The Lure of the Links GOLF BOOM AT INSURANCE MEETINGS Last year was the second-best year ever for golf course construction, with 448 new courses opening, according to the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Fla. (The record of 468 was set in 1995.) Golf is booming everywhere, and insurance meetings are no exception.

"What I've seen over the past five years is more and more people playing golf, both male and female, and fewer people playing tennis," says Dick Adler, sales promotion director at American Family Insurance in Madison, Wis. "Golf is more social than tennis, and I think that has a lot to do with it. There's a focus on relationship-building."

Kelly Stratton, whose department handles more than 125 meetings a year for Nationwide and its subsidiaries, says she's seen a 20 to 30 percent increase in golfers at meetings. "In 90 percent of all my meeting requests, whether or not they are incentive meetings, they want golf," she says. "And all the major incentives offer tournaments."

Seeing a similar 20 to 30 percent increase is Gary Pearson, director of meetings and conventions at Aon Corp. in Chicago. "In addition to more players in general, we're seeing more spouses golfing," Pearson says. "We're playing more scrambles because of the camaraderie. It gets beginner golfers to play and not be embarrassed." And even the A players, he says, have come to appreciate the teambuilding aspects of a scramble format.

There are a few planners who tell a different story. "We always have enough players for a good tournament, but the numbers have not increased," says Wanda Bowling, meeting and convention planner for Columbus Life Insurance and The Western and Southern Life Insurance Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"Spouses who do not golf are demanding the time be shared with them. This is time for them to be together, and if families are around they do things as a unit." Bowling also notes that the rising cost of golf at resorts means that attendees must sometimes share the expense, which often only the more serious golfers are willing to do.

At Standard Insurance in Portland, Ore., Kim Ketcham has actually seen her golfing numbers decrease. "Younger agents seem to be interested in more adventuresome activities, like mountain biking and rafting," says Ketcham, the company's meeting planner. "We still hold a tournament every year and offer tee times on the non-tournament day. When selecting a site for Leaders Club in July or Achievement Club in March, golf availability and quality of the course is a factor. But it is becoming less critical."