Large conventions and organizations come to North Carolina to enjoy superb weather and the feeling that they are the only game in town. During the Fourth of July week in 2012, Charlotte laid out the red carpet for 20,000 Shriners and their families who poured into town for the Shriners International Convention, Filling 5,000 hotel rooms and the charlotte Convention Center.
The city put on the most spectacular uptown parade in Charlotte history, with Locals turning out to see 20 bands, 150 motorcyclists, 200 clowns, 60 horses, two camels and six men driving motorized ice chests.
Many Shriners are golfers (along with more than 25 million other Americans), so golf outings are always integrated into their convention itineraries and annual events. In June of this year, the yearly Shriners Celebrity Golf Classic will take place once again at NorthStone Country Club, one of more than 40 golf courses in the Charlotte area.
Also enjoying a golf tournament at NorthStone during its 2012 convention, the National Funeral Directors Association based its nearly 6,000 attendees and 387 exhibitors at the convention center.
Convention service employees throughout the state enjoy relationships with public golf course staffs, making it easy for planners to combine busy meeting schedules with golf outings and golf-related breaks and activities—even for nongolfers. Says Dana Rader of Charlotte’s Dana Rader Golf School, which caters to corporate groups: “More than ever, golf is being used for client entertainment, employee team building, networking and charitable fundraising, with players of varying abilities.”
Bring your group to the Tar Heel State, and tee up for a memorable meeting.
A Blue Ridge Mountains summer retreat for the wealthy in the 1800s, the charming town of Asheville remains rich with history, arts and culture, combining the elegance of Victorian-era mansions and an Art Deco-inspired downtown with 21stcentury meeting and convention venues. Dozens of art galleries, more than 200 independently owned restaurants, 100 antique shops and more than a dozen golf courses in the area keep conventioneers busy between meetings.
The architectural icon of Asheville, Biltmore, built in the 1800s, is a must-see for its 75 acres of landscaped gardens and the 175,000-squarefoot Biltmore House, the largest private residence in North America. Meeting planners can schedule guided tours, wine and beer tastings, private dining and myriad outdoor activities, from biking and hiking to fishing and horseback riding. The 201-room Inn on Biltmore Estate houses meeting rooms, a ballroom and an event terrace.
The recently opened $41 million Wilma M. Sherrill Center at University of North Carolina, Asheville has a 3,800-seat arena. Fresh from a $5 million renovation, the 83,000-square-foot U.S. Cellular Center hosts large concerts, trade shows and sporting events including Harlem Globetrotters basketball games.
The Southern Economic Development Council (SEDC) held its 2011 annual meeting of about 450 attendees at The Grove Park Inn, an arts and crafts-style, stone-faced property celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. On the SEDC itinerary were an architectural tour of downtown, a wine and chocolate seminar at the Biltmore’s Cedric’s Tavern and a shot-gun-start golf tournament at Grove Park. With glorious views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the historic Donald Ross-designed course has lured avid players from Jack Nicklaus to President Barack Obama.
Golf history fans head 17 miles east of Asheville to Black Mountain Golf Course, where the legendary Donald Ross designed an original nine-hole course in 1929. Today’s 18 holes are popular for tournaments, and the newly remodeled clubhouse hosts awards dinners in the banquet room and on the deck. The 747-yard 17th hole is the longest in the state and one of the longest anywhere.
Night putting at Ballantyne Hotel, Charlotte
The state’s most populous city, Charlotte is a shining example of hospitality, with more than 4,100 hotel rooms and nearly 200 dining and nightlife destinations, anchored by the Charlotte Convention Center (CCC) in an area dubbed Charlotte Center City.
