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Play that works.

PLAY That Works

Properly planned, a golf or tennis tournament can add some swing to your resort meeting.

It's June in West Virginia, and beneath the warm blue sky 800 golfers are poised to play the year's most memorable round of golf. So what if they're lined up five foursomes deep behind every hole on three of the Greenbrier's championship courses? It hardly matters, not when you're teamed up with a vice president who's about to buy a million dollars worth of your company's product. Or maybe he's just an unbelievable putter. At the sound of the gun, swoosh! Dozens of white balls are arcing over the velvety fairways. The annual meeting of the Chemical Manufacturers Association has begun.

For the last 30 years, the golf outing has been the centerpiece of CMA's annual meeting, which has been held "for as long as anyone can remember" at the Greenbrier resort. With 800 golfers, the Washington, D.C.-based association runs one of the biggest association golf tournaments in the country. Though not typical in size, its hugely popular outings do seem to exemplify the main reason golf events are such a big component of many association meetings at resorts. "To be brutally frank," says Edie Fleming, director of meetings and conventions for CMA, "these guys are out there selling to each other." Along with frequent flier clubs, the golf outing may be one of the most popular marketing tools American business has come up with.

Tennis, golf's sister sport, enjoys a similar popularity at resort meetings. "I would say that just in the last year we have organized more than 100 tennis tournaments for business groups at our club," notes Chuck Gill, tennis director at Florida's Boca Raton Resort & Club. "For 75 percent of the groups, the tournaments serve a social function, as opposed to a competitive one. People really like the opportunity to mingle and network in a casual environment. It's also a great way to get people working together as a team."

Statistics show the number of golf and tennis players continues to grow, though not in the staggering leaps of the late 1970s and early 1980s. According to the United States Tennis Association, New York City, 18 million Americans (some 5 million aged 25-34) play tennis today. The National Golf Foundation, Jupiter, Florida, says there are now a staggering 25 million golfers in the United States--a number that reflects an average 8 percent annual growth over the last several years.

Aging baby boomers are one reason why the sport will continue to grow, according to Trish Leary, media relations manager for the golf foundation. The other reason is women. "We estimate that 40 percent of the game's new players are women," she says. "Many career women, such as myself, have come to realize golf is a valuable business tool, that without it they may actually be hurting their careers." Not surprisingly, 60 percent of all Fortune 500 executives (overwhelmingly male) do play golf, according to Business Week.

Golf and tennis continue to enjoy great popularity, but tournaments are not every association's cup of tea. "I don't think we have many people who know the difference between a putter and a pitching wedge," says Bob Downing, executive director of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, Inc., Jacksonville, Florida. "We'd rather sponsor a cultural outing--a museum tour or an evening mingling with the orchestra players." The easiest way to determine interest in a golf or tennis event at your resort meeting is to simply survey members.

"Organizing a golf or tennis tournament requires a lot of work, so you don't want to embark on such a task unless you're sure there's a big enough interest among your members," cautions Pam Lucas, formerly a meeting planner with the Fertilizer Institute, Washington, D.C., and now an independent planner in Oakton, Virginia. As a meeting planner with the Fertilizer Institute, she planned annual golf outings for 700 people, including a separate women's tournament.

Moreover, tournament costs can add significantly to the cost of the meeting, particularly for golf outings. Greens fees can range from $50 to $250 per person. Cart rentals, scoring administration, refreshments, prizes, and/or any special services required of the pro are extra. In addition to greens fees, some private clubs require an "opening" fee, which can range from $750 to $4,000, to buy out the facility.

Golf and tennis fees, however, may be negotiable. "There are times when we will negotiate or comp these fees depending on where and when we need the business," says Craig Tonks, director of marketing for associations at the Silverado Country Club, Napa, California. Like many resorts, Silverado offers a golf package for groups in the nonpeak season. The $125-per-day rate includes a one-bedroom condo and two rounds of golf per person per day from mid-November to the end of January.

Some associations prefer to book a less expensive resort near a golf course, so as not to "penalize" the nongolfers in the group. "We are paying a room rate of $88 at a very nice resort that is very close to the $130-a-night resort with the golf course, which we have arranged to use anyway," says Rosalie Small, executive director of the Fairfax Bar Association, Virginia.

