Attention Getters

Wentworth By the Sea Country Club, Rye, N.H.
Wentworth By the Sea Country Club, Rye, N.H.

Neutral tent spaces serve as ideal outdoor venues for member events and can strengthen a property’s identity.

For properties that offer outdoor events, durable, structurally sound tents are the natural answer to the threat of inclement weather (and can ease the minds of stressed brides).

But outside of intimate member events, tents can further define a club or resort’s identity by highlighting what the surrounding community has to offer, framing the property’s beauty, and even welcoming (and wowing) hundreds of outside guests with their versatility.

Location, Location, Location
The Detroit Athletic Club’s (DAC) prime location just blocks away from the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park and Detroit Lions’ Ford Field served as inspiration for the club’s outdoor venue, which consists of three tents: a 2,700-sq. ft. dining tent, a 1,200-sq. ft. cooking tent, and a 400-sq. ft. beverage tent, collectively known as the Detroit Athletic Club Pavilion.


  • When planning an outdoor tent space, consider the strengths of your property’s location, from views to nearby amenities.
  • Research the types of tent material you and your guests would find pleasing.
  • Because tents are a “blank canvas,” lighting is a powerful way to set the mood with colors or to create a glowing effect.
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In 2005, when Detroit hosted baseball’s all-star game, the folks at Budweiser asked the DAC to erect stables for its Clydesdales in the club’s back parking lot, says Executive Manager Ted Gillary. The club complied, and not long after, decided to rent and put up tents when the Tigers were in the World Series, an effort that was “over-the-top successful,” Gillary notes.

After the first year of renting, the club began leasing before progressing to a more permanent operation, which now spans seven months of the year and a $2 million investment that includes not only the tents themselves, but concrete that was poured in the dead of winter, heating for nearly year-round use, and appropriate lighting, Gillary says.

“When we designed the pavilion, we did a photometric survey of the space, so all the lighting at night is meant to be ambient so you don’t get glare in your eyes,” Gillary says. “The space has a glow about it.”

Because the DAC rented and leased tents for years before making a purchase, it knew what it wanted out of an outdoor structure. The club opted for translucent-coated vinyl, which is smooth and non-porous, so when the structure needs a mid-season cleaning, dirt washes off easily with a hose. It also contributes to the tent’s glowing effect.

Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit, Mich.
Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit, Mich.

For end-of-season cleaning, maintenance, and storage, however, the DAC relies on the professionals. Just before Thanksgiving, the skin of the tent comes down along with the wooden floor, but the tent’s frame remains standing. “These are huge tents and it takes a whole crew to skin them and take them down,” Gillary says. “We don’t have that expertise—we just know how to use them.”

The walls in the large dining tent stand 13 feet high with a curved roof, making it the “most architecturally pleasing design,” Gillary notes. The cooking tent has a roof, but is open over the cooking area, so smoke can be emitted. It contains a full kitchen with a large hookup for gas, electrical and water, with power running in channels through the concrete base. The beverage tent contains a full-service bar with refrigeration.

The cooking tent is meant to protect members and guests from the sun as they order food, and attendance can get pretty high, Gillary says. For the Tigers’ opening day, the tent will see as many as 1,100 people, with a typical game night serving around 350.

While the tents also serve as an outdoor venue for members and their guests, the pavilion’s prime location near Detroit’s downtown sports stadiums make it an enormous draw for the club. The parking garage for Comerica Park is right next to the pavilion, so members can park in the garage, walk to the pavilion to buy merchandise, dine and meet guests, then go directly to the stadium.

“We have security at the gate and around the block, which is very convenient for members and for the community,” Gillary says. “If anyone needs assistance, our security is there to help, and members are proud of the club because it’s so visible. We also employ off-duty police to direct traffic.”

Wentworth By the Sea Country Club, Rye, N.H.
Wentworth By the Sea Country Club, Rye, N.H.

As an outdoor venue for members, the space has a neutral interior surrounded by landscaping, allowing it to be decorated as necessary for events.

“The pavilion is like a park in the city,” Gillary says, “that’s the charm of it.”

Part of the Plan
When Wentworth By the Sea Country Club built its 14,000-sq. ft. clubhouse 15 years ago in Rye, N.H., it was purposely built at a conservative size, with the plans calling for hosting events in outdoor tents, rather than building the proposed ballroom, says General Manager Robert Diodati.

The club currently operates two tents on the property. “Both tents are contracted locally because of the expertise it takes to install, clean and maintain them,” Diodati says.

A 2,800-sq. ft. frame tent stays up to host social events, such as anniversary parties and clambakes, from May through October. On weekends, the club erects a sailcloth pole tent that overlooks the ocean for weddings. The frame tent is leased for the season while the pole tent is rented on a weekly basis, Diodati says.

“We used to rent a shiny vinyl tent in both locations, but we switched to sailcloth because it’s much easier on the eyes. It’s a natural off-white color, and it feels like it breathes,” Diodati says, adding that the frame tent is a shade of champagne. “It’s softer than the harsh white vinyl you see at the state fair.”

For the pole tent’s base, Wentworth installed a concrete paver floor that is light green, so it’s not as noticeable throughout the week when the tent is not up. The floor is large enough to be under the whole tent, with an open area under the stars for a cocktail gathering, Diodati says.

