WHEN IT COMES TO GOLFFORMATS, not much is new and different these days, says Bill Colvin, president of Colvin Sports Network, Cleveland. “Perhaps if you are into extreme golf, or Icelandic golf,” he jokes.
Yet it's clear that format can have a tremendous effect on the success — or failure — of a golf event. Colvin recalls an event for some high-powered CEOs at Shinnecock Hills, a world-class golf course in Southampton, N.Y., that was the site of the 2004 U.S. Open. “The planners set up a scramble,” a format in which golfers use the best ball played in a foursome, says Colvin. “Here you have these CEOs, all of them with pretty large egos, playing a scramble on one of the top five courses in the world! Now, you could move the tees up to make the course user-friendly. … But high-level CEOs have to play their own ball.”
In addition, he says, “The format needs to be reflective of the quality of the golf course. That's where planners make mistakes.”
Other factors are at work as well. Ed Tucker, director of sports and golf operations at Amelia Island Plantation, Amelia Island, Fla., finds that the typical corporate golf outing at his resort is “morphing into a nine-hole, fun golf event.” A typical corporate tournament might include a hole that requires the golfer to tee off while sitting on a chair, or use a baseball bat at another tee. They are the kind of gags, Tucker says, that are “designed to appeal to the beginner.”
The move toward a nine-hole format also takes into account the reality that corporate group meetings have less time for recreation. “They're working in compressed schedules,” Tucker says. “Maybe they have two days instead of three, with only a couple of hours for recreation. It's a real narrow window. We just have to make the most of it.”
The problem is not only time constraints. Competition from other recreational activities can also restrict the tournament format. Brent Waugh, vice president of Event Links International, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., recently planned an event in the Virgin Islands in which he had to get his group on a ferry to get to St. Thomas to play golf. “If you go fishing or sailing, that's a two- or three-hour time window,” Waugh says. “Golf is a four- or five-hour window, at a minimum. That's why I stick with my proven formats [scrambles and shambles], because they really work.”
From Scrambles to Shambles
Talk to planners and tournament coordinators and scrambles and shambles seem to be the formats du jour. Scrambles — in which teams from tee to green take the best shot among the foursome and hit from that spot — are team-oriented, low-pressure games that accommodate all skill levels. A shamble, or modified scramble, uses the scramble format for the tee shot, but then requires everyone to play his or her own ball the rest of the hole.
“A lot of outings are moving toward a shamble,” says Roger Caldwell, president and CEO of Great Golf Events, Mission, Kan. “The key component is that everyone can play his own ball, but the player who needs that help off the tee, gets that help.”
There are variations on the theme. Waugh has used a scramble that requires players to start at the white tees and move back to the blues or forward to the reds depending on the score shot on the preceding hole. And Caldwell coordinated a tournament last year in which his client wanted to set up a playoff among the top three finishers. That playoff used a two-man alternate shot format from the 10th and 18th holes. Each four-person team was split in two so that two players from each team teed off from the 10th, while the other two teed off from the 18th.
“The client thought it would be pretty cool,” Caldwell said. “And it was pretty nerve-wracking for the players. Everybody was out watching them. It was like a tour event.”
A Day at the Races
While the scramble/shamble seems to be the dominant corporate golf event format, there is obviously room for other approaches, including individual stroke play and best ball formats. Chuck Lane, assistant vice president, public relations and meeting services for Humana, Green Bay, Wis., sings the praises of the “horse race,” which he calls “a great format.”
Lane experienced this game at an event at the Esmeralda Renaissance Resort in Indian Wells, Calif. Teams were divided into A, B, C, and D players who were required to hit shots alternately until the hole was finished. The rub is that the highest-scoring foursome was eliminated, making the field progressively smaller. The eliminated teams became part of the gallery, following the remaining teams around the course as the tournament moved toward its climax.
“It's great for socializing and,” Lane says.
Of course, since teams can be eliminated after just one hole, it helps if it is just a nine-hole event and is part of two or three days of golf. “It wouldn't go over well as a one-day event,” he says. “And the beverage cart helps.”
A Sense of Team
In the end, planners and tournament coordinators are probably going to go with tried-and-true formats, the ones that they know will work and will afford the players what everyone wants out of a day on the golf course — fun and camaraderie.
“It's just nice to be out on the golf course,” Lane says. “It helps you meet new clients and customers, create new associations. That's where golf is a wonderful game. Your scrambles and other formats help to level the playing surface so that everybody has a chance to participate and is cheering for everybody else.
“If somebody comes up with some better ideas, I'm all for them,” he adds. “But we're trying to create a meaningful experience, a sense of team and camaraderie. You don't want to turn the event into something cutthroat and counterproductive.”
So while everyone seems to be sticking with the comforting old formats, Bill Colvin believes that's probably not a bad thing. “Golf has been around for 500 years,” he says. “It's traditional. Part of its intrigue is that it's not gimmicky, that it's played the way it has always been played.”
Contest Holes Add Drama — and Fun
A customary way to add a little spice and variety to any tournament format is through contest holes. Typically, these incorporate hole-in-one contests as well as closest-to-the-pin and longest-drive competitions. But there are plenty of wacky variations.
During Super Bowl Week, Bill Colvin, president of Colvin Sports Network, Cleveland, coordinated a golf event for Continental Airlines. Playing off the airline's slogan, a “Work Hard and Fly Right” contest hole was set up that rewarded the golfer whose drive flew farthest to the right. Considering that most golfers have trouble with the dreaded slice and push their balls to the right, that contest card “had more names on it than any of the other [contest holes],” Colvin says.
In a separate event, Colvin organized a $1 million hole-in-one contest. Insuring this type of contest is usually prohibitively expensive, but “we thought it was cool” to have it, Colvin says.
Colvin made the insurance cost reasonable by restricting the contest to those golfers who had won the event's closest-to-the-pin competitions. These golfers could either receive their prizes for winning the competitions or go for the big prize on a designated hole. Without fail, they went for the $1 million. “It got the excitement up,” Colvin says. “Everybody was out there swinging.”
Mark Nilius, tournament coordinator for the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort, San Antonio, has coordinated tournaments in which one green is set up with six different pins, while Roger Caldwell, president and CEO of Great Golf Events, Mission, Kan., likes to set up “closest to the water” holes. “We have shortest drive, straightest drive, longest putt, and everybody gets a kick out of closest to the water,” Caldwell says.
Ed Tucker, director of sports and golf operations at Amelia Island Plantation, Amelia Island, Fla., is not averse to golf events outside the boundaries of the 18-hole golf course. He has set up night-light putting tournaments on practice greens, and if the weather is right, he'll set up a night tournament on the property's beach, using glow-in-the dark balls, along with glow sticks to mark off the greens.
A lot of corporate groups come in with beginning golfers, Tucker says. And while it's likely that a lot of those groups might split up and give serious golfers a chance to play serious golf, those beginners look at the game differently, Tucker says, adding, “We want to make it fun for everybody.”