Golf and CME: A Winning Combo A resort's golf facilities may not be the primary criteria in selecting a medical conference site, but that doesn't mean "we're bashful" about telling attendees of the resort's amenities, says John Gillespie of the Southern Medical Association in Birmingham, Ala.

"Amenities like golf courses are important in physicians' decision-making on whether to attend," says Gillespie, the association's assistant director of education. "They want the opportunity to learn from respected colleagues, but if they invest time away from their practices, they also want recreational options like the chance to play a world-class golf course. That adds to the attractiveness of the complete package."

Gillespie plans about 20 meetings a year for the Southern Medical Association, which has a membership of some 20,000 doctors from 16 states and Washington, D.C. For the past 24 years, the association has held an annual four-day clinical workshop for 80 to 100 attendees at The Cloister, a Sea Island, Ga., resort renowned for its historic Sea Island Golf Club. Gillespie has also used The Cloister for several other three-day seminars. Resorts are a niche for the association's conferences, with half of its CME programs held in a resort setting, he says.

"We don't sell golf first; we're selling the clinical education aspect of our programs," says Gillespie, whose first consideration is the caliber of a property's meeting facilities. "Good meeting space is critical, especially for medical meetings. Doctors learn from slides, pictures, hands-on procedures, and demonstrations, so that a property's technical capabilities, like multiscreen slide projection equipment, are of major importance. But most golf resorts are also well-established properties with excellent conference facilities as well as other recreational options, so selecting a golf resort is a no-brainer."

Education First The association features golf at its conferences as a planned activity--where it arranges set tee times for participants--or as an option for attendees who want to organize their own games. "Sometimes golf is a focal point to get attendees together for networking," says Gillespie. Other recreational activities like tennis are used as alternate activities and in the same way. "But whether we organize the play or leave it up to attendees to get together on their own, an activity like golf will be at the doctors' own expense."

The association has a clear philosophy governing ethical issues relating to golf, says Gillespie. It has used golf giveaways occasionally, where a pharmaceutical company may provide a golf towel or complimentary golf balls bearing the SMA logo. "Something like that serves us well; it's a good marketing opportunity," says Gillespie. "But we are education-driven and we keep education first.

"When we are involved with a drug company on a conference, for example, we would rather put their grant money to work on the educational side paying for the printing of a syllabus, or audiovisual equipment, or bringing in a world-renowned faculty person to speak. Recreational activities are better paid for by the participant. All of our members benefit from educational grants as opposed to a recreational activity in which attendees may or may not participate."

Gillespie has this advice for selecting a golf resort: Planners should consider the "complete package," including the property's reputation and its range of recreational activities, plus its options for children in light of the trend toward bringing the family to conferences.--Robin Amster

Groans on the Golf Course? Golf may have a kinder, gentler image than many sports--nothing more strenuous than a long, leisurely walk with frequent stops to bend over and to take that swing. But make no mistake, the game is an athletic activity involving back-related stress that can lead to lower back problems, according to chiropractor David Stude.

Lower-back pain often comes on little by little over time, lulling golfers who aren't yet experiencing symptoms into thinking all is well, adds Stude, who is a member of the American Chiropractic Association Sports Council and a founding fellow of the National Golf Fitness Society.

Stude says golfers' most common injuries are to the wrist, but the most common complaint is back pain. Back pain is more challenging to treat because it is usually caused by more than one factor, he says. "A major challenge is letting golfers know that something may be going wrong before the pain appears."

Are doctors any more attuned to potential back problems than other golfers? "They are aware of stressors on the lower back, so it would be hard for them not to be," notes Stude. "But I'm not sure that doctors know [about] prevention."

Prescription for Back Pain Here are some of Stude's tips for avoiding injury and back pain: * Use a pull cart. Walking may be good exercise, but carrying a heavy bag for 18 holes can cause the spine to shrink, leading to disk problems and nerve irritation. If you prefer riding in a cart, then you should alternate riding and walking for every other hole. Bouncing around in a cart is also hard on the spine.

* Stretch. Taking a brisk walk to get blood flowing to the muscles, then doing a set of stretches before playing, is optimal. Stude notes, however, that the average golfer doesn't have the time or interest to stretch for 20 minutes before, so two to three minutes is okay. Most important is stretching for five to seven minutes after the game, he says.

* Drink plenty of fluids. Hydration is important to the health of spinal disks. Dehydration also leads to early fatigue. Beware of drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking while golfing; both cause a loss of fluid.

* Wear orthotics. These custom-made shoe inserts support the arch, absorb shock, reduce the effects of fatigue, and increase coordination. The feet are the foundation for the lower back, Stude reminds golfers.

* Avoid metal spikes. In addition to tearing up greens, they can increase stress on the back. Soft spikes or soft shoes allow for greater motion.

* Purchase equipment that fits. Don't try to adapt your swing to the wrong clubs. Picture the back perils of a six-footer playing with irons designed for someone five inches shorter.

* Take lessons. Learning proper swing technique is critical; at the end of a swing you should be standing straight up and your back should not be twisted.

* Keep the entire body involved while playing. To do so, take a few practice swings with the opposite hand every third hole. This keeps muscles balanced and evens out stress on the back.

* Undergo manual adjustments. This well-supported intervention for acute back pain is also recommended before golfers experience problems. "Golfers should see a chiropractor intermittently when they're feeling great," says Stude.