She doesn't worry that the association's golf and tennis tournament could take away from the seriousness of the rest of the meeting program. "People always look for an opportunity to combine business or required continuing education seminars with fun, and so I think, to the contrary, that golf and tennis tournaments can add tremendously to the marketability of the meeting--provided the group has an interest in the sports to begin with."

Fleming, of CMA, agrees enthusiastically: "Let me put it this way. Our golf outing has gotten so popular that we've run out of the guest rooms at the Greenbrier, so now members are doubling up in hotel rooms. That says a lot."

Golf outings: the shotgun and the scramble

An old saw says that golf is a game for worriers, since winning or losing is a matter of inches. Similarly, a successful golf outing depends on myriad details--some of them only an avid golfer could love or understand. Indeed, experts advise associations to delegate the technical details of the outing to the resort's golf pro and to a member-designated golf chair. Some associations find an outside agency a cost-effective way to manage large golf events.

Even so, any association executive contemplating a golf outing needs to have a handle on a few of the basics.

The two most popular formats for association golf outings are the "scramble" and the "best-ball," says Steve Burns, golf pro at the Silverado Country Club. In a scramble, each person in a foursome hits a shot; then the team decides which ball is in the best position for the next shot, whereupon the other three players move their balls to that point. All four then take a swing and the same thing happens again, and so on for each shot on the course.

In the best-ball format, each person in the foursome plays his or her own ball, but only the best score for each hole is recorded, according to Burns. This format takes longer but works better with a group of skilled golfers, while the scramble more easily accommodates a team composed of duffers and polished players alike, and it ends up taking less time.

The most popular way of running scramble or best-ball tournaments--particularly if there are more than 100 participants--is the "shotgun" style. Each foursome is led out to an assigned tee, and everyone starts at the same time and finishes the round more or less at the same time. The advantage of the shotgun style is that the tournament takes a predictable block of time. It also generally means the association will be responsible for all the morning or all the afternoon tee times. If the resort has only one golf course, it may not be willing to lock out all the other hotel guests during that time.

Undoubtedly the most taxing task in organizing a golf outing is coming up with the pairings list. Some organizations divide players into A, B, C, or D groups based on their skill levels. They may then combine one player from each category to come up with a foursome. Or they may form a "flight," or group, of golfers for each category. In such a case, there would be four winners.

Often, however, people don't have established handicaps, so it's hard to group them in the right category. In such cases the Callaway system of handicapping is popular: After the round, the gross scores are adjusted so much per hole based on a formula developed by former golf professional Lionel Callaway at Pinehurst, North Carolina, many years ago. "This is a good way to balance out the scores of the bad players with the good players," says Burns.

Pairings can get political, as members jockey to team up with certain business associates or friends. The golf chair generally supervises the pairings list and thus wields a lot of power--but also takes any heat over pairings people don't like. "I don't get involved in the pairings process. I think with that many golfers I'd be out on a ledge if I had to," laughs CMA's Fleming. "That's the golf chairman's job, and we have never had trouble filling that spot."

Golf pros or a golf management company can also help with the pairings. It is critical that the final pairings be given to the golf pro a day before the event. "We like to have each person's name in the foursome, along with their tee time and the course they're playing on printed on a sign on their cart when they get there, and we can't do this well if we don't get the information early enough," says Silverado's Burns.

Of course, the resort needs to know far in advance of the meeting how many tee times to protect for your group, and later, how many carts and rental clubs are needed, refreshment requirements, and a general idea of the group's playing abilities: Tees and pins are adjusted accordingly, so that the course plays harder or easier. Also, most resorts charge a fee for scorekeeping, which can range from $100 to $1,000.

Most experts agree that the sooner a planner touches base with the golf pro, the better. "A golf pro who cares about your tournament can make or break the experience, and that can have a big impact on the rest of the meeting program," says independent planner Lucas.