Because Wentworth is in a residential neighborhood, the club’s staff made a special effort to keep noise under control. Sound blankets installed inside the tent behind the band reduce the decibel level substantially, Diodati says, even with three out of the four sides of the tent open.

The Basics
Selecting which type of tent is ideal for a property can be daunting, so it’s best to start with the four basics:

  • Pole-supported tent: Features a set of individual poles arranged beneath the fabric roof to support and define the shape of the structure. The fabric roof is tensioned over the poles and attached to ropes and/or cables at designated spots around the fabric’s edges. The ropes/cables are anchored to the ground using stakes, augers or weights around the perimeter of the tent. Pole-supported tents are the grandfather of the tent industry, and were once the only type of tent available. Though they have lost ground to newer designs, pole-supported tents remain popular in the United States and are still considered an important part of most tent rental inventories.
  • Pipe frame-supported tent: The assembled framework is made of aluminum or steel pipes that supports the fabric roof and defines the shape of the structure. The rigid framework allows the tent to be free- standing without additional support, but requires the same rope or cable anchoring system as a pole-supported tent to hold it in place, as specified by applicable fire or building codes. Pipe frame-supported tents are popular for events that require smaller tents.
  • Clearspan tent: Features an assembled framework of box beam (or I-beam) arches that support the fabric roof and define the shape of the structure in much the same way as a pipe frame-supported tent. The stronger construction of the aluminum or steelbox-beam frame makes these tents suitable for larger or longer-term applications than other types of tents. The box-beam framework also allows for large areas of unobstructed “clear span” space beneath the fabric roof. The larger structures require heavy equipment because of the size and weight of their parts. These tents come in widths ranging from 40 to 200 feet wide.
  • Tensile tent: Shares some characteristics with the pole-supported tent, but relies more on the tensioning of the fabric roof for its structural integrity and shape. The use of tensioned fabric to resist applied loads and shape the fabric membrane means less of a traditional support structure is needed to maintain it. One of the more modern tent designs, tensile tents tend to be more curvilinear and sculpted in appearance than traditional tents. This type of tent can be mass-produced or custom-designed as needed.

Source: Tent Rental Division, Industrial Fabrics Association International

For events, the tent company puts the tent up first, using 26 built-in duckbill anchors that are flush with the ground. That process takes up to an hour and a half, after which the Wentworth staff installs the dance floor and portable bar, followed by tables, chairs and linens. The next day, everything is taken down in reverse order and the floor is pressure-washed.

The tents are also used seasonally. If a storm comes in off the ocean, Diodati says, staff members can have all of the tent sides rolled down and secured within 10 minutes. During the colder months, the club places propane heaters outside the tent to blow the air in. In the summer, the clear plastic sides are replaced with mesh, so air blows through the space.

Unconventional Uses
The pavilion space at TradeWinds Resort in St. Pete Beach, Fla., has stood the test of time with nearly nine years of use, says George Bentley, CMP, Director of Catering/Convention Services.

The 10,000-sq. ft. space is used in a variety of ways, including weddings, exhibits, cheerleading competitions and even the Republican National Convention. The space is fully carpeted with electric capabilities along with data lines, floor jacks built into the cement pad, and four air conditioning units piped in directly, Bentley says.

The tented area is practically a square and the size is adjustable, allowing staff to make the area seem smaller, when necessary, by using draping and expanding the service area.

“Brides walk in and it’s a blank canvas,” Bentley says. “They don’t have to compete with a color scheme, because the entire interior is draped with white linen fabric. With tents, lighting is your biggest asset. You can change the color scheme of the entire tent with well-placed lighting.”

TradeWinds also offers what it calls custom “gobos,” which can be a company’s logo or theme that is then projected onto the tent. For weddings, some brides and grooms will create gobos using their initials. The overall lighting is dimmed so the accent lighting will show the colors and gobos sharply, Bentley says.

TradeWinds Resort, St. Pete Beach, Fla.
TradeWinds Resort, St. Pete Beach, Fla.

“The only challenge with the space is the sound aspect,” Bentley says. “It is a thinner material and we don’t have sound-deadening inside, so we have to be creative with speaker placement, so sound is not bouncing off everything.”

General session groups like using the tent because the ceilings are high and sounds can be piped in, notes Terry Popelka, Vice President of Sales for TradeWinds. The resort can set up a screen the size of a movie theater inside the tent as well, he says.

The tent stays up year-around and the resort takes down the liner once a year to have it cleaned. Staff cares for the carpet on a monthly basis, and maintains the interior, performing about 75% of the necessary maintenance in-house.

Having a year-round, durable meeting space has proved invaluable to the resort. During the Republican National Convention, a brunch was supposed to be held in a tent on a beach about 20 miles from the resort, but it had to be cancelled due to a storm. The resort stepped up to host the event with no qualms regarding the high winds. Built to endure up to 90 mph winds, the tent has only been taken down once in its nearly decade-long history, Bentley says.

“We spent $1 million on the tent almost 10 years ago, and it has been a huge asset for us,” Bentley says. “You couldn’t build 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space for a million bucks.”