TRY AS THEY MIGHT, even the most competent meeting planners can't control the weather on the day of their golf event. Nor can they keep executives from canceling awhen budgets get tight. And, even with a good group history, they can't always predict how many attendees will choose golf over other draws of the destination.
Despite all these potential missteps, golf-event planners still have strategies that can keep them out of the rough and protect their companies.
Plan for Mother Nature
You can hope for good weather, but hoping isn't the same as planning. However, you can do some things to make it look as if you control the heavens. First, study weather history. Play it smart. Don't schedule golf events in the Southeast at the height of hurricane season. Stay away from the Northwest in the spring. In other words, research rainfall averages for potential destinations and avoid wet seasons.
Next, when selecting a venue, find out about the course's ability to drain water. At some locales, a short rain shower can turn the fairways to mush and the sand bunkers to mud. Other courses can shrug off a deluge, and your participants can go back onto the course immediately.
When selecting a site, also consider backup activities that are near the golf course in case golf is canceled. Evaluate whether those activities will fit your audience and your budget and achieve the same objectives as your golf event, says Ed Warneck, partner in Championship Golf Tours and wallstreetgolf.com, based in Manalapan, N.J.
If a backup activity isn't an option, then develop a contingency plan that adjusts the day's timetable. For example, if your post-golf schedule includes a cocktail hour, dinner, awards presentations, entertainment, and a speaker, be prepared to move up the schedule of activities by an hour or two.
If you have golf entertainers booked (a trick-shot artist or a golf-clinic leader, for example), evaluate the resort's facilities in advance to see if there is a protected environment where they could perform while your group watches.
What About Your Deposit?
Contingency plans are great, but what about the deposit you made to reserve the golf course?
Don't expect to see that money again. If the course is closed for the day because of rain, standard golf-courseissue full credit for use on a future date, Warneck says, not a refund. If the rain arrives after play has begun, or if there's a light rain but the course remains open, then golf course contracts usually say no credit is due.
Planners can try to negotiate better terms up front, but if you're perceived as a one-time, out-of-town group, the course isn't going to budge. “They're not likely to negotiate on a one-time deal,” Warneck says.
If you're a longstanding customer or if you're using a golf planner who has an important relationship with the course, however, then you have more leverage, and the course might be willing to negotiate weather clauses.
Business-related cancellations and weather-related cancellations are first cousins — they're similar, but not identical.
Standard golf-course contracts contain specific language for group golf cancellations. Penalties can be triggered 90, 60, or 30 days out from the tournament. Planners, of course, like to have language that gives them maximum flexibility. Golf properties, on the other hand, strive to turn the cancellation into a mere rescheduling. Read theand know the cancellation dates, and if you don't like the cancellation window, negotiate to change it.
If you cancel the event at the last minute and rescheduling isn't an option, then the contract language is likely to make you responsible for full payment. Flexibility still exists, however, according to Dave Selner, golf services manager for Kiawah Island Golf Resorts in South Carolina, and Marty Couch, director of group sales at Kiawah.
The contract's flexibility depends on the nature of the business relationship, the season (peak, shoulder, or off-peak), and how close to the date the cancellation is made, Selner says. “Our goal is to resell the inventory,” says Couch. “If I'm sitting on 20 tee times in the middle of the day on the Ocean Course in May, it isn't hard at all to resell.”
The same principles apply if you book 70 tee times but only 20 players sign up. If you share the bad news 40 days out and have a 30-day cancellation clause, then you're fine. If you wait until the last minute, then you're at the course's mercy. They may or may not give you a mulligan.
At the end of the round, golf properties want to keep and build relationships, but that desire is balanced against the need to run a viable business.