Don't Trust What You See Out Your Window

Jo Ann Hoffman knows firsthand that you can't always rely on the weather report. About four years ago, the president and CEO of Meeting Industry Ladies Open/The Golfe, Rockville, Md., was organizing a charity golf tournament at the Woodmont Country Club in Rockville. The forecast called for rain the night before the event, so she kept a close watch on the weather report. When it rained only lightly that evening, she was relieved. The next morning, she drove to the course early to begin setting up the registration table for the event.

“The golf pro came up to me as I was setting up and asked, ‘What are you doing?’” says Hoffman.

While the overnight showers at her home, just 10 minutes from the club, had been mild, the storm had hit much harder at the course. “He told me that the country club had closed one of its courses because of severe flooding, and that there was no way our group of 288 could all play on just one course.

“We had a lot of money invested in this, so I put on my thinking cap and asked our golf pro to see what dates were available to reschedule the tournament. Then I went to catering and told them we would still hold the upscale continental breakfast for the players that we had scheduled for that morning. Most were already on their way over, so we didn't want them to have to just turn around and go home.”

After a lot of quick thinking and planning on the fly, Hoffman had a new date picked for the tournament and all the details about the postponed event ready when the group arrived. “Having all the answers ready alleviated a lot of problems,” she says. “About 98 percent of them were OK with the situation.”

Lesson learned? If you're off-site and planning a golf tournament — even if you're just 10 minutes away — be prepared for the weather at the course to be different from what you see out your window.

“Even if it's sunny the day of your event, they are not going to let you on the course if it rained a lot the night before,” says Hoffman.

Do They Really Get It?

Taking groups to the British Isles to play at some of the most prestigious courses in the world can be quite an incentive — if everything goes according to plan. For an incentive golf event in Scotland, Steven R. Jones, president of event-management company SRJ Enterprises, Elmont, N.Y., managed to secure one of the few courses in Scotland that allows motorized golf carts for his group of 100. The group would begin with a shotgun start (where each foursome tees off from a different hole, allowing everyone to start and end at the same time) and conclude with a gala dinner.

Jones made sure that all the preparations were set. He gave the course management a list of golfers in attendance, as well as info about which foursome would begin at each hole. “We even double-checked with them to make sure that they knew how to organize a shotgun start,” he says. “They assured us they had everything under control.”

The morning of the event, Jones and his staff arrived at the course an hour early to ensure everything was in place. “At first glance, everything looked great. The carts were all lined up, and everything seemed to be in order.”

But upon closer inspection, he found that there was no organization to the way the carts had been staged for the tournament. “It was chaotic. The bags were not with the right carts, and there was no rationale as to how to get people out to the course systematically. The management had no clue how to set up for a shotgun start.”

With carts and bags in disarray and just one hour until tee time, his only option was to have golfers attempt to find the holes themselves. With just the map of the course on their scorecards to guide them, golfers drove around aimlessly until they found their designated tee-off point. “It was a zoo,” he recalls. “The tournament was supposed to start at noon, and we didn't begin until 1 p.m.”

Luckily for the golfers, sunset was not until late in the evening, which allowed everyone to finish the game. “Dinner had to be pushed back a little, but we were able to pull it off.”

The situation would not have worked out so well had the group been playing somewhere where the sun sets earlier. “If you're playing at the wrong time of year, and the sun goes down during the tournament, you're in trouble. Luckily, the attendees thought it was a riot.”

Jones' advice? While most U.S. courses know how to organize shotgun starts, those in Europe and other international destinations might not, so don't make any assumptions. As for Jones, even when he's organizing events stateside, he is now extra careful.

“If I haven't been to the course before, I gently ask them if they have experience with shotgun starts. At first, they look at me like I'm nuts, but when I tell them what happened in Scotland, they get it.”

Sometimes, It's Just Bad Luck

When most people think of the Bahamas, images of sunshine and beaches come to mind. Not so for Robert Hatheway, president, RJH Associates, Windsor Locks, Conn. Just days before a three-day tournament he had planned at the former Bahamas Princess Hotel (now the Country Club at Bahamia) on Grand Bahama Island, a severe storm hit, forcing the group to cancel the event.

