Get in the Game
If you've never golfed, try it. "Everyone who plans meetings with golf should go out and play a round with someone, or at least ride along in the cart," says Kathy Kaskiw, FLMI, senior meeting consultant, Canada Life Assurance, Toronto. "You don't have any idea what's out there unless you see it. It's like skiing: Sometimes the ride up in the chairlift can be an incredible experience--as much as the skiing."
Golf courses--especially the ones you're probably booking--are beautiful places. And your golfers aren't always focused on the little white ball. They're taking deep breaths and looking out across, say, Hawaii's frozen lava plains to the deep blue Pacific, appreciating their reward. While they're building their relationships with fellow producers and your home office executives, they're remembering every hole of the course. They're thanking you for setting it all up.
If you've done it right, that is.
"Meeting planners need to understand what golfers expect and what can help them," says Will Rhame, founder of Tampa, Fla.-based Corporate Golf Strategies and author with Pat Summerall of Business Golf: The Art of Building Relationships through Golf. "They need to understand the power of business golf."
It's All About Relationships Heather Huebner, manager of marketing services for Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection/Insurance in Hartford, Conn., understands it. "There's nothing more valuable than four-and-a-half hours in a cart with somebody," says Huebner.
In addition to golf events at the company's meetings, Huebner is also in charge of the golf and hospitality programs Hartford Steam Boiler holds in conjunction with the Canon Greater Hartford Open, a PGAheld every summer at the TPC Course of River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. "We've done a hospitality tent for 10 years, up on a ridge overlooking the 18th fairway and green. It's like an oasis in the middle of the course," she says. "A lot of Hartford Steam Boiler reps stay around the tent to act as hosts for our clients. But nobody's there selling. It's a relationship-building event. Senior executives attend, meet with clients in the morning, have lunch in the tent, and then walk around the course with them in the afternoon."
About six years ago, Huebner started a tournament for Hartford Steam Boiler reps and executives, and their customers and clients, the day before the corporate tent opens. "It has a very nice flow, with a barbecue after the tournament. It's also a chance for senior management to meet everyone. We put our president at a par-three and he stays there throughout the tournament. He challenges everybody to one shot and the winnings go to charity. This way he gets to meet every person in every foursome."
Not Everyone Golfs Sure, not everyone wants to spend their free time traipsing in and out of sand traps; however, when we surveyed insurance incentive qualifiers last fall, their number-one choice of activity during incentive meetings was golf. Also notable was that golf moved up from 12th place to seventh place among female respondents' list of favorite leisure activities.
Many meeting planners who have noticed increased interest in golf among meeting attendees are choosing golf activities that ensure an enjoyable experience for less-experienced golfers as well as the die-hard players. Golf clinics, for example, are a great way to involve all levels. (See sidebars, page 33 and 36.)
The choice of tournament format sets the tone for the experience. One of the surest ways to increase the participation and enjoyment of newer golfers is to use the scramble tournament format. In a scramble, each member of a foursome hits a drive, then the whole foursome goes to where the best drive landed and hits their second shots from that spot. The process continues until the ball is in the cup. Not only does this format take the pressure off the C and D players, they could end up being heroes by sinking a winning putt or two. "People are more comfortable when they realize they're not going out to play real competitive golf," says Huebner, who saw an increase in signups when she began specifying on her invitations that the tournament would be a scramble. "When you get down to it, there are very few good golfers."
Some planners, on the other hand, have the opposite problem--a coterie of top producers who are good golfers and dislike scrambles, especially on the top courses they're often playing during incentive meetings. In this case, Will Rhame offers a couple of suggestions. First, plan a scramble tournament one day and a regular round the next. Or, arrange it so that the hard-core golfers can play another 18 holes on the day of the scramble if they want to.
If time or budget issues make those ideas impractical, Rhame suggests adding some extra challenges within the scramble format. Set up a tire in the middle of the fairway and require someone in each foursome to hit through it. Or put a hockey stick on one of the greens and require everyone to use it as a putter for that hole. Ask the golf director or resort pro what they've done in the past to spice up a scramble.