The mixed round robin versus team tennis

The intricacies of a tennis tournament are not as awesome as those of a golf outing. Many groups send out a sign-up sheet before the meeting; others post a sign-up sheet on site next to the registration desk. But especially for large tournaments--50 people or more--preplanning is still important. One of the first things to decide is what type of tournament to run.

The mixed round robin is by far the most popular playing format for business groups, says Al Virgus, tennis coordinator for the Innisbrook Resort, Tarpon Springs, Florida. This is because "these groups want the tennis tournament to be primarily a social opportunity, a chance to mingle outside the meeting room environment." A few groups, however, really savor the tennis competition, and for them the traditional elimination-type tournament is best.

A mixed round robin is a game of mixed doubles in which everyone gets a new partner after playing a fixed number of games. Winners are the man and the woman who have won the greatest number of individual games. Virgus recommends playing an abbreviated four-point (no add), four-game set, which usually takes about 15 minutes to complete. "This gets everyone off the court at roughly the same time and keeps the rotation moving swiftly." If there is one mistake to avoid, "it's having people waiting endlessly for their turn on the court." Using the abbreviated game format, Virgus estimates he can run 14 rounds in three hours.

He cautions that it helps to have several people taking scores from the teams as they come off the court after a round. "Otherwise it takes a while to get the scores and that will slow things down, too. A big scoreboard is another essential ingredient. People like to see how everyone is doing, even if they're not serious competitors."

A different approach to the net game is sometimes used at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. "The business groups who have tried our team tennis format have really loved it," says Chuck Gill, tennis director. "Even more than the round robin it seems to encourage a strong camaraderie among the group, and it gives even the worst player, the person who has never won a tennis award in his or her life, a chance to win a team prize."

In team tennis, a group of, say, 48 players would divide into six teams, each consisting of four doubles teams. The team that wins the most matches wins the tournament. This kind of competition really gets the group psyched up and rooting for one another, says Gill. "We give each team a name, and it's amazing to watch the energy level pick up when they become affiliated with a group."

Pretournament clinics are very popular with some groups. A one- or two-hour instructional program as a lead-in to a tournament gives players a chance to warm up a bit before any matches. Clinic fees generally are a negotiable item, depending on what else your group is doing at the resort. Many resorts also offer video recording. Innisbrook, for instance, has a miniature blimp that takes aerial footage of the matches, which makes for great entertainment at an awards ceremony.

The key to running a smooth tournament, Gill says, is good communication between the planner and the pro, so that the latter knows what the group's needs are and its playing format, before the group arrives on site. "Being open to new ideas is helpful, too," he adds.

The prize factor

Not every association schedules time for an awards banquet; bigger priorities often take up the meeting program. But many planners emphasize that legitimate awards really fuel the success of the event, even if the event is largely a socializing occasion.

"People are naturally competitive, and rewarding winners with a prize that is held in high regard--a piece of Waterford crystal or a small China tea service--is one of the simplest things you can do to assure the success of next year's tournament," says Lucas.

Many times resorts will offer a deal on pro shop items as prizes. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. "I have found that golf pros are excellent merchandisers and can really deliver good products and prices for prizes," says Jack Bennings, CAE, president and CEO of Bennings & Associates, a golf event management company in St. Louis. But for Small, of the Fairfax Bar Association, pro shop deals often mean "paying a lot of money for polyester golf shirts."

While golf and tennis tournaments can add a lot to a meeting program, it's important not to overlook the needs of those members who don't care for either sport. A third competition, whether it be a bridge tournament or a croquet match, is a good way to keep these delegates happy.

As for rainouts, tennis tournaments do sometimes have to be rescheduled. Golf outings rarely are. Unless it's positively thundering and lightning at tee time, the outing usually isn't postponed. "It may be interrupted, until a downpour passes," says Fleming, of CMA. "But rain doesn't usually stop most golfers."

PHOTO : Sport as networking opportunity: Players enjoy the Boca Raton Resort & Club (left) and the Greenbrier resort.

PHOTO : The Springhouse Golf Club has a 220-acre course in Nashville, Tennessee.

Regina McGee, a freelance writer in New York City, writes frequently about meetings and travel.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles; sports tournament simultaneous with association meetings
Author:McGee, Regina
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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