Planning a golf group program is a bit like playing golf itself. Countless components must be considered and then put together to create a unified end product that should be as well-coordinated and as effortless looking as a great golf swing. For starters, who will attend? How much money can be spent? What are the best golf clubs for beginners that can be chosen? Sea and sand, or an inland or mountain course? Stroke- or match-play? When should we go? Where should we go?
If you answer the questions one by one, however, the job begins to seem a bit more simple. It’s like building a wall, brick by brick–or carding a golf score, stroke by stroke.
Arrange the Outing
The first stroke is found to someone to arrange the outing, the obvious choice being the expert manager and organizer, the wizard with names and numbers. He should, of course, have at least a moderate knowledge of golf, especially should any last minute problems crop up. For instance, suppose the golf pro at a flashy resort calls and says, “We have a problem with tee-off times. How would you feel about a shotgun start?” Without a knowledge of golf, the organizer would be helpless.
So critical is a knowledge of exactly how golf events work out in practice–knowledge that can only be obtained from experience–that it may be prudent to seek a professional sports organizer, one of the much such who exist all over the country, sometimes right at the very resort you may be considering. Such outside aid is particularly useful if your participants are not employees but outside clients you’d like to impress.
But regardless who does organize the event, his first job will determine the size of the field. The simplest way to do that is to circulate a questionnaire among initial attendees well in advance. Stress that the questionnaire must be returned with the answers to such questions as Do you intend to play? Will you bring your spouse? Will he or she also play? Will you provide your own equipment? If you will not, what is your shoe size? Your height? Do you want to be left or right handed clubs?
Finally, those who say they will not play may be asked about alternate programs. Would you like to play tennis? Go fishing? shopping? Sightseeing? Answers to such questions will help you determine whether or not to plan alternate recreation programs and what would be most popular.
The search for a site is a true scouting job. Surveys carried out monthly by Golf Magazine show that the three most sought-after destinations for golfers (not necessarily for meetings) are Hawaii, Scotland, and California. If you’re concerned about building attendance among dedicated golfers, those are the places that will pull best, but budgetary and other considerations (such as the nature of your group) may dictate other venues, and there are thousands of excellent ones.
Remember too that in some areas–Myrtle Beach, with about 40 courses, is an excellent example–there are concentrations of good courses, which give golf program planners a certain measure of insurance. If there is a problem with one layout–storm damage, perhaps–the event might be moved to another course without disturbing arrangements for accommodation and meeting space.
In the Colorado Rockies and other mountain areas, apres ski has now taken on a seasonal as well as an evening activity meaning. There, many resorts with excellent courses are prepared to accept meetings at off-season rates, and one advantage of high-altitude golf is that it inflates the egos of middling linksmen. Want to make a golfer feel wonderful? Let him hit a few shots–they’ll go fifty yards further than usual–in Colorado.
The main golfing regions–Florida, the Carolinas, Hawaii, and California–all advertise regularly in such publications as Golf, Golf Digest (both monthlies) and Golf World (a weekly). Back issues are available. The Atlanta-based Links Letter deals solely with golf and travel. It’s a good investment for planners.
One thing to be aware of when pursuing those ads, however, is the label “championship” when applied to a golf course. That doesn’t guarantee that the course is of particularly high standard (although it well may be); what it really does indicate is that the course is at least long enough to meet the requirements of a professional tournament. Length is not always a good reason to choose a course. Less skillful, shorter-hitting weekend golfers may be much more comfortable on a shorter course.
Nor is there anything chiseled in stone that says an appealing program must revolve around playing golf. It can easily–although it usually doesn’t–be based on watching golf. For example, because there are many excellent resorts and conferences centers within the New York metropolitan area, companies organizing June business meetings could have combined them with a visit to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Country Club in suburban Westchester County.
Planners interested in the possibilities of such programs–which, of course, can combine both watching and playing if meeting schedules permit–can secure PGA Tour dates from PGA Tour; the U.S. Golf Association, or the PGA of America. What’s more, planners who schedule events to coincide with tournaments may find it easier to make arrangements to have a celebrity participate in their programs.
Find a Format
Just when you think you’re out of the woods, have settled on a site, you then realize that you also have to find a format. The obvious thing is to have the golfers flail away in competition for low gross (actual score), low net (score minus handicap), high gross and high net. That, however, merely demonstrates an appalling lack of imagination.
Utterly basic ideas for added competitions include those for closest to the hole on a par three; closest to the center of the fairway on a par four and longest drive on a par five. I played in an off-the-wall tournament last year in which a rubber dinghy was floated in a lake guarding a green. Players could either go to the green in a conventional manner or aim for the dinghy to receive credit for a hole-in-one. Visiting the fish, however, earned a two-stroke penalty.
If the resort allows it, you might hold your main tournament and, at the same time, conduct one of the several competitions for less serious golfers. These might include a putting competition on the practice green, a target contest on the driving range or if there happens to be one handy, a tournament on a par-three course.
