When Chuck Lane, Humana's director of incentive travel and public relations, plans the golf tournament for the company's largest annual incentive program, the Leaders Club, he thinks of it as “a five-hour business meeting.” The attendees are Humana execs and their most important producers, and the content is smooth mix of golf and shop talk.

“These are independent brokers,” Lane says. “They can go on any trip they qualify for. We have a reputation for great trips.”

And golf is a huge part of that. For example, Lane planned last year's Humana Leaders Club conference in Hawaii at the Hyatt Regency Kauai. “The course is home to the Grand Slam of Golf, it's nationally renowned, everyone's seen it on TV,” he says. “They all want to play it.”

This year's conference is April 21-26 at the Cabo Real Golf course in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a well-known golf mecca in this hemisphere. “It's expensive, yes,” he says, “but it provides guests with an experience they might not treat themselves to.”

Lane sees the Leaders Club program and its golf tournament as extensions of the Green Bay, Wis., company's mission. “The major purpose of the company is the creation of relationships — relationships and service,” he says. At the conference, Humana hosts have the chance to strengthen their relationships with brokers and to demonstrate the kind of service the company delivers to them and to its customers. “The experience qualifiers get in this five-day meeting carries us through the year,” says Lane.

In other words, it's make-or-break time for the conference planning team. And with such a high percentage of attendees playing in the golf tournament, that day becomes a critical centerpiece of the whole experience. “Anytime you put on a golf event, it's a reflection of the company,” Lane says. “We select the scramble format because it's a great teambuilding format. Otherwise, let's be honest, you're hoping your opponent hits it in the bushes.”

Those Devilish Details

Choosing your tournament format is a detail you're not likely to miss. But other details that seem obvious aren't necessarily so. Consider Lane's classic golf tournament horror story: “I asked for two beverage carts in Maui,” he recalls. “I assumed that when you order beverage carts, you get beverages. Well, they gave us the two carts full of ice and nothing else. There was a lesson in that for me: Leave nothing to chance.”

Lane and most conference planners doing big, high-end incentives are usually working with properties that have golf tournament directors on staff. Even so, he advises, “the more organized you are and the more specific you can be, the better. It gives them the idea that you know what you're doing.”

Sometimes it's harder working with the golfers. “We do the pairings well in advance,” Lane says. “But there are always changes. Last-minute changes are the toughest part. They'll come along the day of the tournament and say they don't like their partner.”

Players have input on their registration forms, and then Lane works to complete the foursomes based on ability and business line, with the goal of having a Humana “host” in each foursome. “Chuck is very good at linking people with common interests,” notes Jerry Ganoni, president of Humana Small Business and Humana Dental. He adds that not only is there a lot of talking shop on the course, but also “the foursomes interact as much after the tournament and after the program as during it.”

That concept underlies another annual Humana golf event, the Wisconsin Markets Golf Outing. The tournament is an invitational — “strictly business,” Lane says — and includes agents and customers from throughout the state. “We select a private club, one of the finest courses in Wisconsin, and invite 80 to 100 golfers,” he explains. Each foursome includes a Humana host from operations, sales, or the executive office. “Then, anytime anyone has a question or a problem throughout the year, they know at least one person well.” So they make a call. And that contact takes care of it or directs the agent or customer to someone who can do the job.

Charity Begins at Home

Humana also gets lots of mileage out of local charity, or “community relations,” golf tournaments, bringing in former players and coaches from the Green Bay Packers as celebrity golfers. Acting as sole sponsor, Humana invites local business leaders to play in the tournaments, and each foursome plays with a Packer coach, player, or front-office executive. “This has enabled charitable groups to double or triple the money they raise,” Lane notes. “The golfers are people who pay to play, but we don't even have to market it.”

Among the groups Humana works with are The 65 Roses Sports Club, a cystic fibrosis organization (“65 roses,” Lane notes, is how they teach children to pronounce “cystic fibrosis”). Others include Scholarships Inc., which creates funding for scholarships for local graduating high-school students and adults returning to school; Big Brothers and Big Sisters; and cerebral palsy.

Jerry Ganoni has played in many of these tournaments and explains their multilayered appeal: “You get business leaders to know about these community organizations, and the executives get to have fun, learn about each other's businesses, and exchange ideas,” he says. A golf tournament “can be the beginning of a relationship that opens doors.”

The Packer connection is one that works wonders in Green Bay, where they're crazy about their football. Lane just came up with a way for Humana to get an extra boost of name recognition. Each tournament foursome has a photo shot, and then an image of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame logo is added digitally, along with the Humana logo in the foreground.

“That way, Humana gets a mention every time anyone sees the playing participants with their celebrity,” Lane notes. “And no one ever passes up the opportunity to showcase themselves with a Packer celebrity — unless he's the ex-PR guy, and nobody wants to brag about that.”

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