Short Shots

Has Golf Gotten a Bad Rap?

The recent lobbying-abuse scandals on Capitol Hill involving Jack Abramoff and various members of Congress have brought about an interesting development: the grilling of lawmakers who accepted all-expenses-paid golf junkets to famed courses around the world from those who either support their campaigns or have a business interest before Congress.

As juicy as this sounds, could this episode—combined with concern for Sarbanes-Oxley's increased scrutiny on corporate spending—result in a loss of interest for golf outings that are used for business purposes?

Not a chance, says John Glozek, publisher of the Metro New York edition of Golfing Magazine, and author of the new book Business Golf: Your Key to Business Success Through Golf. "I have not heard a peep from event planners or country club managers about golf being used less for business this season. Besides, golf is a sport that lends itself perfectly to having a conversation, and to allowing players of every skill level to play together—you can't do that with tennis or many other physical activities. And you only can host so many business-related sit-down meal functions before that concept loses its entertainment appeal."

Bill Storer, president of Basking Ridge, NJ-based Business Golf Strategies, notes that the pharmaceutical industry in particular has scaled back the lavishness of its client entertainment, including golf outings, in the past few years. But what he's seen rise in its place is corporate contributions to golf outings run by local charities. Such sponsorships not only provide the charity with funding, but also give the company a reputation boost—and playing spots at the event, which are held at high-end, often private, golf courses. "At a certain contribution level, you're given a foursome to fill, so one of your people can spend the day with three top clients or prospects on a course that very few people can access," Storer says. "It's the type of memorable experience companies are always looking to deliver."

For those organizations that don't want to pony up much in 2006 for client entertainment but still want to use golf in some fashion, there is always the opportunity to meet a few folks on the driving range or practice green of a local golf club. A bucket of balls to hit on the range generally costs about $10, and drinks and snacks are only a few feet away at the clubhouse. Besides, there are worse places to talk shop with a client than out in the sunshine, surrounded by trees, grass, and chirping birds, right?



Fun By Design

While many destinations appeal to golf enthusiasts by touting the difficulty of their courses, meetings-heavy resorts in particular must walk a fine line between offering a golf experience that is challenging for the good player but still enjoyable to the casual player. There are many ways to do this; having several tee boxes on each hole, so that lesser players have the option to tee off from an area where it is easier to land their shot in the fairway, is one method that golf-course designers use. Having open approaches to the greens—meaning that there is at least one area in front of each hole's putting surface without water or sand that would swallow a ground ball—is another method.

Interestingly, part-time golf course designer Tom Lehman—who also happens to be a PGA star, the 1996 British Open champion, and the U.S. team captain for this year's Ryder Cup—feels that some resorts have thought so much about making a forgiving golf layout that the challenge for good players has been sacrificed. "Typically, resort golf means customer-friendly golf, so it's my opinion that resort golf has actually gone too friendly and too easy, and is perhaps not quite as interesting to the good player as it was awhile back," Lehman tells SM. "The aesthetics, though, are generally quite pleasing at newer courses."

In fact, one of Lehman's main tasks in 2005 was to build for the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort & Spa nine holes to complement an existing nine-hole layout set in the desert landscape. His goal: aesthetic quality, some forgiveness for casual players, but also a mental test for the better golfer. "We try to challenge every level of player, but only in relation to their skill level—so the better the player, the more risk that will be involved," he says. "Everyone likes to be challenged in some way, but I don't believe in punishing high-handicappers more severely. I prefer to give them more leeway but still challenge them to some degree."

So the next time you are planning a golf event with attendees of different skill levels, be sure to ask the golf-shop staffers about how the course can be set up so that everyone has an enjoyable day on the links.



Battle of the Sexes

The March issue of Golf Digest contains an extensive and revealing survey on the many differences between male and female golfers. The survey, administered online among the readers of Golf Digest and Golf for Women magazines, got more than 4,700 respondents, with slightly more female respondents than male.

Some of the results can greatly help planners of business golf events better understand how to create an outing that makes all attendees feel comfortable, relaxed, and able to network effectively. These results can also help golfers learn how to make a good impression on the people with whom they're playing. Here is a sampling:

Players who say they're comfortable playing with strangers in the following combinations—Men, when paired with women: 68 percent; women, when paired with men: 63 percent.

Players who say they're comfortable playing with golfers better than themselves—Men: 83 percent; women: 73 percent.

Issues that annoy men when playing with women—Nothing: 50 percent; they're too slow: 32 percent; they don't play well enough: 18 percent; they talk too much: 17 percent; they don't know the rules: 11 percent.

Issues that annoy women when playing with men—They assume we can't play well: 40 percent; they give unwanted advice: 29 percent; nothing: 24 percent; they're impatient: 18 percent; they smoke cigars: 10 percent.

Women who say they sometimes feel rushed by men on the golf course: 55 percent.

Women with handicaps of 15 or better who say they are sometimes discriminated against in the clubhouse: 53 percent.

The best piece of advice women would give to other women on playing with men—Maintain pace of play: 49 percent; have a sense of humor: 22 percent; know the rules: 16 percent.

