by Agatha Gilmore | January 01, 2013
 It’s 2 p.m. and the day’s meetings have adjourned. Attendees are packing up their briefcases and beginning to exit the building. That’s when you notice it: Men are heading one way, women another. 

After all, it’s not an uncommon sight. Historically, golf and spa events have experienced a stereotypical gender divide: Men play golf, women go to the spa. This may be due to a variety of circumstances, including traditional gender preferences as well as the original breakdown of business trips — male executives golfed on corporate retreats while their accompanying spouses visited the spa. 
But all that is changing — and fast.

“It is starting to shift,” says Jeff Schott, director at the Jurlique Spa at the FireSky Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, AZ. “We do see quite a few more guys [in the spa]. Where it used to be the occasional, random one or two guys, it’ll now be five to 10 guys in the group. At the same time, I watch [as groups are] getting on the bus to go play golf, and there are a lot more women. It’s changing.”

Why? Well, one reason might be growing acceptance. Schott — himself also a golfer — explains that people naturally fall into two types: active relaxers and passive relaxers. This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with gender, but reflects a simple personality trait. Now that today’s business world is more aware and tolerant of individual preferences, Schott says, men and women can choose the kind of downtime activity that most appeals to them.

“A lot of those stereotypes are starting to go away as society in general is becoming more accepting,” he says, adding that younger generations, in particular, are contributing to this blending.

Simultaneously, spas have recognized an increased interest from male clients and are actively trying to attract men, while golf resorts are seeing more female putters on the course. In fact, Mike Lindsey, director of golf operations at Scottsdale’s McCormick Ranch Golf Club, which provides golf services for FireSky, says women now account for a good 40 to 50 percent of the golf lessons given, “where before it was 10 percent.”

So what are golf and spa resorts doing to appeal to both genders? And, given this new normal, are there ways in which meeting planners can also promote gender-balanced activities, encouraging ladies to hit the green and male attendees to hit the massage table? The short, and resounding answer is: Yes.

Spas Highlight Wellness
One of the key ways in which spas are attracting male corporate clients is by focusing more broadly on health and well-being, and less on one-time pampering.

“You see a lot of spas focusing on the wellness piece and not just the relaxation piece,” confirms Jason Parsons, general manager of the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club in Naples, FL. “When you’re signing up for a massage therapy, they’ll ask when the last time was that you had a massage, what’s going on with you, and what kind of activities you are involved in. They want to know your history, they want to know where your aches and pains are, they want to know what’s working well for you, and what’s not working well. This is something your body requires. It’s a big stress reliever for a lot of people. It still has that pampering element to it, and you always see that in spas because that’s part of the drill, but there’s also that therapeutic piece.”

According to Clare Matthews, director and co-founder of male skincare line VitaMan, as quoted in a July 2012 Hilton Blue Paper on spa trends: “Men are becoming increasingly comfortable with frequenting spas for rejuvenation and see it as an overall investment into their well-being. Those catering to this audience best are the ones who tailor their products and services to men specifically and don’t treat them as an afterthought.”

Spa menus are absolutely changing to reflect this focus on men and overall wellness, Schott says. Jurlique Spa at Firesky, for example, features the 30-minute Well Groomed Ritual for Men manicure and the 60-minute RAW Man Facial. The spa tagline at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club is “experience personal wellbeing,” and one of the featured treatments is the Neuro-Muscular Massage Therapy, targeting those with “neck, shoulder, back and hip discomfort and range of motion problems.” The La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, CA, was recently voted the No. 1 Wellness Spa in the Nation by Spa Magazine and boasts a 50-minute Men’s Executive Facial.

Schott said that for one golf-centric group, his spa team even took training on how to target golf-related muscle groups.

David Gabri, president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI), says that corporations should also embrace this approach to spa treatments because it’s good for morale and their overall image.

“Spa treatments are therapeutic, and companies want to talk more and more about how they care about their employees,” he says.

Women on the Greens
There are also a lot of ways in which golf resorts are encouraging women to get in the game. One of the main barriers to getting people of either gender on the course is a lack of familiarity with the sport, say the experts. 

“It’s a hard sport, and people who don’t really know it tend to shy away from it,” Schott says.

Many courses, like that at La Costa, have begun offering a wide range of clinics based on different skill sets. “PGA golf pros have adjusted their whole teaching system to beginning golfers, and 40 percent more of their lessons are for women,” says McCormick Ranch’s Lindsey.

Other clubs have female golf pros, who can be “more comforting” and are helpful “to integrate into the program because they are more sensitive to unique issues to women playing golf,” Gabri says.
There are also specific group formats that meeting planners can suggest to encourage both female and novice attendees to get on the green. Lindsey says his club offers lessons “in the parking lot,” where the pro will begin the clinic in a casual, less intimidating spot away from the hubbub of the course. Another option is express tees, which “make it easier to experience as a group,” Gabri says. “The PGA has a whole concept called ‘move forward.’ We all want to be the big man [hitting the ball] from way back, but they say it’s a lot more fun if you move forward. It’s not as far, doesn’t take as many shots, and moves the game faster.”

Scrambles also achieve this abbreviated game, as do putting contests and nine-hole games. This accelerated speed can be helpful particularly for women, since a traditional round of golf can be time-consuming and potentially interfere with attendees’ ability to refresh and dress for the ensuing dinner and nighttime festivities.

For One, For All
There are also ways in which golf and spa resorts are making it easier for planners to incorporate both downtime activities into each attendee’s agenda. At the Chateau Elan in North Atlanta, for example, the club’s 19th hole is called the 19th Lounge, and it’s co-located with the spa, next to the golf course.

“People are completing their spa treatments and people are finishing their golf games around the same time, and the group comes back together again,” Gabri says. Another option is offering spa treatments upon attendees’ arrivals, he adds.

“So, say I check in but don’t have to be somewhere till 6:30 p.m.; the organization has arranged for us to take advantage of this opportunity and booked us times [at the spa],” Gabri says. “And during the course of the event, they may have incremental spa visits for those who couldn’t [partake in the on-arrival treatments].”

Gabri adds that many organizations also opt to incorporate golf into the event in a social way, by having putting contests during receptions. 

“They use a glo-ball to [an illuminated] hole not too far away, and they kind of introduce golf prior to the opening dinner. There’s a lot of that kind of integration into the social events that happens,” he says. “That’s really a lot of fun — everybody gets a chance.”

Schott says he witnessed a group play a nine-hole executive course and then provide 30-minute spa services for everyone afterwards. He suggests to planners that another interesting option would be to offer novice golfers a quick lesson followed by a spa treatment, so they could get the best of both worlds.