Docs love golf as much as cops love doughnuts — OK, so you already knew that. But while golf is undoubtedly popular among association members, CME providers often express concerns about pharma people picking up the tab for physicians on the green. However, there are plenty of ways to plan golf events that stay within ethical bounds and also raise money and enhance your meeting

Where There's Golf, There's Gold

Five years ago, the American Association of Family Physicians Foundation began organizing golf tournaments in conjunction with the annual AAFP Scientific Assembly. Things looked promising for the first few years — the tournament attracted 50 people in 1997, 75 in 1998, and 100 in 1999. But then came a dive — at the 2000 meeting in Dallas, only 30 players hit the green.

Why the downturn? For one thing, attendance at the meeting was down. But there were other reasons. John R. Mitterling, director of development for the Leawood, Kan.-based AAFP, says the decline was due partially to the fact the tournament was moved to earlier in the week when fewer people were available. Another factor was that the local AAFP chapter didn't have the resources to do a lot of promotion.

We caught up with Mitterling as he was planning the fifth annual tournament, scheduled for the AAFP annual meeting in October in Atlanta. Here are the lessons Mitterling has learned, sometimes the hard way, about planning a winning tournament.

Spread the Word

Getting the word out and attracting enough golfers to make the event worthwhile is always the biggest challenge, admits Mitterling. Players want to be in tournaments with a decent size field; after all, it's more of a coup to win a tournament with 144 players than it is to win one with 20. Corporate supporters also want more players so they get more visibility.

The AAFP, which usually works in conjunction with a state chapter to plan the event, begins promoting the tournament about nine months out. “Save the date” cards and exposure in all of the group's publications are key parts of the strategy. The foundation also has good relationships with about 85 AAFP corporate members and offers them first crack at opportunities to support the event. Conflicts of interest are avoided by keeping corporate donations small and within the American Medical Association's ethical rules and AAFP guidelines, says Mitterling.

Double the Fun

To attract more players this October, the tournament is being split in two. The first one will be held Sunday at Stone Mountain Golf Club in Stone Mountain, Ga., for people who come in early to attend AAFP Congress events. The other portion will be on the following Tuesday at the Chateau Élan in Braselton, Ga., for those who come in later in the week.

Scramble for Success

The 18-hole tournament is typically a scramble, and pairings are based on handicaps. Mulligans are sold for $10 each (about $500 is typically raised this way); other contests include closest to the pin, longest drive, and highest/lowest score. Prizes are usually cash or credit redeemable at the pro shop.

Famous Courses

Because most of the players are from out of town, it's important to find an attractive site that has national interest for golfers — “someplace that will make them say ‘Oh, I've always wanted to play there,’” says Mitterling. For convenience, the course must be within a 45-minute ride of the meeting site and have facilities for pre- and post-event socials, as well as a luncheon.

Don't Skip the Site Visit

Mitterling recommends that planners keep in constant touch with the course to ensure all the little details that make or break an event are taken care of. Make sure that the menu is right, there are enough beverages, the golf pro understands the needs of the attendees, there is enough rental equipment (about half of the AAFP attendees don't bring their own clubs), the PA system works, and the golf carts are clean. “We make lots and lots of calls, and do a site visit,” he says.

Driving Interaction

Giving doctors the chance to mingle in a social setting is the impetus behind the American Opthalmological Society's golf event, held in conjunction with the group's annual meeting the weekend before Memorial Day. The annual meeting typically draws 100 to 150 attendees, while 20 to 30 men and about 10 women play in the golf tournaments. Separate tournaments are held for men and women, as well as for spouses. The male players generally looks for a challenging course, while the female golfers usually view the tournament as more of a social event, says Lisa Brown, assistant director of association management services, AAO, San Francisco. But for all the players, the tournament “is a very important part of their interaction,” she says.

Brown also says the group looks for locations that are small and isolated, so the attendees can easily interact. This May's event, for instance, was held at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.

Brown says the AOS is a “creature of habit” in that the 18-hole tournament runs pretty much the same way each year. Planning begins a year in advance. “Perpetual” trophies are awarded, and teams are paired primarily based on player requests. A volunteer AOS member works with Brown as athletic director of the meeting, doing things like playing in the first foursome so he can be there at the end to collect the score cards.

Attendees pay their own fees, and the event has no sponsorships or affiliations with other corporations or organizations, notes Brown.

Bringing Reps and Doctors Together

Another branch of the AAO, The Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, holds an annual golf outing at the Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco each fall as part of the FAAO's Corporate Advisory Council Symposium.

The event is a chance for corporate AAO members such as pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers to interact with opinion leaders and find out what is happening within the industry, says Casey Hickey, director of resource development for the AAO. The golf outing typically has about 20 players, and has in the past been by invitation only to a handful of Corporate Advisory Council (CAC) members. Hickey, who planned the event for the first time in 2000, says attendance will likely increase this year, as the event will be opened up to all CAC members.

“We feel it's more appropriate to be more inclusive of the entire CAC membership and to give them this opportunity to have a more relaxed, social interaction with Academy leaders,” she says.

As the main idea behind the event is interaction, company reps are paired with physicians for the golf foursomes. But Hickey says there's no worry about conflicts of interest because participating companies are not asked to donate prizes.

For tips on negotiating with a golf course, see next page. For a discussion about golf and physician education, see “Golf's Role in CME,” page 112.