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine (Holes)

Many meeting planners think of golf as an activity that necessarily eats up most of an entire day on the agenda. But that does not have to be the case. In fact, half a traditional round—nine holes of golf—can be the perfect activity for when a group needs an early-morning or late-afternoon teambuilding activity, or simply a long lunch break. Because if you are going to bring a group to a resort, it is counterproductive to force attendees to look longingly out the meeting room windows, fretting that they have no time to stroll that beautiful golf course just a few steps away.

At least one resort has created a specific plan for quick group jaunts onto the links. Omni ChampionsGate Resort in Orlando offers the "9 at 9" and "Sunset Swing" golf packages for meeting groups; "9 at 9" includes breakfast, nine holes of golf, and a roving teaching pro to give players tips as they move along the course. The "Sunset Swing" package offers lunch before the round, or a casual dinner after the round, in addition to the same golf amenities. Other resorts would surely be amenable to creating a similar program if a planner requests—especially in late afternoon, when the first nine holes of golf courses are generally empty; or in the early morning, when the last nine holes of a course are generally empty.

Besides being able to satisfy your attendees' golf cravings in fewer than three hours, a half-round of golf has the advantage of being roughly half the cost of a full round.

Indoor Golf Breaks Out

Golf-event planners know that there must always be a back-up plan in case of rain. Sure, you can use a facility's ballroom to host putting contests and instructional lessons, show videos of past U.S. Opens and Masters tournaments, and set up a bar to kill time during a rain delay or a total washout. But there's also the possibility of renting a golf simulator, which allows players to take full swings at a real ball, and watch the result on a screen that displays a detailed video facsimile of a famous course. The cost to rent such a machine is about $2,000 a day, however, so you might want to make it a central part of your event rather than just a back-up for rainy weather. What's more, a sponsor just might want to attach his or her name to the front of the machine as well, saving you considerably on the rental cost. To find a host of vendors offering these machines, log on to www.google.com and type in "golf simulators, rental."

Besides being the antidote for rain, golf simulators can be used at winter meetings in northern climes as part of the entertainment at a cocktail reception or during free time. Interestingly, one northern property has taken the indoor-golf idea a step further. Turning Stone Resort & Casino, outside Syracuse, NY, has built a dome, called the Golf Training Center, containing 40 hitting stalls for players to take full swings and watch the flight of their ball for a full 100 yards—enough for the player to know how well he or she struck the ball. The dome also contains two golf simulators with the layouts of 26 famous courses programmed into the machines for attendees to play. The simulators also have swing analyzers to give players instant feedback on their swing flaws.

And at last month's PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, one end of the show floor was turned into a 60-yard driving range, complete with about 50 hitting mats as well as protective netting, for attendees to try out new clubs from dozens of equipment manufacturers. Clearly, indoor golf is no longer an oxymoron.

Sponsorships: High-Tech, Low-Tech

With their desirable demographic makeup, business and charity golf events are prime opportunities for the host organizations to rake in sponsorship revenue. And with each passing year, new technology comes out that allows for even more unique ways for sponsors to be noticed.

Take, for instance, the rapidly growing number of motorized golf carts that contain global positioning system (GPS) screens. These monitors are used to track where players are on the golf course, and to deliver information to guests such as a visual layout of the hole they are currently playing. What's more, the unit continuously determines the distance between the golf cart and the green, to help players choose which club to use for each shot.

GPS screens also allow players to check weather conditions, order lunch while on the course—and see sponsors' messages. In fact, a message or logo can appear by itself on the full screen, or be placed in the corner of the screen so that the layout of the hole can appear alongside, which allows sponsors' messages to stay on the screen indefinitely.

A more low-tech but similarly effective option is to place advertising on the flags which hang from the pins set in each hole on the course. A company called Flagstick Advertising (www.flag stickadvertising.com) has devised a rigid flag that stands out horizontally, allowing players to see the sponsor's message regardless of whether there is a breeze. Shrewd planners have even sold space on the small flags that mark the various hole locations on the practice green, where most players congregate prior to teeing off. Lastly, some courses allow the use of environmentally- friendly paint so that sponsors' logos can be placed on the fairways, on the areas around the greens, and even on the greens themselves.



With each of these sponsor possibilities, check with the pro shop staff at your host course to see which types they have accommodated in the past, and which they are agreeable to in the future.

Golf Planning Help is Here

Organizations that want to incorporate a day of golf into their meeting programs stand to benefit from a recent trend: Regional tourism marketing entities are bringing many of their courses under one umbrella so that planners can easily see all of the course options in a particular destination.

For instance, there is California Golf Coast, representing several courses in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles and home to Anaheim. Visit www.occ golf.com to see the offers that groups can use from participating courses.

One region that is taking this idea a step further is Florida's First Coast of Golf, which has developed the "Above Par" meetings program. The program will not only help find a course for your group, but also help organize your tournament or outing. Program staffers work with planners to determine appropriate courses and facilities based on group size and budget, and accommodate other needs such as food and beverage procurement and securing rental clubs. Further, the program will provide personnel to help to execute the event.

There are more than 30 golf courses and 16 hotels and resorts from Amelia Island, Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra Beach, St. Augustine, Clay County, and Flagler County—all in Northeast Florida—that are participating. For more info, visit www.florida-golf.org.