Selecting the right course depends on everything from location to level of difficulty. Use the following guidelines to help match the links to the players.
* Is the location convenient for the majority of players? A two-hour drive from the meeting location to the course will dampen the spirits of even the most enthusiastic participants. Whenever possible, choose a course that is fast and easy to get to.
* How many players will there be? An 18-hole course might barely accommodate 144 players, but the pace of play would be incredibly slow. Many facilities have 27 or 36 holes, and would provide a more comfortable venue for groups of more than 120 players.
* What is the clubhouse dining capacity? If food is planned, can the clubhouse comfortably accommodate your group? Have they handled a similar-sized outing in the past? The club manager or facility general manager should be able to provide answers and even references from previous group outings.
* Will locker rooms be necessary? Most players will want to change shoes before play and possibly shower after play. Determine how many women are participating, and make certain that the ladies locker room is adequate for their needs.
* If the course requires alternatives to metal spikes, will the staff remove them and replace with nonmetal for all your players? And is there a charge for this service? The head golf professional will know.
* Does the course have a large enough practice area? Many players will want to warm up before play, and an undersized area may cause confusion, delay, and unhappiness. It is also advisable to ask the head golf professional or general manager if use of the practice range is included in the golfing fee.
* Does the course provide a scoreboard and special event markers? Most will, but if an outing runs late, it may be difficult for the staff to complete the scoring before participants leave.
* How flexible are club policies regarding group outings? What if it rains heavily the day of play? Are alternate dates available? Policies run the gamut; some clubs are more adaptable than others.
* Match the tees to the level of golfer. More than any other single element, it is where the player tees off that makes a course easy or difficult. Some courses will have four or five sets of tees for each hole--always choose easy tees for beginning golfers.
* Know the course designer. Certain golf course architects such as Pete Dye are known as diabolical designers, because their courses can be very tough to play--not because the hole is so long that players can't drive the ball, but because of tricky elements like right or left hand turns on the hole. On the other hand, Arnold Palmer designs courses with generous fairways where players can use their drivers. In that respect, his courses are a bit easier.
* Beware of doglegs and forced carries. (Doglegs are sharp turns to the left or to the right, and a forced carry refers to an obstacle, like a lake, that players have to drive the ball over.) These can be brutal for golfers who can't hit the ball very far.
* Hills can mess with players' depth perception. If we look across a flat surface to a flag stick, we have a pretty good idea of how far away it is. But valleys and peaks distort our sense of distance.
* Trees behind the green help with distance perception. They provide a measuring gauge. But if the green goes into horizon, as at some ocean courses, it is difficult to know how far away the hole is from the tee.
* For beginning golfers, avoid courses with lots of sand traps and water hazards. Railroad ties are sometimes used to form a border around the green. But when a ball hits the tie, it bounces straight back at the player.
* Flat means easy. A relatively flat course that is mostly wide open, without a lot of water elements, is most appropriate for beginners.
* The most player-friendly courses may be found off the beaten path. A course that doesn't get a lot of play might be most psychologically comfortable for beginners.
* Ask friends and colleagues who play regularly where their most unforgettable group golf experiences took place. If the same club or course is mentioned by a number of different players, chances are the staff at that facility know how to handle group golf.
* Talk to the local PGA section office. They can recommend a number of clubs in any given area with solid reputations for conducting great group golf events.
* Talk to golf resorts themselves--to the general manager, director of sales, marketing director, or head golf professional. Many will be willing to design packages to meet the needs of a particular group event. Do not be afraid to rely on their expertise: They have usually done this many times before.
Questions to Ask A format sets the tone for the event before the players even reach the golf course. Sometimes, a golfer's decision whether or not to play will be influenced by theformat. Make sure it is consistent with the meeting's objectives, and consider the following questions:
* Does the entire group have a legitimate USGA handicap? If so, you should run a handicapped event.
* Are both men and women playing? If this is the case, do you want each team to have a certain make-up?