Laura Hill, media relations manager at the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA), says, “Just outside the doors of our Charlotte Convention Center are hundreds of options for dining, playing and staying, all within walking distance of one another. Connected to the CCC by an overstreet walkway is one of our biggest landmarks, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which attendees can explore during their downtime.” In 2010, the CCC added the 40,000-square-foot Crown Ballroom and a new food court. Conveniently connected to the citywide light-rail system, the CCC provides more than 90,000 sq. ft. Of flexible meeting space, a 35,000-square-foot ballroom and a whopping 280,000 sq. ft. Of exhibit space.
Charlotte Center City comprises unique meeting and event venues in dazzling cultural sites such as the Levine Center for the Arts, which encompasses the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture, the 1,200-seat Knight Theater and the Mint Museum Uptown, a $56 million edifice opened in 2010. One of the most glamorous places for group events, the bright orange, four-story Bechtler Museum of Modern Art houses a stellar collection of 20th-century art. Receptions for up to 225 take place in the glittering Andy Warholenhanced streetside lobby, while intimate gatherings remain private on a sculpture terrace and in a boardroom-classroom.
Corporate groups love the VIP seating at the Bank of America Stadium (where the NFL’s Carolina Panthers play) and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Within the NC Music Factory entertainment complex are 14 performance venues, restaurants and courtyards, from the Comedy Zone to the massive Time Warner Cable Arena and The Saloon. More than 100 restaurants and dozens more nightspots complete the Center City picture.
Popular for tournaments and group outings, the PGA championship course at The Golf Club at Ballantyne is located within Ballantyne Hotel. The property is also home to the Dana Rader Golf School, which specializes in team-building programming and private instruction for groups. “Some clients look for a casual, fun golf outing with light instruction and others want more hands-on, personalized instruction for individuals,” says Rader, an acclaimed golf instructor. “Our golf pros can also travel to an event to add some fun and excitement to a reception, meeting or trade show by giving golf advice and tips, and they can set up a putting mat or chipping net for video swing analysis.”
Last spring, she says, the school held a “hole-inone” team-building outing for a financial institution that brought employees in from around the United States. “They wanted to break the ice, build trust and foster communication among the attendees,” she says. “We used the infield of our private driving range and our three short-game practice greens for a two-hour event for 50 participants. Team leaders read instructions for each hole on how to accomplish the tasks, and the teams decided how to play each hole, who should hit each shot and what clubs to use.” (Clubs were brooms, shovels, mallets, racquets or chairs.) Adding to the fun? “All this was accompanied by cocktails!” he says.
A 30-minute drive from Charlotte in a verdant, upscale community on the shores of Lake Norman, and purchased by Donald Trump in 2012, Trump National Golf Club, Charlotte attracts corporate groups seeking luxury and privacy. The Lakefront Ballroom accommodates 350 seated and up to 500 standing guests for receptions, while up to 100 can convene in the Meeting House overlooking the 18th green of the stunning Greg Norman-designed golf course. The Function Lawn is ideal for parties, ceremonies and luaus.
Raleigh Convention Center
Raleigh is in the final stages of a $3 billion-plus development and renovation project that began in 2008, encompassing the addition of 19 new hotels, the Raleigh Convention Center, an airport terminal and three major museums. Add to that an influx of Fortune 500 and technology companies, proximity to the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains and all that Southern hospitality, and you have a premier destination for a meeting. The state capital and a major college town, Raleigh is a primary player in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill “Research Triangle.”
The $221 million Raleigh Convention Center (RCC) is a masterpiece of LEED Silver, contemporary design, highlighted by a spectacular piece of public art, the Cree Shimmer Wall. A tourist attraction that is backlit at night, this soaring wall is covered with aluminum squares that move with the wind and sparkle in multicolored waves. Enhanced with 21st-century high-tech amenities and services, the center, opened in 2008, has 500,000 sq. ft. Of event space. Next door, completed in 2010, the open-air Red Hat Amphitheater festival and performance site seats 5,500 for all kinds The downtown district.
