Chips & putts: don’t lose the schmooze

June 26, 2017

This year, coporate hospitality at professional golf events isn’t what it used to be. But that doesn’t mean the business is in the dumps, either. In fact, sales directors at various PGA Tour events say that in the past few years, they’ve had about 80-percent retention of companies that rent air-conditioned and catered tents to entertain clients.

While The Heritage, a PGA event held each April in Hilton Head, SC, saw title sponsor Worldcom go into bankruptcy last year and take its multimillion-dollar commitment with it, the event has been able to hold on to most other corporate clients. “Many of our sponsors aren’t strictly local in nature, so we haven’t experienced attrition the way many other pro events around the country might have,” says Jeff Laben, sales director.

At the EDS Byron Nelson Championship, held each May at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Las Colinas, in Irving, TX, improvements to the quality of service, signage, and other amenities for corporate clients are designed to keep as much repeat business as possible. “To try to get away from the carnival atmosphere of many big golf events, we studied The Masters and the U.S. Open in order to create more of a championship atmosphere,” says Randy Engstrom, tournament chairman. “We haven’t increased the square footage of our corporate tents and villas in the past five years–we’ve simply tried to upgrade the experience inside them. And we’ve sold out for the past few years.”

For companies who’ve fallen from–or can’t climb into–the ranks of the tent renters, there are other golf hospitality options. One possibility is to purchase a table within a shared hospitality pavilion that offers air conditioning, large-screen televisions, and food and beverage. At the EDS Byron Nelson, 100 such passes–20 per day over the five-day event–cost $9,500. And if you simply want to spend a day perched atop a grassy knoll, watching the pros go by while you chat with one or two clients, individual grounds passes can be had for between $15 and $30 at most pro tour events.

For a complete list of the men’s, women’s, and seniors’ pro events that crisscross the country from March to November, visit www.pgatour.com/tournaments.

IRON MAIDENS

Forget the recent brouhaha at Augusta National Golf Club about whether or not very rich women will be able to hobnob at a stuffy private club alongside very rich men. The most interesting gender-based story in the golf world this year is that next month, Ladies PGA star Annika Sorenstam will be the first woman to play in a men’s professional tour event.

Sorenstam announced in mid-February that she will play in the Bank of America Colonial, a PGA event in Fort Worth, TX, to be held May 22-25. By entering the Colonial on a sponsor’s exemption, Sorenstam beat out Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley in the race to be golf’s Billie Jean King. Whaley earned a spot in July’s Greater Hartford Open by winning a qualifying regional event against men last September. She played the qualifying event from a forward set of tees, meaning she played the course 10 percent shorter than the men. But both Sorenstam and Whaley will play from the same set of tees as other competitors at the men’s events.

Because of this, Sorenstam evaluated the golf courses hosting various men’s events, and chose the short Colonial course because it gives her a good chance to finish in the money.

For the amateur duffers at your events, choosing a not-too-tough golf course makes a difference, too. And as you will have people at your event who don’t play too often, you should also offer several tee boxes they can play from. Forward tees not only offer shorter routes to each hole, but also steer players clear of water, sand, and trees. Use this advantage to plan an event that everyone will enjoy.

A SWINGIN’ GOOD TIME

At pine needles lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, NC, meeting groups can use the “Carnival of Golf’ to spice up an afternoon or evening reception. Appealing to both golfers and non-golfers alike, the event takes place on the resort’s driving range, practice green, and four abbreviated practice holes. Combined with a cookout, cocktails, and a band or disk jockey, the carnival allows as many as 100 people to partake in as much (or as little) golf as they can stand.

Novices can receive intimidation-free instruction on the driving range, while experienced golfers can engage in a mini-tournament on the lighted practice holes. What’s more, putting and chipping contests appeal to almost everyone–even those who don’t know a thing about golf, and don’t care. And to emphasize the levity of the event, there’s even a long-drive contest that involves hitting marshmallows instead of golf balls. Finally, attendees can be placed into teams if bonding is a goal of the conference.

