moves anywhere from 90 yards from the ladies’ tee, up to 220 yards from the championship tees. The Floating Green is recognized around the globe as an iconic feat of engineering and design — and a formidable test for players of all skill levels.
As for the spa, everything The Coeur d’Alene Resort Spa offers springs from natural Northwest elements — the water and stone, once shaping our local landscape’s ancient glaciers, now resides in our mountains, valleys, rivers and alpine lakes. At The Coeur d’Alene Resort Spa, water is everywhere — it flows, splashes, soothes, invigorates and cleanses. With many treatment rooms overlooking the lake, The Coeur d’Alene Resort Spa, has been ranked one of the top resort spas in America, according to Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List, while MSNBC.com has named it one of the “World’s Most Romantic Spas.”
The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, also offers all the amenities planners desire. Laura Stireman, regional vice president, sales & distribution with WCF Insurance, calls the Broadmoor a great fit for her group. The company’s President’s Club met there last October with 100 in attendance. “The location is so easy to get to from anywhere in the country with an airport about 15 minutes from the resort. They have all manner of activities, indoor and outdoor. We had several activities planned: golf, zipline, archery, hiking. We ended up having to cancel most of our outdoor events due to a snowstorm, but the resort has so many indoor activities that our group loved their time indoors. The bowling alley was probably the most popular amenity.”
Colorado’s sometimes unpredictable fall weather notwithstanding, Stireman reiterates that The Broadmoor and surrounding area offer a lot to do and see. “Take some time to really think about what your group would enjoy and make a few suggestions to your group,” she advises. As every planner knows, it’s often about the relationships at a property that create meeting success, and Stireman calls out Caleb Rice, The Broadmoor’s director of incentive, insurance & Northeast sales. “I chose this resort because of the location, amenities and activities,” she says, “but mostly because Caleb is so very easy to work with. He put our program together with very little notice.”
Stireman’s attendees also took advantage of the spa.” We arranged spa time for our group. They did a great job of accommodating almost our entire group in the midst of COVID-19. They did it respectfully and kept everyone safe and happy.” The Broadmoor was a hit with WCF Insurance, and Stireman says they will return, and in fact are working on another program already. To planners thinking about booking The Broadmoor, her advice is simple: “Follow Caleb’s lead and advice and you won’t go wrong.”
An East Coast-based insurance group chose Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, for its incentive program for 100 attendees held late last fall. “The Boulders Resort was a good fit for this group because of its location, airlift, weather, ease of access and cost. These were all meaningful,” says the program’s planner. “It was also selected because it has everything right on the grounds. And,” he notes, “The scenery is incredible, and the resort felt very private and secluded.”
The fact that the property offers golf and a spa also factored into the decision to run an incentive program there. The planner calls Boulders Resort perfect for incentive groups. “It’s a destination that really has everything — spa, golf and so much outdoor space for different activities that were added to the agenda. It’s nice to know that you can have your half-day meeting and then have time for group activities without having to leave the property. That’s certainly easy on the transportation budget.”
Although this is a huge resort, the planner says that wasn’t an issue. “The on-property transportation was on point. And the experienced sales and catering staff were very helpful, especially navigating a program at a property that is so spread out and expansive.” Having the golf and the spa on-site was “beneficial,” the planner notes. The group made use of both. “We had a shotgun golf tournament. Staff was great to work with and made the process easy to plan. Both courses are beautiful and equally challenging,” he says, “and because we played consecutive days, we were able to enjoy both courses.”
As for the spa, he calls the setting amazing. “The gym has great equipment and classes took place in different venues, which were top-notch. The treatment rooms were very nice, and our attendees raved about the services. Additionally,” he says, “The pool backs right into the boulders. There’s a nice peaceful vibe.” Another benefit: “Great indoor space all with natural light so there is no airwall feeling here,” the planner says. “Outdoor space is also a plus, and being able to have multiple nightly dinners in completely different outdoor settings is an added bonus.”
Everything, he says, “was executed beautifully,” and the group plans to return to Boulders Resort when the program returns to Arizona. He recommends that planners visit for a site tour. “You must see it to believe it,” he says. “Walking the event spaces and the grounds gives you the feeling of what the group will experience. It also helps in the planning process.”
Wayne Robinson, CMP, CMM, assistant VP, events and multimedia with FM Global, has had several “focused crucial client meetings and events” at luxury golf and spa resorts. He’s unwilling to name a favorite because his group has close relationships with multiple properties, but says they typically meet in Q4 in either Florida or Arizona. Attendance varies from 50 to 125. Wherever they meet, what matters is that there’s “good lift, consistency of service in the destination and venues, tenured staff and knowledge of our expectations, history, specific group dynamics and relationships,” Robinson says.
FM Global has long included golf in its events and programs, but Robinson says he’s starting to see some new trends. “Our groups enjoy golf tremendously, but I’m noticing now that most of our attendees play often [depending on where they come from], so offering a unique activity specific to the region as well as ‘something they can’t do on their own’ are increasingly determining factors. That, along with the fact that many of the attendees are younger and want more options. Depending on the agenda, they may even want time to themselves to enjoy the venue and destination.”
In terms of choosing resorts, an important attribute for Robinson is exclusivity. “If we’re swallowed up by larger groups, it won’t matter how luxurious the property is or how unique and desirable the destination is. Part of a ‘special’ experience is feeling like we’re the only game in town — regardless of whether there are other groups in-house — and having full reign of the resort amenities. Nothing is worse than dodging other groups.”