A magnet for the arts, housing a huge collection of European, African, American, Oceanic and Jewish masterpieces, the North Carolina Museum of Art offers elegant spaces for evening receptions and corporate events. Opening this year, the Blue Loop multiuse trail will wind through the museum’s 164- acre campus, providing the perfect opportunity for attendees to get some fresh air between meetings.
Nearby, the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts is a multifaceted complex. Intimate gatherings are held in the Kennedy Theater and the Fletcher Opera Theater, large audiences are accommodated in the Memorial Auditorium and Meymandi Concert Hall and outdoor events take place in the Lichtin Plaza.
Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Raleigh
Meeting attendees take breaks and enjoy tours in the Moore Square Historic District, where restaurants, galleries and nightspots are lined up on cobblestone streets around a gracious greensward crowned by a giant acorn sculpture representing the “City of Oaks.” The Glenwood South District houses nightspots that light up the night, while state capitol buildings and several museums are located in the northside Capitol District. A system of “greenway” parks and walking trails creates a lush atmosphere in and around Raleigh.
A business, cultural and entertainment center blessed with a mild climate, Raleigh is surrounded by golf clubs and golf courses.
Named for the river that meanders alongside, the Neuse Golf Club in Clayton, about 20 miles outside Raleigh, offers a private club experience on a daily fee basis. Catering to corporate tournaments and outings, the club offers a wide array of services, including clinics, skills games, custom signage, logo Merchandise, marketing and sponsorship for charity fundraisers. The Ace Adventures program is a hole-in-one package that gives players the chance to win a golf vacation on every par-three hole.
About 45 miles from Raleigh, near the village of Pinehurst, the award-winning Tobacco Road Golf Club sports a rustic, farmhouse-style clubhouse built of old tobacco barns and done up with antiques and memorabilia of the tobacco trade. Aftertournament awards events take place on the wraparound stone porch and in the boardroom.
Tobacco Road Golf Club, Sanford
One of the finest tracks in the state, the Tom Fazio-designed UNC Finley Golf Course in nearby Chapel Hill is bordered by a lush botanical garden and is laid out across a rolling, wooded landscape. Here, Michael Jordan hit the little white ball during his student days and PGA star Davis Love III dazzled onlookers in his early career. Staffers are pros when it comes to helping meeting planners with golf outings, and in the fall, when it reopens, the clubhouse will be doubled in size and feature brand-new event venues.
Historic brick mills and repurposed factories from downtown Durham’s former tobacco and textile industries now house galleries, tapas bars, trendy restaurants and nightclubs. Energized by hip music venues, microbreweries, food trucks and farmers markets, a youth-driven culture is linked to Duke University, where the glorious Sarah P. Duke Gardens and the Nasher Museum of Art are major attractions. Culture got a kick in 2008 with the opening of the $48 million, 2,700-seat Durham Performing Arts Center, where Diana Krall and B. B. King have performed.
More than 3,500 association and corporate meetings take place in Durham each year. The $6.9 Million renovation of the Durham Convention Center (DCC) was completed in 2011, elevating the 11,500-square-foot Junior Ballroom to 21stcentury standards and freshening up the Grand Ballroom and meeting rooms.
Near the DCC in the Durham Civic Center Complex, the Durham Armory, Durham Arts Council Building, Carolina Theatre and Durham Marriott City Center accommodate groups. A fanciful, restored Beaux-Arts-style edifice built in 1926, The Carolina Theatre keeps its 1,016- seat auditorium busy with symphony and jazz performances, lectures, presentations to private groups and appearances by notables such as Arlo Guthrie, Harry Belafonte and comedian Richard Lewis.
Golf is always on the meeting itinerary at the beautiful Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club. Designed by Robert Trent Jones and opened in 1957, the top-ranked Duke University golf course was upgraded and redesigned by Rees Jones in 1994. Reminiscent of an old English country inn and located on a lush 300-acre site, the property also includes an elegant 271-room hotel. The Terrace on the Green overlooking the fairways is a favored place for group receptions and special events.