For more information, visit the American Chiropractic Association's Web site at www.acatoday.com.

--Robin Amster

Maximize Golf's ROI You're always thinking of new ways to add value to your company's sales meetings or medical conferences. Why not drive home your organization's strategic objectives while attendees are driving a golf ball? Health care professionals are passionate about golf. And today's decision-makers know golf is a powerful reward tool in the pharmaceutical and medical industries.

But while hosting a round of golf is fun for the attendee, it doesn't always move the organization closer to its goals. Get a better return on your golfing investment by integrating conference themes directly into the golf event.

Let's look at ways to entertain and educate on acres and acres of green meeting space. For instance, what is the company's primary goal or focus? Is it employee motivation, or launching a new product or medical procedure? Print the goal on golf balls and tees, or place signs on tee boxes, and long-drive and closest-to-the-pin markers.

One company I worked with recently designed a booklet of the resort's golf course and included a business theme with each hole description. Hole 17 represented the dot in dotcom, for example. When executives are given the chance to re-lax and have fun, they will often discover creative ideas. Ask your sales force to reflect on ways to increase market share during the round. Then brainstorm later.

Physicians like high-tech presentations offering the latest techniques. Increase attendance at your medical conference with golf instruction that supports just that.

To comply with CME leisure-time guidelines, set up an indoor driving range next to the meeting or banquet room. Attendees can stretch, process the material, get swing tips, and return refreshed.

Joseph Pine, co-author of The Experience Economy, and a student of mine, advises executives to stage meeting experiences that engage the senses of attendees. Learning golf activates the senses--sight, sound, touch, even the smell of the great outdoors. (And one time I did taste sand when I fell into a bunker. I don't recommend it.) Try incorporating customized golf instruction into your meeting itinerary. You'll maximize your ROI by consistently reinforcing the meeting message, even during this instruction.

For instance, at one meeting General Colin Powell delivered a keynote, The Leader's Role in Learning and Development, to executives. I structured a golf activity to blend with the conference and with Powell's theme. First, we made the title golf-friendly: Learning and Developing Your Golf Swing. Then, I tied his message that real learning happens when individuals are given encouragement, opportunity, and guidance directly into the instruction.

Each attendee's golf swing was compared side-by-side with the swing of leaders of golf, like Tiger Woods and Greg Norman. Guests were treated to a digital computer analysis, and a take-home video of that analysis.

A study from Meeting Professionals International indicates that companies want improved interaction, motivation, retention, and commitment at their meetings. Great attitudes make a great conference.

Adults get enthusiastic about learning when it appeals to their minds and hearts, their logic and emotions. Golf clinics can serve this dual purpose. People don't want to play average golf; they want to play great golf! Create a memorable and engaging theater experience that weaves in your industry's hot issues. For example, is your company focused on the impact of technology? Technology has had a dramatic impact on golf, too. Has a new competitor emerged in your marketplace? The arrival of Tiger Woods sent his competitors back to the drawing board. Are human resource issues critical to your department at this time? Work-life balance, industry change, and other important issues can be incorporated into a golf clinic.

Great golfers know that the better they synchronize their arms with their bodies, the better the ball goes. Likewise, today's top meeting planners know that the better they synchronize leisure activities with business objectives, the better the meeting. Help clients hit great golf shots and they'll connect with conference themes, too. Golf is that powerful!

--Tom Fitzpatrick

What is involved in organizing a golf tournament for a medical meeting? For the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association in Tempe the process is relatively simple.

Kristin Fox, CMP, AzHAA director of educational services, says the association doesn't go in for "a lot of fancy features" for the golf tournament held in conjunction with its annual convention. That doesn't mean, however, that the event has not become a successful part of the convention.

A golf tournament had been a part of an AzHAA annual fall leadership forum, and when that conference was discontinued it was decided to make the tournament part of the annual convention, says Fox. The first tournament was held last year (1999) at the McCormick Ranch Golf Club in Scottsdale, while this year's took place at the Orange Tree Golf Club, also in Scottsdale. The convention itself was held both years at Scottsdale's Doubletree Paradise Valley Resort, which is not a golf resort. The convention attracts about 400 participants, including sponsors and exhibitors, while the golf tournament has averaged about 40 players each year.

"We've held our annual convention at the Doubletree for some ten years now because of its central location for our members, who are all from Arizona," says Fox. "With so many nearby golf courses in Scottsdale and Phoenix, it's not necessary for the convention to be held at a golf resort in order to stage a tournament. Most of the resorts here, if they don't have their own courses, they have agreements with golf resorts enabling their guests to play there."

Fox, who is not a golfer, relies on the recommendations of the association's president and CEO, an avid golfer, in selecting a challenging and enjoyable course for the tournament.

Bringing People Together The event has brought together the association's wide membership--hospital and health system CEOs and CFOs, nurse executives, department managers, and physicians--for valuable socializing and networking, says Fox. It's open to all members, including vendors attending the convention, and is promoted in the AzHAA newsletter and convention brochure.

Fox supplies a list of members who sign up for the tournament to the association's president, who sets up foursomes for the event. One of her potential challenges is changes requested to that line-up. But, she adds, "You know what foursomes can be changed and which can't!"

--Robin Amster