With greens fees on the rise and meeting budgets stagnant, planners of golf events face a challenge: Put on the same top-notch tournament as always — but for the same amount of money as last year (and the year before that). Moreover, the number of people signing up for golf tournaments is declining, thanks to tighter corporate purse strings.

Frank Sablone, president, Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute Inc., Naperville, Ill., has seen this latter trend firsthand. In the late 1990s, 220 players would routinely participate in TLMI's annual golf tournament, but now the numbers are between 180 and 200.

One good piece of news is that the overbuilding of golf resorts in the past several years means buyers have a lot of leverage at many resorts. And if the rate at an on-site course is too high, planners can look off-site to nearby courses. Here are some other cost-saving tips:

  1. Avoid Top-Tier Golf Courses

    “You don't have to play the Pinehurst No. 2's or Pebble Beaches of the world to have a good event,” says Teresa Williams, director, GMAC-RFC, Atlanta, citing two of the most prestigious courses in the country. “Most golfers are mid- to high-handicappers and just want to play.”

  2. Book Off-Season

    Here's just one example of the savings resulting from booking a course off season: At Barton Creek Resort in Austin, Texas, greens fees at the two Tom Fazio — designed courses range from $180 to $240 in the prime seasons but drop to $135 to $180 in the value seasons.

  3. Hold a nine-hole tournament instead of the traditional 18 holes

    These tournaments take half the time of 18-hole rounds and, if executed properly, cost less. However, many resorts don't offer nine-hole rates and will charge the 18-hole fee unless the planner requests a discount. “A facility may say they only do 18-hole tournaments,” says Nancy Berkley, president, Berkley Consulting Inc. “But it's competitive out there right now. If event planners stick to their guns, they should be able to demand better pricing.”

  4. Jazz up your nine-hole event

    Planners can beef up a nine-hole outing by adding a 30-minute demonstration or lesson conducted by local pros. Or they can forgo a golf tournament and replace it with skills contests — outings where people don't actually play a round, but instead gather to compete in contests such as longest drive, closest to the pin, chipping, and putting, with awards given to the winners.

  5. Go light on lunch

    “Golfers can get by with a sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a bag of chips,” says Sablone of Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute Inc. Save the coleslaw, granola bar, brownie, and the fancy box it all comes in, because it's too much food — and it's not necessary. Sablone buys his own brown paper bags and requests that the resort put the lunches in them. “I don't want to spend the extra $2 on this elaborate box that basically gets thrown out.”

  6. Have a cookout at one of the holes

    It doesn't have to be fancy — just hot dogs and hamburgers, which the players can grab and go. It may end up being cheaper than having the resort put together a boxed lunch.

  7. Cut out the booze

    Choose to pick up the cost of beer, wine, and soft drinks, and let individuals pay for hard liquor if they want it. Or, put bottles of beer, wine, water, or soft drinks on the cart before the tournaments starts. If an individual consumes more than the pre-determined per-person amount, he or she has to pay for it.

  8. Keep gifts simple

    Consider using trophies, which are cheaper than golf equipment, clubs, and bags. Or cut back on certain contests — such as the longest-drive competition, which is difficult for anyone other than the best players to win — and you won't need to give out prizes for those.

    Find out what kinds of prizes your attendees would value, Berkley advises. Books or CDs may be more appreciated by some attendees, while others may find more value in a gift certificate redeemable at the pro shop. “Imagine if you asked people what size shirts their children wear so you can print personalized T-shirts with their names on them.” It wouldn't cost much, she says, and the gift would have great value for some attendees.

  9. Beef up your sponsorship program

    Obtaining sponsorships for everything from the beverage cart to the closest-to-the-pin contest is a good way to enhance relationships with vendors and, of course, to help defray the costs of the tournament.