“The storm was so bad that the airports shut down and we couldn't even get the group there,” he says. He worked with the property to reschedule the tournament and managed to find an alternate date that worked for the course and the 80 golfers.

When the group flew into the Bahamas for the rescheduled tournament, Hatheway was relaxed and ready to go. But the day of the event, the island was hit with a second storm — this time, it was a hurricane.

Knowing that it would be impossible to reschedule a third time, Hatheway and his contact at the golf course scrambled to come up with a viable solution. Using makeshift miniature golf holes left over from a trade show, they constructed a nine-hole miniature putting course in a large meeting room at the hotel.

“We put little lights in each hole, turned down the room lights, and got some luminous golf balls.” The effect was unusual, and it got the golfers into the spirit. “These were serious golfers, but this setup allowed them to relax and still be competitive. We put people in teams and had all sorts of putting contests with a variety of prizes. It became a fun event that maintained the spirit of the tournament.”

The experience taught Hatheway that when negotiating the contract, it's critical to spell out how to deal with a weather-related postponement. “We always try to get an arrangement where we will commit to come back to the golf course and hold the tournament within a certain number of months, but usually with a lower number of attendees.”

What Happens in Vegas … Doesn't Always Stay in Vegas

John Lehmann thought that he had pulled off the impossible: securing 16 tee times at Shadow Creek, a private course in Las Vegas where tee times are few and far between. As president of Network Sports Marketing, an event-planning company in Wellington, Fla., Lehmann was tasked with organizing the golf event as part of a sales trip for a small group of investment bankers and their clients.

Knowing the group would be out partying the night before, Lehmann scheduled the first tee time for 10 a.m to ensure that everyone would make it to the course on time. The first foursome arrived promptly at 10, but when the second group showed up, one golfer was missing. No worries, thought Lehmann. The group could be pushed back to the next tee time, 12 to 14 minutes later.

As tee times kept passing and there was still no sign of the missing fourth golfer, he began to worry. After trying to phone the golfer at the hotel and on his cell phone, “we just couldn't get in touch with him. We knew that someone had last seen him at the roulette table at 2 a.m. the night before.”

Lehmann asked hotel security to check the man's room, and they found that his luggage was gone. Lehmann sent out one of his staffers to replace the missing golfer in the foursome and got the group on the course. Then he tracked down the golfer's home number and called his wife to find out if he had made it home. “It turns out, he showed up later that night at his house. He just caught a flight without telling anybody. We never found out why or what had happened.”

The important thing was that the client was OK. “As an event organizer, this situation was a little hairy. Throughout the whole ordeal, we were all more worried for the client than anything else.”

When bringing groups to Vegas, it's important to consider the distractions in comparison to the goal of the event, says Lehmann. “I deal with a lot of corporate planners who won't book in Vegas because people can lose a little bit of focus when they are there. But I'd never had anything like that happen before.”

Not Just for Men

According to Nancy Berkley, president of Berkley Golf Consulting Inc., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., one mishap that she has seen all too often involves planners forgetting that there are women in the group.

She knows what that feels like: “At a large industry event I attended, it didn't even occur to the organizer that between 10 poercent and 20 percent of the golfers were women. All the T-shirts were in men's sizes, and the prizes were all male-oriented.” She and her fellow female golfers weren't too shocked. “We just said to each other, ‘Oh this is what usually happens.’”

Another signal to women that the golf event organizer forgot to consider them, says Berkley: longest drive competitions in which men and women compete against one another. Why not plan one contest for the women and one for the men? She also advises mixing both sexes in foursomes and considering formats such as scrambles or shambles, which can alleviate some of the pressure of competition. One format that she has seen work particularly well is the “sixsome scramble.” Here, three women and three men make up a sixsome. The round is played like a straight scramble, but with men and women teeing off on alternating holes. The reason it is popular, says Berkley: “It doesn't pit the women against the men.”