Fewer companies are heading to the golf course after a morning of meetings, according to CMI' Golden Links Advisory Board members, who met in January to discuss conditions in the industry.

For starters, many meetings are shorter, and that means less time to squeeze in 18 holes. “Golf is one place that some planners are definitely looking to when analyzing their itineraries,” says Gary Pearson, director of meetings and conventions with Chicago-based Aon Service Corp.

However, Jo Ann Hoffman, president of MILO/The Golfe, cautions against blindly eliminating golf from an itinerary because of cost concerns. “There are many indirect interpersonal relationship benefits from the golf experience that aren't easy to measure.”

Companies are also cutting corners in the sites they choose, which rules out some of the more expensive resort destinations. “Site selection requires even more research and analysis with budget constraints,” says Pearson. But he still thinks that high-end resorts are accessible under the right conditions. “The bottom line is that certain companies can't afford Palm Beach or Palm Springs in high season, but they can in late spring or summer when the rates drop.”

Charlie Kent, director of golf at Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort in San Antonio, Texas, says there is a lot of flexibility these days on the resort side. “We don't say ‘no’ to anything, if it's a reasonable suggestion.” He adds that planners have much more clout when they're negotiating for golf with the same resort where they have booked their rooms and planned their meals. “That's really an important consideration when you're trying to adhere to a strict budget.”

One way that companies are controlling costs is through cost sharing. “Let's say a group is at a big name resort with a celebrated course and golf is not a formal part of the itinerary,” says Pearson. “The company might ask golfers to pay $50 to $75 to play the course and then make up the difference. For serious golfers who may have always dreamed of playing that particular course, the agreement seems fair — and it helps out both parties.”

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