Golf industry expert Jay Miller has seen the golf universe shrink dramatically: 504 golf courses have closed their doors in the past five years and the number of “avid” golfers (playing four times a month) went from 13.7 million in 1997 to 8.6 million today. Attendance at charity tournaments has dropped significantly.
Miller doesn’t see a return to the previous volume as baby boomers retire. “Only those in the upper echelon will be able to afford the lifestyle they anticipated in their retirement.”
These trends put meeting managers in the driver’s seat. “Golf courses are fighting for business they never used to have to think about, like the occasional golfers—the people who play one to three times a year,” he says. “Now we’re begging them to use us for that one time. Planners have more bargaining power than they ever have.”
According to Orlando–based golf writer Ed Schmidt Jr., shown here, planners are also choosing formats that decrease time spent on the golf course. One is the “Step Aside Scramble” (also called the “Florida Scramble”), where all four players tee off on each hole and then one player has to sit out for each succeeding shot.
Another technique, he says, is to place spotters on difficult holes to facilitate play and use player assistants and/or staff members to politely encourage a faster rate of play.
If there’s not enough time in an itinerary for a tournament, other golf-related events are becoming more popular, says Golf Writer/Expert Ed Schmidt Jr. These run the gamut from light-hearted golf instruction clinics, to “launch monitor” competitions on the range (computers with sensors that measure ball speed and distance), to nighttime putting cocktail parties.
Where years ago the focus was on finding the newest and neatest golf gifts out there, today companies are cutting costs by choosing close-out gifts, according to golf professional Tom M.
Borba, Jr., of Premiere Golf Solutions.
Where do they find them? “Most manufacturers have last year’s items that they are trying to clear out,” he says. “I also have a number of liquidators that contact me with their close-outs as they know I can move 125 to 200 pieces per event.”
Instead of just asking for a check and saying thank you, tournament planners are adding new opportunities for sponsors, says golf professional Tom M.
Borba, Jr., of Premiere Golf Solutions. Among them: custom-designed scorecards, where sponsors get their logos on the front cover as well as twice on the inside scoring section. “This way they receive direct visibility for the entire five-hour duration of the round.”
Other creative strategies extend the life of the sponsorship. For example, for car dealerships, invite players to visit and turn in their registration forms for a chance to test drive a car and get a free sleeve of balls. “Tournament planners are coming up with all kinds of ideas to generate business for the sponsor as well,” says Borba.
As companies cut back on their budgets and planning staffs—or use people to plan the events who are not golfers—golf events have grown less creative. “There’s not enough differentiation/uniqueness in events—they all look and feel the same,” says Roger Caldwell, founder of Great Golf Events. A single addition, such as a trick-shot entertainer (he recommends Dan Boever, shown here, who he calls “the best on the planet”), can make all the difference. Whatever you do, he says, if you have budget issues, “Downsize the venue, but don’t cut back on the entertainment.”
Brian Kerns, head golf professional at Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club in Brewster, Mass. (shown here), has seen companies making the most of their events by inviting couples and combining tournaments with dining experiences. A popular one is called the “Last Tango Tournament.” It starts with the men teeing off first from the ladies’ tee and then the ladies teeing off from the mens’. The roles are then reversed and the players switch to play their partner’s ball after teeing off. The event is followed by a dance and Brazilian–themed dinner created by the chef.
Kari Kiel, marketing manager at dojiggy.com, a Web-based registration and management system for fundraising golf tournaments, has seen increased use of social media and online tools as the golfing audience grows more online-savvy. Event planners are taking every aspect of tournament planning online, she says—registration, sponsorship, mobile check-in, and product sales.
And charity tournaments are using technology to extend the life of auctions: By building an auction Web site, live and silent auction items can be posted months before the tournament, so people can still support the charity even if they can’t come to the event.
“Planners are using social media before the event for fundraising, during the event by posting photos taken live, and then afterwards by using e-mails or Facebook to thank participants and posting video for them to share with friends,” she says. “Online also offers more opportunities to highlight sponsors in blogs, through clickable logos, and in featured posts.”
Among other trends, JoAnn Hoffman, president and CEO of The Golfe/MILO, a meeting industry group that brings together women for three annual golf events, has seen a dramatic increase in players renting clubs. “To ship your own clubs costs over $100 each way for most destinations,” she says. “More and more companies will not reimburse for golf and therefore will not pay for the shipping of clubs. The good part is that you don’t have to drag your clubs through the airports. You also have a chance, very often, to try out new clubs.”
Many events that routinely used the same golf course, and accepted the same rates as in previous years, are researching their options, says Tom M. Borba, Jr., of Premiere Golf Solutions. “Given the economy, we are just revisiting our choices and making sure we are at the best facility for our event.” It’s a good exercise, he says, even if you stay with the same course in the end. “Regardless, you now have revisited your finances and have an up-to-date perspective.”
We asked golf experts, pros, and planners about the changes they’re seeing in their tournaments and corporate golf events. No surprise, the economy is driving most of them.