It used to be a given that insurance producers preferred golf over every other recreational activity offered at incentive programs. Not anymore. Perhaps the most surprising news from ICP's incentive trip survey, conducted last fall, was that for the first time, spa treatments were picked by the greatest number of producers when asked what type of recreation they want offered during an incentive trip. It's not a decision based on gender: 81 percent of the 301 survey respondents were male. Golf, while still a popular choice, dropped to No. 4 on the list, also behind sightseeing and snorkeling.
What's keeping attendees from getting out on the links? Experts say that newcomers are intimidated by golf, and some people who picked up the game years ago — including many women — are dropping it. And the lure of the spa is huge. [Spas are] “where people are spending their money,” says Gary Pearson, director of meetings and conference services, Aon Service Corp., Chicago.
For many attendees, there's also a time crunch. “A much faster-paced work environment really works at the opposite end of golf, which hasn't gotten quicker,” says Nancy Berkley, president, Berkley Consulting, Livingston, N.J., and author of Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf. In addition, corporate meetings have become shorter and more focused, making it harder to book a six-hour block for golf.
Planners are also bumping into resistance to golf events at the executive level. Many younger chief executives don't play golf and aren't sold on its networking benefits. And these days, companies are often requiring players to pay their own way.
To get people back to the links — and attending your company's tournaments and golf outings — here are a few suggestions:
SHORTEN THE GAME
Longer and more difficult courses have made it increasingly difficult for the average player, let alone the beginner, says Berkley. “Eighteen-hole traditional golf has been taking longer, and people attending conferences are busier than ever. That means golf for the conference attendee must either be shorter or offer more value.”
But a lot of resort courses don't accommodate nine-hole rounds. If you book a hotel course, Berkley suggests involving the hotel operator and the golf director in negotiations because the latter often isn't as business-savvy.
Some facilities are starting to get the message. The new, upscale Ocean Hammock Golf Club in Palm Coast, Fla., offers a nine-hole afternoon rate. Groups can play nine holes on this championship course each day after 3 p.m. for $55 per person.
TRY PAR-3 COURSES
Many well-known golf resorts also have shorter courses that are easier and quicker to play. Golf instructor Dave Pelz designed a par-3 short course at Cordillera Resort in Colorado that appeals to both diehard golfers and beginners. Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey has a 10-hole course designed by Tom Fazio, while Pebble Beach and Augusta National each have par-3 tracks. The executive course at Marriott Mountain Shadows Golf Club & Resort, Scottsdale, Ariz., can be played in less than three hours. Some resort courses allow groups to create shorter, par-3 holes by moving the tee to within 150 yards of the green.
Lessons are essential for beginners and are favorites with many women's groups. “With women, it's a no-brainer,” says Jo Ann Hoffman, president, Meeting Industry Ladies Organization/The Golfe, Bethesda, Md. Women not only want to learn the game, she says, but also how to use it as a business tool.
John Lehmann, president, Network Sports Marketing LLC, Wellington, Fla., runs two-hour clinics concurrent with afor the people who don't want to play 18 holes. After the clinic, they'll play nine holes.
BRING IN A SPEAKER
“You have to look at the group you're bringing in and see what you can add besides the golf experience,” says Hoffman. “Do something that may give them the incentive to want to go.” One idea is to create a mini marketplace of suppliers at a tournament to provide networking and relationship-building opportunities. Another is to bring in a speaker.
HOST A DECATHLON
What about chipping, putting, and driving contests, or a decathlon event combining golf with other activities, such as free-throw shooting or darts? Or a contest separating groups into teams of six or eight with two people playing nine holes of golf, two playing tennis, two playing badminton, etc.. The winning team has the best combined score.
TRY AN EVENING EVENT
If time prohibits a golf tournament during the day, consider installing an indoor putting green or turf and inviting a high-profile golf instructor or professional to give tips and answer questions.
Finally, when you come up with fresh alternatives to the standard 18 holes, make sure that you're working with a golf resort that can accommodate them. According to Walt Galanty, executive director, National Association of Golf Tournament Directors, Alexandria, Va., “Hotels have learned how to work with the meeting industry so we can all make money, but some golf courses have not yet learned how to do that.”