And then, of course, there are many different ways to play “normal” rounds. Scramble tournaments are useful for groups with a predominance of high-handicappers, and any golf pro will tell you they work. The “Peoria” system provides handicaps for golfers who don’t have them. Those more or less tried and true methods, however, are only the start. One amusing idea gives each player a piece of string–eight to 12 feet is a good length. Players may lift and move the ball whenever desired during a round, but the distance moved is measured and cut from the string.
It works both ways: If the string goes unused until the player has a testy, eight-foot putt to win on the 18th, he simply pulls out the string and–presto!–an automatic hole-out.
Ideas for tournament novelties can come from anyone, but golf professionals are probably the best source. Remember, the more prizes that can be given out, the better, but remember also that awards should relate to the game to produce incentives to enter. Thus, do have a nearest-to-the-hole prize, but don’t have one for funny hats or weird hair-dos.
The format of the program will also help you decide the pairings. Deciding who should play with whom requires knowledge of the contestants and tact, but here are a few guidelines: Pair attendees who do not know each other to improve group rapport. Pair husbands and wives if they so wish (another question to be asked in advance). Don’t pair managers with underlings; such matches are not always made in heaven. Pair your best golfers with your most important clients, and match your less talented players (as long as they’re not inept) against those clients. Pair people who play together away from work; keep disagreeable participants apart.
Ask the golf professional or starter, if it’s possible to lay in twos or threes. It’s only an outside chance, but a foursome can move with the velocity of a wounded sloth and choke up what should be a spritely-moving, successful day’s golf.
If the sun shines, and we all hope it does, you’ll need some form of beverages at hand. Most courses now supply ice water dispensers every few holes and there’s no better thirst-quencher, but it’s a nice touch to have a golf cart stocked with cold drinks and sandwiches touring the course.
In addition, a buffet table at the 18th hole not only satisfies well-earned appetites but acts to create a natural gallery to which participants can take their finishing blows to the strains of cheers or, more often, friendly cat-calls, all adding to the atmosphere of the event. It is sometimes suggested that another buffet is set up a halfway through the round, but that might show play excessively. (If weather dictates an extra stop, order one; if not, forget it.)
The logistics of setting up a business meeting around the golf should involve the normal arrangement for any meeting–finding adequate space with audio-visual facilities, break-out rooms, etc.–but the organizer might also check the distance between the meeting rooms and the golf course. It could be necessary to provide transport.
The final event of any program should be what some know as the “bean feast”–the gala dinner and awards banquet. Here, speeches should be short and sweet and only the top prizes should be handed out personally. The other winners can have their names read out and prizes delivered later.
Choosing prizes is a task not much more difficult than the average Christmas shopping spree. There are the obvious choices, balls, gloves, bag tags, but that’s just the tip of this particular iceberg. How about the ball used by the pros in the top tournaments (the Titleist 384 Tour 100), or a replica of the putter used by Bob Jones in his halcyon days? The list goes on: clubs, towels, bags, umbrellas, visors; autographed photos of top players; golfing vacations; subscriptions to golfing publications or copies of golf books, such as Jack Nicklaus’ The Greatest Game of All; a course in golf lessons; a season-ticket for the winner’s local course; tickets to a golf tournament; golf wear. Then there is general merchandise, such as electronics et al.
Entertaining the troops is best left to a pro–not a professional golfer but a professional entertainer. As the theme of the outing is golf, go for a joker who also plays the game and has a few golf jokes in his repertoire. Someone like Henny Youngman may drive you to drink with his “Take My Wife-Plese” routine but he also talks golf: “I always shoot in the 70s; if it’s any colder I stay home,” etc. Of course, non-golfing comedians may have an arsenal of anti-golf jokes. That’s okay, too.
Videotape is very useful. Golfing films, available from the USGA, can be shown. If you choose to tape your own outing, carefully edited highlights always bring down the house.
If the time and budget exist, you could help the players improve their games by arranging a golf clinic. Everyone wants Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson or Jack Nicklaus but the truth is that such people are expensive and tough to book. There are alternatives. Pros such as Peter Jacobsen or Gary McCord, both noted for their ability to amuse, make excellent choices. In Las Vegas, The Golfing Gorilla, a former tour pro dressed up in a gorilla suit, slams trick shots a country mile. There is Wedgy Winchester, a trick-shot artist representing Ping golf clubs, and there are the lady pros who are becoming more and more involved in the teaching side. The site for such a clinic would be the practice tee.
Finally, you will want the event recorded for posterity. Engage a photographer who guarantees to have copies printed up and sent to participants, or, better yet, who can prepare some form of a book that can be presented to all involved. He, or she, must be prepared to travel the course looking for pictures during play, as well as covering the cocktail party. Before hiring anyone, ask for references, examples of previous work, and price quotations.
Throughout the process of arranging the program, do not be afraid to ask questions–of anyone. Even a quiet conversation in the elevator might produce an idea. Ideas executed are the keys to the success of the program.
Golferhill.com is a great resource for golfers. You can find more detailed reviews and helpful tips, tricks here to improve your golf skills. Come there and enjoy!