WINSTON-SALEM, GREENSBORO & HIGH POINT
Anchoring a region known as the Piedmont Triad, these three cities lure ample leisure and group business. A second-tier convention city in size, Winston- Salem is a first-rate convention site known for an exceptional arts scene and a charming historic district. Greensboro is home to several new restaurants, breweries, nightclubs and shops that have revitalized its downtown. And High Point annually proves its meetings mettle when it hosts the High Point Market, a furniture industry trade event that draws more than 75,000 attendees to the area.
In the heart of downtown Winston-Salem, the Twin City Quarter is anchored by the Benton Convention Center (BCC), the 146-suite Embassy Suites Winston-Salem and the 315-room Winston-Salem Marriott. Together, they offer more than 150,000 sq. ft. Of flexible meeting space.
Convention itineraries often include group tours of historic sites, gardens, museums and cultural attractions. A National Historic Landmark, Old Salem Museums & Gardens re-creates The lives of Moravian settlers of the 1700s and 1800s with its quaint shops, steepled churches and carefully preserved original buildings. Up to 300 people can convene in the auditorium, while receptions for 700 are held in the visitors center. Several garden courtyards can host outdoor parties and receptions.
Opened in 2010 and occupying an entire downtown block, the sleek Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts was designed for innovative corporate and group events, with a capacity of up to 1,000 people. An art school, galleries and performance venues are integrated with banquet and conference rooms, a cafe, boardrooms and dazzling, glass-enclosed reception lobbies.
About 800 events per year are based at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, where the 167,000-square-foot Special Events Center accommodates groups. The Coliseum arena seats 23,500, while the adjacent War Memorial Auditorium has 2,376 seats. The intimate 298-seat Odeon Theater is perfect for smaller groups and the Pavilion next door offers 30,000 sq. ft. Of space.
Said to be the oldest continually operating dinner theater in the United States, the 262-seat Barn Dinner Theater promises evenings of Broadwaystyle shows and concerts along with bountiful buffets. Planners can arrange small-scale cocktail receptions or big parties with a band or DJ in 5,400 sq. ft. Of event space.
About 10 miles from Winston-Salem, The Village Inn Event Center (VIEC) has a long tradition of arranging group golf outings at more than a dozen courses in the area, from the Arnold Palmer-designed Oak Valley Golf Club to the Bermuda Run Country Club, which has 36 holes of golf and a clubhouse that handles 300 for after-tournament dinners. VIEC works closely with Anne Marie Goslak, a Class A member of the LPGA Teaching Division, on private golf clinics and customized golf outings. In 2012, the inn completed the remodel of 141 guest rooms, eight meeting/banquet rooms and a ballroom.
On the campus of Wake Forest University in the heart of Winston-Salem, and owned and operated by the university, Graylyn International Conference Center is an iconic compound of historic stone buildings dating back to the 1920s. It coordinates golf outings and tournaments at such topnotch clubs as Tanglewood Golf Club, the Hale Irwin-designed Meadowlands Golf Club and the Jack Nicklaus-designed Salem Glen Country Club. The estate also partners with the nearby Wake Forest Golf Academy, a sprawling training facility with heated hitting bays, a putting lab and the latest in technical swing analysis.
Situated on 1,500 wooded acres that include 36 holes of first-rate golf, the Grandover Resort & Conference Center provides meeting planners with 45,000 sq. ft. Of flexible meeting space. The Grandville Ballroom accommodates 1,000 seated and up to 1,350 at receptions. The property’s two top-notch courses were co-designed by U.S. Open champion and PGA Champions Tour star David Graham.
A picturesque port city on the south coast of the state, between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Wilmington is a top choice for smaller meetings and team-building retreats, as well as for post-convention outings focused on seaside and river activities. The gracious city has a historic, revitalized river district and the mile-long Riverwalk leads to three idyllic outer-island beaches where meeting-goers relax, surf, fish and boat. Conference attendees brainstorm on the deck of the World War II battleship USS North Carolina, tour the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and take refreshing eco-cruises on the river.
