When golfers hear a cellphone begin blaring Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in the middle of someone's swing, it takes every bit of composure not to threaten to throw those little devices right into the next water hazard.
But the debate about cellphone use on the course is proof of how crunched for time many golfers have become. It's nearly impossible for people to spend an afternoon golfing without their phones or PDAs — or to spend an afternoon golfing, period. Off-site meetings have undergone their own version of a time crunch, with many companies cutting an entire day from their programs, making it harder to book an eight-hour block for golf and dinner.
The end result? A round of golf has dropped far down on the list of popular meeting activities. As a result, resorts are providing alternative golf experiences that take less time but still offer opportunities for networking and.
The menu of alternative golf events is eclectic, including putting contests; night golf; skills competitions; target-hitting contests on the range; instruction clinics; and three-, six-, and nine-hole tournaments.
Sam Baker, president of Haversham & Baker, a Cincinnati-based travel and meeting services firm specializing in golf, insists that creativity and an emphasis on fun, not competition, are the keys to a successful alternative golf event. “First and foremost is to have a good plan for execution,” says Baker. “Just because it's not a major, full-blowndoesn't mean you should relax on the details. I always try to remember that I'm creating lasting memories, whether my clients are on the golf course, the putting green, or an academy learning course.”
Home on the Range
While many golfers look at the range and see a wide open space where they can incessantly whack golf balls into oblivion, planners increasingly see the green space as a staging area for instruction clinics, skill competitions, and golf olympics.
For example, Baker has used the Academy driving range at the Westin Turnberry Resort in Ayrshire, Scotland, for an event that took less than two hours. With just 80 attendees, the three-hole event had a historical theme, and players used antique hickory-shaft clubs and vintage-style balls. The Turnberry staff designed three holes on the range: a 100-yard hole that required one shot to the green, a 220-yard hole that required two shots, and a 350-yard hole that required three shots. “It was very well-received because we were able to incorporate a variety of elements ranging from history to shot-making skills to camaraderie,” he says.
The range is not ideal for every group, says Nancy Berkley, president of Berkley Golf Consulting Inc., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “I prefer a clinic/demonstration experience on the golf course because it provides a more peaceful setting and a more authentic golf experience for novices,” says Berkley. “Getting away from the range gives the event a more exclusive feel.” She suggests the 18th green early or late in the day, when it's not usually in use.
Whether the instruction is on the range or the course, Berkley cautions that simply having the teaching professional show up to tell a few jokes and give a couple of swing tips is not the recipe for a productive and enjoyable experience. “It's imperative to bring the same event-planning mentality that you would to, let's say, an awards dinner,” she says. “Paying attention to details, such as having the pro wear a wireless mike so everyone can hear, providing chairs for comfort, and awarding prizes to add sizzle to the event, is important.”
Take the Short Course
Short courses, which were once referred to as executive courses and are now sometimes called training courses, are quietly showing up at more and more resorts. They offer multiple options for formats and events. Resorts that have short courses and meeting space include Chateau Élan Winery & Resort in Braselton, Ga.; The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, Vail, Colo.; Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando; Kingsmill Golf Resort in Williamsburg, Va.; South Seas Island Resort, Captiva Island, Fla.; Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich.; and Marriott Mountain Shadows Golf Club & Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. Lansdowne Resort in Lansdowne, Va., located 30 miles from Washington, D.C., has a short course designed by Greg Norman. The layout includes five par-4 holes and four par 3's.
The Davis Love III-designed Origins Course near Destin, Fla., can be played either as a six-hole regulation course (three par 3's, two par 4's, and a par 5) or a nine-hole executive course (three par 4's and six par 3's). It can also be played as a 10-hole par-3 course. Guests and meeting attendees staying at the nearby Watercolor Inn have access to Origins.
In Palos Verde, Calif., Todd Eckenrode, an Irvine, Calif.-based golf architect, is designing a nine-hole course set to open in 2009 at Terranea Resort, which will function as both a daily play and an academy course. “Not everyone has five hours to spend on a full-length, 18-hole round of golf, or wants to spend hundreds of dollars for each round,” says Eckenrode. “Championship golf courses will always have their place in the game, but these types of short-course facilities are just as crucial for the health of the game — and often more enjoyable.”
In the real world, many resorts with championship 18-hole layouts aren't willing to accommodate nine-hole rounds — but that's slowly changing.
La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., offers a “Nine and Dine” program in which golfers play nine holes followed by an elegant dining experience or an outdoor grill party. At Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, Calif., meeting groups with tight itineraries are offered the “Nine a Day” program. Attendees play the front nine one day and the back nine the next.
“If your group has a tight itinerary, it's imperative that you find a golf resort that is flexible and creative,” says Berkley. “When a golf director is inflexible, you're really limiting how creative you can be.”
Let Them Get Out and Enjoy the View
Even nongolfers can enjoy the gorgeous scenery at resort courses. At Shingle Creek Golf Club at Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando, the on-site Brad Brewer Golf Academy's “Golf 101” clinic can be held on the course. The nonintimidating clinic introduces people to the game and covers such topics as equipment, how to practice correctly, proper etiquette, and golf jargon.
At the Ka'anapali Golf Resort in Maui, Hawaii, planners can offer nongolfers a Big Break experience modeled on the Golf Channel reality TV show, with challenges such as scavenger hunts and blindfolded putting. “The Big Break experience allows even the nongolfers to enjoy the beauty of the scenery along the golf course without having to play,” says Ed Kageyama, general manager.