Canada Life's Kathy Kaskiw uses the scramble format for her tournaments, with a couple of twists. Each foursome has to use two drives from each player, and there are individual hole contests for longest drive and closest to the pin (two prizes are given for each--one for the winner among the men and the other for the winner among the women).
Two other format options are four-man best ball and two-man better ball. In the former, each golfer plays his own ball and the best score on the hole is counted for the entire four-person team. In the latter, the foursome is split into two teams, each golfer plays his own ball, and the better score for each team is counted for that team.
You're a Business Golfer, Too Even though advice about "business golf" usually focuses on the player who has a product or service to sell, the buyer has a lot to gain as well. As Gary Pearson, director of meetings and conventions for Chicago-based AON Corp., notes, "You've got the person to yourself for four or five hours. During that time you can talk about your company's philosophy and what you need for your meetings." And when you get back to the office and find yourself in negotiations with the person, he adds, "You can appeal to them a little more. They know you're not just giving them a line. They've gotten to know you."
Will Rhame notes that you can also make some judgments about how your meeting will be handled by the way the hotelier acts on the course. In the best case, he says, "you now have a friend and you feel more confident doing business with the person." On the other hand, "if the person isn't fun, or is acting bored or inattentive, you might decide that your group will not be serviced very well."
Inside a Round of Business Golf Are we having fun yet? Pearson and Locke hit the links.
Gary Pearson, director of meetings and conventions for AON Corp., and June Locke, national insurance sales manager for Four Seasons, both based in Chicago, recently played the Arnold Palmer course at the Four Seasons Aviara. They were kind enough to let us--and you--eavesdrop on their round. Read this summary, then think about your last networking reception chat. See the difference?
What we talked about during the round:
Gary's family, June's new home in the suburbs, Gary's knee operation, technology, computers and how we communicate while traveling, a meeting of Gary's that might work at the Four Seasons Palm Beach Resort, Ireland (Gary recently visited and played golf; June is vacationing there in July), the agenda for the ICPA Great Lakes Regional meeting in August, Japanese restaurants, mutual business acquaintances and friends, landscaping projects
One thing I learned during the round:
June learned of the new vice president of travel at AON, Harriet Washburn, who is very supportive of ICPA and industry networking.
Gary became familiar with the Four Seasons Aviara, and found out that he worked with one of the sales managers, Nelson Hilton, when Nelson was in conference services at the Four Seasons Palm Beach.
One thing I'll do because of the round:
June will thank Ms. Washburn for her support and will try to play golf in Ireland. Gary will keep the Four Seasons Resort Aviara in mind for West Coast meeting and golf programs.
My view on business golf:
June: "This is a wonderful opportunity to get to know someone on a more personal level, as you are together for several hours and the conversation covers a broad spectrum--from family, hobbies, and work, to consoling each other on bad shots."
Gary: "A round of golf is a great way to check out a new property, develop a relationship with the salesperson, and get a feel for the entire hotel with regard to product level and service standards."
The 32,000-square-foot Spanish colonial-style clubhouse at the Four Seasons Aviara in Carlsbad, Calif.
Bill Crist, head golf pro at the Four Seasons Resort Aviara in Carlsbad, Calif., offers these tips for planners of corporate tournaments: Get your pairings to the golf staff as early as possible! Remember, they have to create name tags for carts and get the golf bags loaded well before your start time. Also, poll attendees about whether they need rental clubs (right- or left-handed) and make sure the course has sufficient rental sets available.
Crist says the resort's Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, which opened in July 1991, is ideal for all player levels. Forward tees play to 5,007 yards; championship tees play to 7,007 yards. The 331-room, 44-suite Four Seasons Aviara opened in August 1997 and offers 29,000 square feet of meeting space.