Opened in 2011 at the riverbank, the 107,000-square-foot, LEED Silver Wilmington Convention Center is the newest and largest convention center on the coast, with a 30,000-squarefoot exhibit hall, a ballroom and 15,000 sq. ft. Of pre-function space. Covered outdoor riverfront seating and a 12,000-square-foot event lawn are highlights of the facility, and a hotel is planned for the site.
Constructed in 1888 and reopened last year as the Brooklyn Arts Center at St. Andrews, St. Andrews Church has been restored and transformed into a spectacular small-market concert and event venue, with soaring cathedral ceilings and stainedglass windows. In 3,500 sq. ft. Of space, 180 can be seated for elegant dinners in the former sanctuary and 50 on the balcony.
Adjacent to the Best Western Plus Coastline Inn, the Coastline Conference & Event Center retains its 19th-century railroad depot charm while offering 10,150 sq. ft. Of event space on the riverfront.
Beau Rivage Golf & Resort, WIlmington
The only stay-and-play golf resort in the coastal Carolinas and one of the top golfing destinations in the state, Beau Rivage Golf & Resort is a favorite for medium-size groups. The poolside Tiki Bar is a popular after-meeting party spot and tents are erected for parties throughout the grounds. Based at the plantation- style clubhouse, golf outings are frequent here, with such amenities as customized scoreboards and signage, box lunches, logoed items and completetournament management available for groups.
Karen Misuraca is a freelance golf and trav- el writer and is the founder of the website bestgolfresortsoftheworld.com.
Related story: "Meet in the Outer Banks"
- Who: American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA); 1,400 attendees
- What: Annual convention
- When: October 2012
- Where: Raleigh Convention Center
- Why: “The Massage Therapy Foundation arranged a golf outing at Lonnie Poole Golf Course during the AMTA National Convention for vendors and friends to network, play golf and have fun. Thirty-five golfers participated in a scramble format, which is conducive to including golfers at all skill levels in competitive foursomes. Lonnie Poole and its staff did a great job for us. Golf outings may take a few years to establish in terms of getting players and sponsors on board, but they serve an excellent purpose as forums for talking a little business, having fun and forging long-term relationships.” –Paul Slomski, development manager, Massage Therapy Foundation
Tips for Golf Event Planners
From Jack Bickart, vice president of sales at North Carolina’s world-famous golf des- tination, Pinehurst Resort, home of the 2014 U.S. Open and the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open Championships:
- Build in some fun that even nongolfers can enjoy, such as a putting challenge. Time these events for right after the round of golf, post-meeting or as part of an outdoor reception. Night-Light Putting and Chip-to-the-Pool contests are popular at Pinehurst.
- Most golf resorts and courses have a learning center where private group activities, such as golf clinics, video swing analysis and club fittings, take place.
- Talk to the golf event coordinator about tournament and team-building prizes from the pro shop. At Pinehurst, we combine a corporate logo with our famous Putter Boy logo on golf shirts and jackets, and can put corporate logos on caddie bibs and golf balls.
- To add a VIP touch and to speed up play, provide caddies or forecaddies.
- For an unforgettable event, a golf resort can book a well-known golf celebrity or tour pro to join your group, put on a demonstration clinic or speak at the awards dinner. At Pinehurst, Nick Faldo was re- cently brought in for a clinic and he spoke at the dinner.
- Brand your event with your logo on pin flags for each hole of the golf course, and on golf cart flags, bag tags, banners and signage.
- Make sure that your tournament format works for everyone in the group. Scrambles allow everyone to feel like they’re part of the team and contribute; for a more competitive challenge, consider team and individual matches in which points contribute to an overall team score.
- Match your best customers with their sales executives in a three-day Ryder Cup-style format.