Welcome to golf in the new millennium, the era of space-age drivers with titanium club heads the size of sledgehammers and digital yardage books. Interestingly, with all the futuristic equipment and dot.com companies entering the game, new courses are being built to mirror history, such as Royal Links, which includes a replica of the St. Andrews Road Hole, smack dab in the middle of Las Vegas.
Here's a look at several emerging trends that will affect group golf events:
Tee Up for Cybergolf From golfballs.com to mrgolfetiquette.com, you'll find every product and service you need on the Internet: 3,500 golf-related Web sites, according to the National Golf Foundation.
Many of these companies are designed to help meeting executives with research and event planning. Egolfevents.com, for example, serves as a matchmaker for organizers, golf courses and resorts, with an extensive database of meeting/golf event information. At last count, 35 companies were booking tee times on the Web, two of the biggest being TeeTimes.com and Book4golf.com. Many of these sites offer online tours, even hole-by-hole displays with multiple views.
It's All in the Theme What golfer hasn't imagined teeing up at the 18th hole at St. Andrews or sinking a putt on the 12th green at Augusta National? Developers who are well aware of the wanderlust for dream golf experiences are responding in a way that would make Walt Disney proud.
One of the newest trends to hit golf course design is the replica course. The concept first gained attention four years ago with the Tour 18 in Houston, Texas, where a series of world-famous holes was replicated.
Last year marked the debut of Royal Links in Las Vegas, which has been lauded for its attention to detail and playability. Designed by Dye Designs International, the links-style course features famous holes from the British Open Championship rotation, including The Road Hole at St. Andrews and Royal Troon's Postage Stamp, as well as replica holes from Turnberry, Royal Lytham, and Muirfield Golf Club.
Built at an extraordinary cost of $32 million (the average golf course in the United States costs $6 to $12 million to build), Royal Links is a masterpiece copy of the greatest golf holes in the British Isles. Its construction required moving more than 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt, installing 127 stacked-sod wall bunkers, and replicating the Scottish landscape by using desert versions of plant species that thrive along that country's seashore. The fairways are heavily sanded to provide the same feeling underfoot as a genuine links course.
Royal Links has been well received by corporate groups. "Most golfers won't have the opportunity to travel to the British Isles to play any of these holes," says Joe Dahlstrom, the course's head professional. "Even if they make it there, tee times aren't automatic at these courses. Also, there aren't many hotels that can handle large groups located nearby."
The latest replica course in the United States is the International World Tour Golf Links in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Open since October, the complex features 27 holes inspired by the great courses of the world, including Augusta National's Amen Corner, Pine Valley, St. Andrews, and Winged Foot. The three nines are the Open Nine, which has holes replicated from St. Andrews and Pinehurst No.2; International Nine, with holes that are a tribute to some of the best in England, Spain, Australia, and the United States; and the Championship Nine, where the holes are inspired by The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship.
"Many of the holes we pay tribute to are at private courses that are not accessible to the public," says International World Tour head professional J.P. Waldron. "In reality, most people don't have connections at these clubs."
While the price for replica Renoirs and Picassos might be inexpensive, that doesn't apply to these courses. Greens fees at Royal Links are $225 for 18 holes and $110 to $160 at International World Tour.
"Replica holes don't appeal to everybody," says Ron Garl, a Lakeland, Fla., architect who has designed more than 140 courses worldwide, including Golden Ocala in Ocala, Fla., one of the forerunners of the replica-hole genre. "Yet most golfers view the courses for what they are. There's no way you can duplicate the ambience and history of the originals, but golfers play replicas to appreciate the design mastery and challenge of the holes."
Caddies on the Comeback Good news: Caddie programs are making a quiet comeback at private clubs, high-end daily fee courses, and luxury golf resorts. Among the high-profile, meeting-oriented resorts that offer caddies are The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla.; The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.
A growing appreciation for the traditional aspects of golf has resulted in some engaging golf experiences. The Royal Links in Las Vegas requires that each foursome be accompanied by a caddie. In Oregon, Bandon Dunes is designed as a walking course.
Chains Make Their Mark Many U.S. consumers prefer a familiar name and a consistent product, which has led to growth of facilities owned and operated by chains. For example, Marriott is the largest U.S. corporate resort golf operator, with 25 golf facilities and more than 500 holes of golf throughout the world.
Another giant, the Santa Monica, Ca.based American Golf Corp. oversees more than 270 private, resort, and daily fee courses in the United States and United Kingdom. Its events division assists customers in selecting venues, arranging meeting facilities, customizing prizes, and even providing on-site support.