NEVER SELECT A GOLF RESORT based on golf alone. A good place to start when choosing a course is with an examination of your group and its needs.
Is the event a major business meeting with a little golf on the side, or is it a top-level golf incentive with a few meetings thrown in? Are all or most attendees golfers? If not, what other activities are you looking for on-site: a spa, tennis courts, a beach? What sorts of players will you be hosting? Are they serious low-handicap players, mid-handicap occasional players, casual duffers, or, as is often the case, a combination?
Is one course enough? Using a double shotgun start for your(two foursomes per hole), an 18-hole course will barely accommodate 144 players, and the pace of play will be quite slow. Many facilities have 27 or 36 holes, which would provide a more comfortable venue for groups of more than 120.
A half-hour drive from your hotel to the course could wreak havoc on your meeting schedule, and you'll probably have to pay to transport your players. Whenever possible, choose a course that is easy to get to. (Tip: Get creative with your transfer. It's a good time for trivia games, golf tips, or even product presentations.) While some top courses are not connected to a resort, playing a resort course is helpful because it simplifies things from a logistical and billing standpoint. Resort golf fees can be high, but the recreation is more integrated into the meeting environment.
Is it more important to have a high-profile course to impress players, or a low-profile course that could save money or be more duffer-friendly? If your goal is simply to give attendees an afternoon of recreation between meeting sessions, you can get by with a low-key course. If the tournament is designed as a reward for staff or key customers, a prestigious layout by a top-name architect, such as Robert Trent Jones, Pete Dye, or Jack Nicklaus, might be in order. Even so, know your golfers and the course layout. Are they experienced golfers who really want a challenge, or so-so golfers who might prefer a forgiving course? Certain architects, such as Pete Dye, are known for their diabolical designs. Their courses can be tough to play because of tricky turns down the fairways. On the other hand, Arnold Palmer designs courses with generous fairways, where players can use their drivers. Elements that make a course challenging are narrow fairways flanked by woods and lots of water hazards and sand traps.
Does the course provide a staff dedicated to running tournaments? Are there enough staffers to set up the course, load clubs onto carts, greet attendees, update the scoreboard, and monitor the contests (closest to the pin, etc.). If you need it, does the property have experience in all areas of tournament planning, including setting up the foursomes? Do they have a computer system designed to handle tournament management? Which services are included in your fee, and which are extra?
Many players will want to warm up before the tournament. If the practice range isn't big enough, it can cause delays and grumbling. If you're planning clinics, make sure that the practice range is big enough to accommodate your groups.
Climate can be a factor in venue selection. If there is an appreciable chance of rain, opt for a property with more than 18 holes. If rain cancels a day's play and there's only one course, it can be really jammed up the next day. Check on the other course to see if, on the day after your scheduled tournament, it is open enough to accommodate your group.
Is there enough leeway on tee times to accommodate other functions in the meeting schedule?
Always ask about the course maintenance schedule. Don't hold your tournament sooner than two weeks after the greens have been aerated. When you inspect the course, pay attention to the maintenance of fairways, putting greens, tee boxes, and sand traps. Be on the lookout for divots, where the turf has been dug up, and soggy areas, which may indicate poor drainage.
If needed, make sure there's plenty of space for pre- or post-tournament activities, such as a reception or an awards banquet. If the clubhouse isn't adequate, many courses have tents on hand or can arrange them for you.
One of the most important ways that a facility can make itself friendly to women is to have female instructors, female pros, female rangers, female starters, and other women on staff. It's simple: Women want to see other women.
The best way to know whether a facility is female-friendly is to check it out unannounced. Often, the little things — bathrooms (both in the clubhouse and on the course), hair dryers and cosmetic trays in locker rooms, a nice selection of women's clothing and equipment in the pro shop — tell you a lot.
“From my perspective, a lot of courses could do more to accommodate women,” says Connie Jalet, sales executive with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Most courses don't have women's rental clubs. If you're lucky, they'll have seniors clubs that you may be able to use. If they have locker rooms, you know the women will have 10 lockers and one shower while the men will have 50 lockers and five showers.”