Robinson says they’ve planned golf tournaments at some meetings and events or simply let the attendees play on their own in their free time. It all depends on the specific group. As for spa use, that may be especially heavy when spouses and guests are included at the event. Depending on the group, an event may include pre and post ‘on your own’ golf, but with a different group there may instead be destination-specific activities that attendees want to explore nearby or in the region in general.”
Demographics, Robinson, notes, are everything. “For example, we have tenured groups that all they want to do is play golf at fine courses and they’ll come for that reason. But some groups want to explore the area we’re visiting, say, hiking when we’re in Arizona, or going on tours in an area that’s steeped in history.”
Robinson’s advice for planners no matter where the meeting or event is set is, “Know your attendees. History begets success, especially as we emerge and get back to steady face-to-face meetings. We can’t assume certain things any longer. The attendee list tells the story. We have more diversity among our attendees now, which is a good thing. But it might mean that 36 holes of golf may give way to some out-of-the-box activities germane to the destination that wouldn’t have been considered in the past.”
There’s also an emphasis on health and healing now he points out. “This translates into the experience in general, so the resorts should be keen to the dynamic of each group and not get hung up on what was done traditionally. It’s a new world with so much to consider, but golf does remain a key determining factor,” Robinson concludes. “And that’s not going to change.”
The fact is that golf fits in well with the new emphasis on health and safety. Ashley Skidmore, head golf professional at Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa in Texas, says, “Although COVID-19 has disrupted everyday life in numerous ways, the game of golf is continuing to provide a fun and engaging outing where participants can enjoy the company of others in a safe and socially distanced manner. Not only does golf offer an exciting activity for all skill levels, it provides a much-deserved change of scenery immersed in beautiful outdoor settings where you can enjoy the fresh air and take a moment to step outside of everyday stresses.”
While Skidmore knows these have been challenging times for implementing group activities, the resort has seen increased interest for golf outings and tournaments. “Planners and courses are finding inventive ways to provide group experiences while ensuring the safety of participants, from virtual receptions to increased cleaning methods,” she says.
Golf tournaments lend themselves to today’s new reality, but planning one may be more complicated than a planner who has never included a golf tournament in a program realizes. We asked two head golf professionals to provide some tips on how to go about it.
The most important step in hosting a successful and safe golf tournament, Skidmore says, is to do research and ensure the course you’re working with is taking all the necessary steps to ensure minimal contact and player safety.
“I recommend that planners request a full walk-through of the tournament process, from beginning to completion, prior to moving forward with the event. It will be important to see firsthand the updated cleaning and sanitization procedures, and how courses are managing social distancing procedures on-site. For example, here at Hill Country Golf Club, we’ve reinvented the player experience to ensure minimal contact with Plexiglas barriers and limited capacity in the pro shop, increased the frequency of cleaning of high-touch areas including carts, and even added foam inserts into the holes to help minimize contact for retrieving the ball. The walk-through is also a great time to recognize all potential areas where golfers may be inclined to gather and taking necessary precautions or implement additional safety measures.”
While safety protocols are critical, golf tournaments include dozens of other critical details as well. Ryan Hosford, director of golf at Shingle Creek Golf Club at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, also emphasizes meeting with a course’s tournament director well ahead of time to work out all of the details — and there are many that non-golfing planners might not think about. “From planning to format, to prizes, to customized flags and banners, the tournament director will ensure that planners have all of the details and know what to expect so the tournament is a memorable experience for all.”
Skidmore says that means clearly communicating tournament information, including safety procedures and protocols, to participants. “I recommend sending a confirmation note to each player that outlines the tournament structure, mask and social distancing rules, arrival processes, as well as the course’s safety procedures. It is also important to keep an ongoing dialogue with players and ensure that they have a way to express any concerns or ask questions throughout the process.”
With the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, Skidmore notes, it’s important for planners to be flexible and prepared for updates that may need to be made to their event. “I’ve seen several inventive and creative ways that planners are adapting the process. For example, tournament registration is now completed online and in advance of the event. Additionally, food and beverage options have shifted with more tournaments providing grab-and-go items or pre-packaged boxed lunches instead of traditional sit-down meals.”
Skidmore says post-tournament receptions are also adapting, with many now set in spacious outdoor venues to ensure appropriate social-distancing practices.
You might want to host a pre-tournament breakfast, Hosford says, a fun post-event celebration or a more formal awards banquet. There are typically lots of venues to choose from, so planners should consider carefully which work for that particular group. “We have a variety of venues, including a 1,850-sf outdoor pavilion,” Hosford notes. “There’s also the AAA Four Diamond A Land Remembered steakhouse, with picturesque course views, and Rosen Shingle Creek’s intimate to expansive ballrooms accommodating groups from 10 to 10,000.”
Some resorts have on-site golf academies or can provide swing analysis for players. For a high-end incentive group, these can be a big draw — and they can be customized according to the ability of participants. “Groups here can take advantage of pro instructors at the Brad Brewer Golf Academy,” Hosford says. “And serious golfers can sign up for the academy’s pre-tournament computer swing analysis, an innovative way to perfect a swing that might not be available at a participant’s home course.”
Hosford points out that some attendees may not want to ship their clubs or take them on flights. Resorts often have rental clubs and shoes, but you need to know in advance how many attendees would like rentals and how many the resort has. Shingle Creek Golf Club, he says, offers both clubs and shoes for rent.
With increased interest in golf, Skidmore recommends encouraging beginners to join group tournaments. “I recommend offering game options for all skill levels. For example, tournaments can include a scramble-style format where all players tee off from the same point, but then continue the game from where the best shot landed. This approach helps to create a fun and interactive day on the course that everyone can enjoy.”
Bottom line: Planners should talk extensively with resort golf staff to ensure they’re creating the right tournament and experience and offering the right options for each group. I&FMM