So Many Ways to Play

Originally published November 2006 in Successful Meetings

Although many resorts have wonderful golf courses these days, meetings don't seem to have room in the agenda to allow people to partake in a round. And if you look at golf in the traditional way—as an 18-hole round that takes about four and half hours—then it is indeed difficult to fathom where golf can fit into a meeting. What's more, many attendees don't play golf well (or at all) and find the thought of playing a round with colleagues too intimidating.

But when it comes to golf mixing with meetings, many resorts refuse to take "no" for an answer. Their solution: Find other ways to get groups to use golf when on property.

So a variety of alternative golf experiences have been designed at venues around the country. They include the building of nine-hole "executive" or "short" courses, miniature 18-hole courses, and fun golf-related games that offer enjoyable and time-conscious outings on the links. "The important element to these alternative golf experiences is placing the emphasis on fun, not competition," says Sam Baker, president of Haversham & Baker, a Cincinnati-based travel and meeting services firm specializing in golf activities. "And being creative is another key to success."

Scott Purpura, director of golf operations at Lansdowne Resort in Lansdowne, VA, says short courses—where holes are not nearly as long and difficult as regular golf holes—are not only fun, but efficient. "It often boils down to a time issue, not necessarily whether golf is popular with attendees or not," he says. "If the meetings are intensive—and most meetings that run from eight a.m. to four p.m. are intensive—it doesn't leave a lot of time for golf. That's why we have started to address the issue."

Here's how: Lansdowne is slated to debut next spring a nine-hole short course designed by renowned player Greg Norman, called Shark Bait (Norman's nickname around pro golf circles is "The Shark"). "It will allow people to play nine holes after a day of meetings in less time, and serve as a great venue for a variety of golf activities and contests, even for the first-timer or novice golfer," Purpura notes, adding that the short-course trend is advantageous for resort golf directors and planners because one of their biggest challenges is getting those non-golfers interested in the sport.

Notable resorts with short courses include The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, near Vail, CO; Chateau Elan Winery & Resort in Braselton, GA; Marriott Mountain Shadows Golf Club & Resort in Scottsdale, AZ; Treetops Resort in Gaylord, MI; and Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, in Southern Pines, NC.

Other Options

If a resort does not have a short course, then try this: Have the resort's pro-shop staff string lights through the trees along the first and last holes of the championship course (those holes are generally right next to the clubhouse). What you now have is a two-hole evening golf event that can utilize glow-in-the-dark golf balls as well as glow sticks on the fairways and putting greens to act as directional markers. For instance, The Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown, NY, lights up the hole that's just beyond the golf clubhouse, so attendees can watch their fellow players from the large clubhouse patio. And at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina in Stuart, FL, pro-shop staffers have been known to dress in all-black outfits, then slip unnoticed from the trees along the first hole's fairway and swipe the glow-in-the-dark balls, making it appear to the stunned golfers that the ball has risen and drifted away on its own. Add an appetizer and beverage station at the tee and the green on each hole, and you have a low-pressure, team golf game that clearly emphasizes fun rather than score.

For an even lower-stress evening option, try a twilight putting contest on the practice green. Ideal for groups up to 60, the event can last between one and two hours. "We start 30 minutes after dark, and place glow-in-the-dark necklaces along each hole to create hazards that players must avoid, and glowing disks that highlight the holes," said Purpura. "In between holes, the players can munch on appetizers and finger foods and enjoy beverages from a bar set up just off the practice green where the contest takes place. No matter their skill level, everybody always has fun and nobody feels left out."

Other alternative golf experiences include a golf-themed buffet dinner function that is hosted by golf instructors and provides indoor hitting nets, computer swing analyses, and a putting contest; a skills competition on the practice range for chipping and full shots, plus separate instruction for beginners; and a station-to-station clinic where participants are matched into subgroups based on skill level.

Recently, Baker staged a three-hole event for 80 sports-medicine physicians at Westin Turnberry Resort in Ayrshire, Scotland, that took less than two hours to play. Baker and the Turnberry staff created three holes on the resort's driving range—a 100-yard hole that required one shot to the green, a 220-yard hole that required two shots, and a 350-yard hole that required three shots. The catch: Players had to use antique hickory-shaft clubs and vintage-style balls. "It was a hit," says Baker, "because it incorporated golf history, skills, and camaraderie into one event."

Fun in Miniature

Another option that has started to catch on is the mini-golf experience. Mind you, this is not the traditional type of layout where golfers putt the ball into a dragon's mouth or through a windmill. This new breed of miniature golf has many of the same elements of an 18-hole championship course, such as separate tee boxes on each hole, fairway hazards, sand traps, and dogleg holes. Further, most are made from real grass, not Astroturf, lending a more authentic feel to the activity.

The Fairways putting course at Fantasia Gardens at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, which measures 1,448 feet long, is the longest mini-course in the world. It has fairways framed by sand traps, tree and foliage hazards, and expansive, undulating greens. The course is popular even with PGA Tour golfers when they're on property for the annual Walt Disney World Classic PGA Tour event.

Such a course is available for buyouts and can accommodate 72 players. To assist planners who have a time crunch, "shotgun" starts can be arranged so that all golfers start and finish at the same time, all on different holes. The activity takes less than two hours. And if a resort simply has a practice putting green rather than a dedicated putting course, that can be used for the same purpose, once a few props and obstacles are placed on the green by the pro shop staff.

Other meetings resorts with mini-courses include Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee, FL, where its nine holes are lighted for night play; Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, FL, which features the Dunes Putting Course; the Hilton Waikoloa Village on Hawaii's Big Island, which has the Seaside Putting Course known for its water hazards and sand traps; World Golf Village near St. Augustine, FL, where there are 18 holes laid out on championship-style greens; and the Big EZ Lodge in Big Sky, MT, where there are many undulating holes as well as mountain views.

Oregon's Sunriver Resort has a nine-hole, 691-foot putting course with bent-grass surfaces. Also in Oregon, Salishan Spa & Golf Resort in Gleneden Beach has an 18-hole, 350-yard putting course. And in Arizona, the Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix has an 18-hole mini-course.

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