* How competitive should the event be?
* Should you encourage team play or individual play?
* Are you playing a "great" course? If so, serious golfers would like to play their own ball the whole round, not a scramble.
* Are there certain people that need to golf in the same group?
Terms and Formats * A scramble, the most popular format for group events, can be made up of two- to five-player teams. (There has to be prior course approval to hold a five-person scramble.) In this format, each player hits his or her tee shot. Upon arriving at each ball, the team then decides which shot was the best. From that point, all players hit the next shot. This process of choosing the best shot continues until the ball is holed out. Some variations call for the player who hit the prior best shot not to be allowed to play the next shot; another variation is that each player's tee shot must be used a minimum number of times throughout the round.
* Best-ball formats can be made up of two- or four-person teams. In contrast to a scramble, each player plays his or her own ball throughout the entire round. At the end of each hole, each partner's score is compared to see which score was the lowest. That lowest score goes on record as being the team score for the hole. This format also has many variations that can be used.
* The Callaway system of scoring allows for the handicapping of players who do not have established USGA handicaps. A simple conversion table is used to handicap players at the end of a round to determine their net score. This conversion chart is predominantly based on the overall score less the player's worst holes. It may not be the perfect answer for equally handicapping a field, but it does give everybody a chance to win.
* There are various ways of establishing the start-up terms. In a shotgun start, all golfers tee off at the same time, but on different holes. The golfers then rotate through the holes in order until they return to the hole on which they started. This allows for the entire field to finish at the same time, making food and beverage planning easier. The maximum number of players that can be accommodated with this format is 144. However, to avoid overcrowding of the course, which will slow down play, it's better not to book more than 132 golfers with this format. This type of start gets its name from the fact that often a gun or starter's pistol is shot into the air to signify the start of play (because of the fact that golfers are spread out all over the course). In fact, most shotgun starts are simply started by each group teeing off when they arrive at their assigned hole. Carts and foursomes are given "tee assignments" instead of tee times, and given numbers such as 1A or 11B, signifying the first group playing from hole number 1 and the second group off hole number 11.
* Modified Shotgun: This is used if there are not enough groups to occupy all 18 holes. The players all start at the same time but do not occupy the entire course. Usually, the facility will consent to this only if it can book other golfers on the course as well.
* Tee Times: This is when groups tee off on the first or the 10th hole in consecutive intervals. The average tee time allotted between foursomes is eight minutes. Double-check with the individual course as to its time intervals.
* Double Tee: This is when the group tees off on both the 1st and 10th tees simultaneously. The players on the back nine then rotate to the front to finish their round. This is usually done if there are not enough players for a shotgun start, but you wish to consolidate the time between groups finishing the round. This is also done at the discretion of the course.
* Round of Golf: This is the time needed to complete 18 holes of golf. The average time is four-and-a-half hours, but will vary by course and the number of players. Always get an estimate, as it will help with planning all of the group's after-golf activities. *
The tips on how to choose a golf course were provided by Ray Koenig, manager of course relations for The Leading Golf Courses of America, based in Wheeling, Ill. The Leading Golf Courses of America markets golf courses and golf programs around the world. The information on formats and golf terms was adapted from The Guide to Running a Golf Outing, written by FAIRWAYS Corporate Golf Services, Inc., Pittsburgh, Penn. FAIRWAYS specializes in event management and travel planning.
More Golf Tips for Planners * Block tee times and tournaments as soon as the meeting is confirmed. They are often booked months, or even years, in advance.
* Appoint a golf coordinator to assist in the planning and implementation of the event.
* Have the golf coordinator assist in the facilitation of the pairings list or roster of players. Also ask for the golf coordinator's help with billing.
* Provide the resort pro with cart and starting-time assignments and bag pulls 48 hours prior to the first scheduled tee time.
* Consider a customized golf clinic for hands-on instruction in an enjoyable atmosphere.