The International Swing

Incorporating a round of golf into a meeting or incentive itinerary is hardly a simple task. Essentially, it's like planning another special event—except that it requires a full five hours on the schedule. Furthermore, coordinating this activity is not simply a matter of blocking out a few tee times and letting attendees loose on the course.

And if your group is meeting outside the United States, the degree of difficulty in planning golf—both in terms of logistics and managing attendees' expectations—rises considerably. To help you navigate foreign landscapes, we consulted with a few golf veterans who routinely work with meeting and incentive groups coming from the US. Their advice will make your job that much easier.

In Our Backyard
In Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, the percentage of American groups coming through is high enough that the group-golf experience bears many similarities to its domestic counterpart. However, there are two areas to which planners should pay particular attention. First, the differences in weather can be significant. For instance, in much of Canada, the range of potential temperatures even in high season makes it imperative that attendees come with a few layers of clothing to play in, one of which is waterproof. On the flip side, the strength of the sun in Mexico and the Caribbean all year long makes it critical that planners a) try to book the golf course either early or later in the day, to minimize time on the course during midday hours; and b) make sure that players use sunscreen, wear hats, and drink plenty of water (and little alcohol) while on the course.

The second factor regards securing sets of rental clubs for attendees who don't travel with their own. Generally, attendees will not bring their own clubs unless they are playing more than one round of golf. So, if you are scheduling just one round during the meeting or incentive, expect that almost every attendee who plays will need a rental set.

The good news is that this is generally not a problem in these nearby countries. Al Kristmanson, director of golf at the Whistler Golf Club in British Columbia, Canada, says that with groups routinely booking almost a year out, reserving the 60 sets at his course as well as the 60 or so sets he can borrow from the several courses nearby is possible, thus allowing him to equip as many as 120 players for a shotgun event. And Kevin Sebulski, head golf pro at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in the Canadian Rockies, ensures that he has 80 sets of rentals, all less than two years old. Higher-end properties in Mexico and the Caribbean are similarly stocked. The typical cost of rental sets in these regions: between $40 and $70 apiece.

Overseas Differences
When groups meet beyond North America, the similarities to the U.S. golf experience become fewer, requiring some adjustment by planner and attendees alike. Kevin Devanney, president of Incentive Travel Solutions, in Charlotte, NC, has become well versed in the complexities of overseas golf coordination. He conducts 90 percent of his programs internationally, and most include a significant amount of attendee time on the course.

"The golf industry outside North America is drastically different in a number of ways," he says. "First, the courses themselves are less manicured and are often considered raw compared to courses in the U.S. Europeans say this is the original design of the golf landscape and the way golf is supposed to be played, but it is often a challenge for American golfers to get accustomed to this. If they are not made familiar with the course beforehand, they tend to complain that the course was not in 'good shape,' when, in actuality, it's exactly how the course was designed."

Arranging the logistics of an outing with a course's pro shop is very different as well. "In America, the biggest task is lining up all the electric carts and arranging players' bags on the correct carts," Devanney notes. "But the pros in Europe tend to set the golf bags in a neat row for players to find their own bags and then decide whether they want to use a pull cart or a caddie. Announcements over a loud horn en masse to the group are not typical either, so a planner's communication to a player about event details before they get to the course must be much more comprehensive than at home."

One detail that should definitely be communicated beforehand is the general lack of availability of electric riding carts. "The biggest difference between North American courses and those overseas is that there are often none or just a few riding carts available," says Devanney. "Many courses in Ireland, Scotland, and other places around Europe do not allow electric carts on the course, and Americans are flabbergasted that they may actually have to walk roughly 6,800 yards 'for enjoyment.' But once they get over the initial shock, most seem comforted by the fact that they can walk with a single-bag pull cart or procure the services of a caddie. It's a different experience for them, and it's usually one they later acknowledge as enjoyable."

As for club rentals, this is one area where different is not better. "The quality of rentals in Europe does not compare to the U.S. We recently took a group to Sweden, and the head pro at one of the top courses escorted our players into the equipment room to let them look among his various clubs to try and put together complete sets," Devanney recalls. "Also, one of our guests did not bring golf shoes or sneakers, but there were no shoe rentals. So he played in his bare feet."

Furthermore, right before play begins, American players will likely have to be satisfied with simply taking practice swings, or only making chips and putts around the practice green. The reason: There are often small driving ranges, or none at all, at overseas courses.

When it comes to gifts and premiums for players, "The pro shops around the world have made tremendous strides to mirror a U.S. pro shop with the sweaters, hats, and logoed apparel," says Devanney. "I can recall being at a top club in Ireland in 1995 and being unable to find a single golf sweater. Nowadays the clubs understand the money that can be made from American players, though. Interestingly, Europeans still do not buy items in the pro shops as much as Americans."

Finally, American players have become used to the sight of a beverage cart meandering down the cart path toward them every three holes or so. But "there typically is not a beverage cart in Europe—players will stop after nine holes for a snack and a beer, tea, or water." And do remind players of one critical etiquette note: When a player steps inside the clubhouse for food, drink, or any other reason, he or she should immediately remove any headwear, or suffer disgusted looks by other patrons.

With all of these differences, it's best that planners make contact with a course's pro shop several months before the event and disseminate detailed instructions and tips to golfers well in advance. This way, when you all are in Rome, you'll ... well, you know the rest.

Over Here
Manicured Greens
Electric Golf Carts
Bull Horn Announcements
Club Rentals Guaranteed
Driving Ranges on Site
Beverage Carts on the Course
Hats on in Club House

Over There
Overgrown Greens
Pull Carts or Caddies
No Announcements
Club Rentals Spotty
Small or No On Site Driving Ranges
No Beverage Carts
Hats off in Club House

Suggested Golf Attire in...
Tuque (Knit Cap)

Mexico & Caribbean:
Baseball Cap or Visor
Sun Screen

Originally published April 01, 2008

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