Your Sales Reps Need Some Time with Will Rhame. Why? Because they'd probably answer these two questions incorrectly:
At what point during your first round with a potential client should you begin to talk business? Never! Wait until after the round and then set up another outing, schedule a meeting at your guest's office, or ask your guest if you can contact him or her the following week.
Betting should never be part of business golf, right? Wrong! Just make sure you and your potential client are on the same team, and make the bets for small amounts ($5 or less for nine holes) or a sandwich after the round. Why bet? Because after a few holes, you and your guest are calling each other "partner" and the bonding has begun.
These are two of the myths Rhame dispels during his sessions with salespeople. And it's just a taste of what he has to share about playing business golf. "It's an entirely different round of golf," he says. "It's not competitive golf and it's not social golf." With helpful handouts and plenty of audience interaction, Rhame will have your producers--regardless of their handicap--playing perfect business golf. (And that should keep them qualifying for your conferences.)
Kathy Kaskiw, senior consultant, Canada Life Assurance, booked Rhame for an hour-long session at a recent sales incentive meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples. "We gave attendees a choice between his one-hour golf workshop and a roundtable discussion. Almost everyone chose the workshop," she says. "We have a lot of seasoned golfers who thought they knew it all, and they all came away learning something."
And so will you. For example, Rhame shares his "10 Commandments of Business Golf" during the session. The rules are aimed at salespeople, but much of the advice is great for all business golfers. A sampling:
* Leave your ego in your bag.
* Arrive early and be prepared.
* Pick up when appropriate.
Find more of Will Rhame's business golf advice at www.execusports.com or call him at (813) 269-8129.
Linking Course and Classroom If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, a few hours of golf instruction can make a day of business training feel like fun. Don't tell your attendees, but it also increases the chances that they'll retain key training concepts.
That's the idea behind Learning Links, a program that integrates golf instruction with corporate education. We're not talking about following a morning classroom session with an afternoon tee time. You already know how ineffective that can be: By 10 a.m. your golfers will have mentally checked out of the session and started envisioning their beautiful drives off the first tee.
Instead, Learning Links is a one-day program that starts on the practice tee, moves to the classroom, heads back out to the golf course, and wraps up in the classroom. Professional golfer John Haime developed the program along with professional educators Suzanne Slattery and Ronald Brown, PhD. Training programs cover one of three topics:, leadership, or innovation. A business case study format is used, tailored to your company's specific challenges. "Exercises on the course reinforce and highlight what participants learn in the classroom," Haime explains. Each attendee gets take-home information on the training topic plus a golf evaluation and action plan.
Nongolfers can participate, too. "New golfers or nongolfers are the same as the new people in a work group," Haime says. "You have to find the person's skills and work to integrate the person." A participant who has never golfed can help a foursome strategize or can putt, for example. "It's also a great opportunity for people who don't golf to be introduced to it."
Based in Ottawa, Learning Links has relationships with four Canadian resorts, including Whistler Golf Resort in Whistler, British Columbia, and will announce relationships with some U.S. resorts next year. However, the team will travel to whatever resort you've booked for your meeting.
Classes are limited to 30 participants. Find out more at www.learninglinks.org.
Back to School The Arnold Palmer Golf Academy is one of many golf schools that have home bases at select courses but will travel to your meeting location.
APGA, however, has gone high-tech. Invite some of the golf staff to set up at a hole during your tournament or in a corner during your opening reception and they'll film each attendee's swing, collect everyone's e-mail address, and e-mail them a link to the APGA Web site. The player will see eight separate photos of his or her swing alongside eight photos of a touring pro's swing. APGA's "five swing fundamentals" will appear on the page as well.
APGA also does traditional clinics. One idea that works well for large incentive groups, says Gary Lorfano, director of sales and marketing, is to hold a beginner's clinic at the same time your tournament is being held. "This gives nongolfers the chance to have meals with the golfers, and feel like they're part of the event," Lorfano notes. For more, call (800) 523-5999 or visit www.apga.com.