In Good Hands

Doesn't it make you crazy when someone in your organization tries to plan a meeting, but doesn't consult with you? After all, you're the expert, yet most folks simply don't think to tap into your wealth of knowledge.

Well, now you understand what the pro shop personnel at many golf courses go through when they host your golf event.

Yes, you know meetings inside and out, but golf events present enough unique elements that it's best you find a competent partner to help you plan. And "ninety-nine percent of the resorts in America have PGA members running their golf shops," says M.G. Orender, president of the PGA of America, in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

PGA stands for Professional Golfers Association, and its members must complete a rigorous education that takes a minimum of three years and features golf event/tournament management as part of the curriculum. So if you haven't thought to communicate the objective and details of your upcoming golf event to the pro shop, you're just making more work for yourself, and probably compromising the result.

Immersed in Golf

PGA members are different from PGA TOUR members like Tiger Woods, in that they do not play competitive events for a living. Instead, their focus is on maintaining the business end of a golf facility. That's why the PGA of America certification program addresses 56 topics, including playing instruction, course maintenance, golf equipment and apparel sales, tournament operations, food and beverage, and personnel management. What's more, "Most apprentices take longer than three years to finish the program," says Orender. "They work throughout their education in a resort golf shop and receive real-world tutelage from the PGA member who runs it. So by the time their formal education is done, they've really honed their skills."

The bottom line, then, is this: PGA-certified golf pros are taught to maximize the resources of their facility to the advantage of group planners. "When we're really cooking here, we do four tournaments of 100-plus players each week, and that's no problem for us," says Rick Thiele, a PGA-certified pro and the assistant director of golf at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, FL. "Obviously, the more that planners come to us early on to help them get organized, the smoother it's going to go. And something always goes wrong at some point, especially with an event of 100 or more players, but we've seen it all before. In fact, we expect that, and we have ways to fix whatever happens right then and there."

What You're Missing

PGA member Tom Smack, director of golf at The Sagamore in Bolton Landing, NY, laments that even among planners who do contact the pro shop several weeks out to organize their corporate or association golf outings, they often leave out particular aspects, thinking that the pro shop can't help in those areas. "You have attendees who have been in meetings for a few days, and they've been looking forward to the golf, so it has to go smoothly," he says. "Unfortunately, some planners just don't communicate enough information to us about the expectations of their people and what they want to achieve, and thus don't give us an idea of how good -- or bad -- most of their golfers are. But that information affects how we set up the golf course in terms of difficulty. If you only have a few good players, we can set up the course so it's not too difficult; we'll move up tees, place the pins in favorable areas on the green, cut down the rough, and widen many of the fairways."

On the flip side, some planners assume that because most attendees are infrequent golfers, a scramble format (using only the best shot from each team as they play each hole) will be preferable to attendees. "Planners hear that this format moves the pace of play along quicker and is good for groups with few good golfers," says Smack. "But it's really not much quicker than when everyone plays their own shots, because a scramble requires consultation and decisionmaking on each shot, and that takes time. Also, decent golfers hate the scramble format because they want to play their own ball when they come to a nice course; it's a challenge they're looking for."

As a result, Smack recommends that you find out how well each attendee plays (ask for their handicaps, or even their average scores), and relay that information to the pro shop just a few days prior to the event so the pro can choose the best format. In fact, your group can be split between two formats, based on skill levels, though everyone will still play the course together. "You create a competition among the good golfers where handicaps aren't used, and another competition for lesser golfers that uses handicaps," Smack says. "Now you have many more prize opportunities, and that keeps everyone interested."

And to make sure everyone gets to the post-competition reception on time, Saddlebrook's Thiele adds that the pro shop can work out a staggered start, crossover start (sending different foursomes to tee off on the first and tenth holes at once), or a shotgun start (sending different foursomes to tee off on every hole, all at once) based on the number of players. "Lots of planners don't even know the difference between those three, but they don't give us enough information to be able to help them with the possibilities," he says.

Finally, when inclement weather threatens to preempt play, the pro shop has contingency plans that will keep people entertained for hours. "We can do indoor clinics and instruction—with hitting nets and video cameras -- right in the meeting space or ballroom," says Jason Tomaras, a PGA apprentice and the golf tournament manager for The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO. "We can have that ready to accommodate 120 golfers in a matter of hours."

Gifts Made Easy

Another issue planners often don't speak about with the pro shop is procuring logoed merchandise. "Most people believe that it's going to cost them too much to use us," says Tomaras. "But one planner ordered golf balls for her group online, and it turns out I could have gotten her a better brand, with her firm's logo and our logo on each ball, at the same price or even a bit better. But some guys in her office said not to go through us because the markup would be too high. That's often not the case."

"There are so many price points we can meet because we have so much variety," he adds. "Remember that there's no harm in giving us the price quotes you've gotten on balls, shirts, tee favors, signage, or anything else, to see if I can beat them. Besides, if you need 50 dozen golf balls or 100 shirts, you can either order them yourself and then lug them to the resort, or you can have me order them and have them waiting here for you when you arrive, usually for about the same price."

As for the prizes that go to the winners of the various contests you hold during the day, the pro shop veterans have seen a change in what attendees find most appealing. "Lately, we have seen a boom in resort gift certificates," says Thiele. "They are prepaid cards that can be used in one or more places around the resort, and people love that. A winner can use the card to buy merchandise in the golf shop, and then use the remainder in another resort shop, in the restaurant, or at the spa. So much of the merchandise that planners choose as prizes is returned to us that it seems planners are wasting effort."

The Sagamore's Smack adds that giving golf equipment and trophies as prizes is not nearly as popular as it used to be. Moreover, "Purchasing gifts and prizes through the pro shop makes exchanges easy, and even increases planners' negotiating position -- keeping their money in-house is beneficial to both parties."

To make budgeting easy, many resort pro shops can give planners a per-person "tournament package fee" that includes 18 holes of play, cart use, pre-event practice balls, tournament scoring with or without handicaps, on-course signage placement, and other services.

PGA of America's Orender concludes that "there is absolute peace of mind and convenience for organizers when they bring the pro into the planning process early on." In fact, you can't go wrong with your golf event if you heed this advice from Saddlebrook's Thiele: "Communicate with the pro shop the same way you would with the conference services staff about the business portion of your meeting."