Keep in mind that such an event can be done at almost any resort with its own driving range and putting green.

ADVANTAGE: YOU

Today, there’re more than 17,000 golf courses in the United States, and the rate of new courses has been about 500 per year since 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation. But since 1997, the number of golfers has remained steady at about 25 million, as the same number of people pick up the game–nearly three million–as leave the game annually. What’s more, Golfweek magazine recently noted that many upscale courses have slashed rates, because the recession and the drop in travel have left them sparsely populated. So, before you start negotiating the costs of your next golf event, determine the strength of recent demand at area courses via the local convention & visitors bureau. You may be pleasantly surprised.

LEARNING THE PRICE OF VICTORY

Sure, we’ve all heard about how golf is a lot like business you must keep your cool, retain your mental focus, strategize, and approach the task more as a marathon than a sprint. But a fairly new program offered at PGA National Resort & Spa doesn’t use the game itself, but rather the ambitions, career strategies, and preparation routines of top golf pros like Tiger Woods and Greg Norman, as its link between the sport and the business world. As a result, anyone–golfer or not–can relate to these pros’ approaches to not only conquering their opposition, but also staying motivated to take on even greater tasks once they succeed.

Led by Dr. Rick Jensen, the “Mastering the Essentials of Champions” program asserts that by looking at the ways dominant golfers analyze their competition and maximize their own potential, business people can come away with strategies for successfully reaching their current objectives, and then preparing for and attacking larger challenges they find worthwhile.

“Champions think differently than their peers,” says Jensen, a former professor of business at the University of Florida in Gainesville who’s spoken at business conferences for 15 years on this topic before basing the program at PGA National last year. “They clearly define their vision of success, and then recognize who the competition is for that same success. Next, they determine how those competitors measure up in key areas, and see how competitors practice and perfect themselves in those key areas. Finally, they create a plan to become better in those areas, and once they achieve that and become winners, they start all over again with a new vision of success on a higher level.”

The three-day program, which includes a light fitness regimen and some golf instruction to demonstrate what the top pros focus on, is $2,450 per person, though groups can negotiate that rate. Also, a shorter version of the program can be created for meeting groups on a tight schedule. Call (561) 627-2000 for more information.

SUMMER SCHOOL

Remedial learning was never much fun, but these classes buck the trend by posing as a short-term incentive you can use to motivate both your avid and novice golfers. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has teamed up with noted golf pro David Leadbetter to host the “Summer Golf Tour” instruction program this summer.

Fairmont offers one- and two-night packages at six properties featuring personalized lessons from Leadbetter’s teaching pros. The package includes accommodations, welcome amenity, breakfast, lunch, instruction (just six players per teacher), and discounts for additional nights. The tour begins June 4 in Washington D.C., and continues until August in Kansas City, Chicago, New York, Boston, and Toronto. For rates and dates, visit www.davidleadbetter.com

GOLF CENTRAL

With more than 100 courses located within a one-hour drive, Myrtle Beach is undoubtedly the golfingest place on earth. In January, the destination enhanced its attractiveness for meetings when a 402-room Radisson Plaza opened adjacent to the 249,000-square-foot Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The hotel lobby and second-floor lounge open directly into the center’s prefunction space. Visit https://www.visitmyrtlebeach.com/  for info.

HOOFIN’ IT

Although you’d never know it here in North America, golf traditionally has been an activity that involves walking by the participants. For instance, in Scotland–the birthplace of what was called “gof”–there are just a few courses that offer motorized “buggies.” Pull carts are much more common.

Interestingly, Scotland’s new St. Andrews Bay Resort offers buggies on its two seaside courses because it hosts so many U.S.-based meeting groups. But you might want to give your golfers the option to walk at your event. Studies show that 18 holes played by cart is almost no faster than by foot. Second, players burn about 700 calories by walking, versus 300 when riding. Third, walking the course with a caddie costs about the same as cart rental, but is more relaxing and helpful. So talk to the head pro at your host golf course about this possibility.