Bottom Line: Join the Club

Lots of ways to use golf for special business events

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” He could have easily used the words “golf” and “business golf” instead because using golf for business purposes—especially in a time-restricted setting such as a corporate or an association meeting—often takes place in areas other than the golf course, and many of the activities bear little resemblance to the traditional game. But these business-golf activities are excellent for creating social interaction and team building among all attendees, even those who have never held a golf club before.

Walter Galanty, president of AIM Meetings in Alexandria, Virginia, finds that younger meeting attendees, in particular, “want to do activities that take less time than traditional golf, and do them with more people than just the few they would go around with on a golf course.”

Confirmation of this trend comes from the surging popularity of entertainment outlets known as Topgolf. With locations in 20 cities across the Southeast, Midwest and West, plus at least eight more scheduled to open this year, Topgolf applies the social and atmospheric elements of “midnight bowling” to hitting golf balls.

Topgolf Resembles Bowling

Topgolf facilities offer climate-controlled couch seating, HD TVs, piped-in music, and food and beverage service at all playing stations, which accommodate 10 people each. Players take turns hitting microchip-implanted golf balls to a large field with lighted targets. The distance and accuracy of each shot is tracked, with points awarded. For meetings at hotels with no golf amenities, nearby Topgolf facilities can provide an active yet comfortable social event.

At meeting properties that do have golf amenities, planners can use the practice areas rather than the golf course itself for a variety of no-skill-necessary golf activities. These lighthearted games allow golfers and non-golfers to interact throughout the event, eliminating the hesitation some attendees might have about participating.

For instance, at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, a putting green is located just outside the doors of the meeting space so groups can play nine holes of mini-golf after a day of sessions, or even during a break between sessions.

A resort’s golf staff needs nothing more than a ball of string to frame out a series of holes, although some will also use potted plants and other landscape elements to make the mini-golf course more interesting. Attendees can pair up and play as a team, all while enjoying refreshments from the food and beverage stations set on the perimeter.

Station Breaks

At Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina, meeting groups can engage in a “Carnival of Golf” that uses not just mini-golf, but also other activities set on the adjacent driving range and a few short practice holes.

On one side of the range, novice golfers can take a 15-minute lesson from an instructor to learn the proper swing; on the other side, experienced golfers can engage in target-hitting contests for prizes. And right in the middle of the range is a station for everyone to compete in a long-drive contest that uses frozen marshmallows instead of golf balls.

Attendees who want a 40-minute golf-course experience can play the resort’s four shortest holes which, along with the practice green and range, are lighted to allow for evening play. Food and beverage areas are set around the three connected activity areas.

The staff at Eaglewood Resort & Spa in Itasca, Illinois, use paper bags with candles inside to line the three holes of the regular golf course that either start or finish right next to the golf clubhouse. Then, using glow-in-the-dark golf balls, groups of up to eight can play those three holes with only the light from the candles as a guide to the green. The flagstick that identifies the hole on each green is self-illuminating as well, giving players their aiming point.

Recently, Eaglewood’s golf shop purchased several black lights and other colored lights that can be used in addition to or instead of paper bags and candles; these provide an otherworldly atmosphere as participants spend about 45 minutes playing and walking the three golf holes—and stopping at the food and beverage stations set up at the start of each hole. In colder months, Eaglewood will use the new lights to conduct mini-golf competitions inside the ballroom, with the overhead lights turned off and music playing.

Get Your Kicks

For groups that might want to use a few holes of a golf course for a relaxed activity that does not involve swinging a club, there’s good news: Soccer balls can substitute for golf balls. Players simply kick the ball down the fairway and then onto the green, where hula hoops serve as the holes.

Before meeting planners begin working with a conference-services manager to organize team building or social activities, they should present some of their business-golf possibilities to a cross-section of attendees to get feedback.

“Millennials aren’t as big on playing traditional golf as other generations, but they aren’t sedentary either,” Galanty says. “So in addition to the attendees who play golf, they’d probably love these kinds of ideas.”

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