Socializing + cocktails + a side order of golf = winning events!
Recent surveys by the National Golf Foundation and other organizations revealed that a primary reason people enjoy golf is the opportunity to spend quality recreational time with friends. Another prominently mentioned driver for the sport was the opportunity to enjoy a few adult beverages with those friends, either during or after a round—or both.
Not surprisingly, then, many of the more unique and successful golf-related events that clubs and courses are coming up with these days revolve around groups of friends and acquaintances enjoying their favorite beverage, with a shot of golf on the side. The types of golf-related events now available to clubs, resorts and courses are essentially limited only to the imaginations and resources available to the host facility, with a dash of marketing savvy thrown in. Done right, these events can generate new club members or add to the current membership experience, provide an introduction to a public course, or draw resort guests.
|This feature on how club and resort golf departments are getting more creative with their approaches to special events built around golf is the final installment of the six-part “Growing the Game” series that C&RB has presented throughout 2015. Each article in the series has highlighted successful initiatives for increasing golf participation at club and resort properties through approaches in six key operating and management areas.
Breaking the Ice
Gainey Ranch Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., hosts a “Sink or Swim” event as part of the club’s new member mixer. During the evening’s festivities, members are invited to hit a 60-yard shot over a huge waterfall and onto the 9th green in front of it. Participants use glow balls, and the green and flagstick are lighted. Prizes are awarded, and there is plenty of golf commentary—but definitely not in a “golf whisper.”
“It’s a great ice-breaker, and our members really enjoy it,” says the club’s head golf professional, Matt Anzalone. “It’s always a hit.”
Other unique events at Gainey Ranch include a combination Demo Day and Charity Classic tournament. A demo day is not particularly unique, but as Anzalone points out, “Ours is kind of over the top.” In addition to inviting dozens of the top golf industry vendors, the club provides live music, free food and hot-air balloon rides, and ties those events into a charity tournament afterward, followed by a dinner under the stars.
“We partner with the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale, and a lot of our social members come out that day, too,” Anzalone notes. “We have a lot of our pro shop products out there, and it’s really the only time all year we do a deep discount.”
Another event that draws both golf and non-golf members, Anzalone says, is the club’s “Big Break,” Gainey Ranch-style. Participants collect points for various events and challenges on the course, similar to the televised version of the show. The club’s beverage cart circulates during the event, and whether that or the opportunity to chip a ball through a pane of glass is the allure, even non-golfers join in the fun.
Nights to Remember
The public Bent Creek Golf Course in Jacksonville, Fla., has enjoyed so much success with its periodic Night Golf events that General Manager Chris Cygan says the club is considering adding regular tee times on Saturday nights. For the nine-hole, 72-person shotgun Night Golf events, which Cygan says typically attract between 65 and 72 players, the course and flagsticks are marked with glow sticks, and players use glow-necklaces for identification. Players pay $35 for the event, which includes two restricted-flight glow golf balls that go approximately 70 percent as far as regular balls and range balls, plus access to $1 beers.
“One thing that’s neat about it is that the people who play in it are not usually the low handicappers,” Cygan notes. “We’ll frequently get one of our regulars who will bring friends who don’t usually play, and we get a lot of women. It’s a cool demographic that we don’t usually see on Fridays and Saturdays during the day.”
The equipment that is set up for the event typically runs $250-$300 for the LED lighting and glow sticks, Cygan says, not counting the balls the club provides, which he said can run around $4.50 each for the better varieties. That is one reason the club is considering offering regular Saturday night tee times, for which players would either bring their own glow balls or purchase them in Bent Creek’s pro shop. When his former club in the Chicago area used to do that, Cygan says, it was not unusual to do up to $2,000 in pro shop sales during the event, primarily from the balls.
While some clubs are adding new customers and revenue among the night owls, a pair of KemperSports-run properties in the Chicago area are getting up with the chickens to give working professionals an opportunity to mix pleasure with business. Dubbed the “Morning Meeting” by the KemperSports marketing staff, 18-hole shotgun events teed off at daybreak at Harborside International Golf Center and Cantigny Golf in the Chicago area this summer.
Both were wildly successful, attracting a full field of 72 players lured by greens fees discounted by 25%-30% off rack rate, plus the opportunity to get in a fast round and still have time to put in nearly a full day at work. Players were encouraged to pre-register to save time, and with just one foursome per hole, shoot for a four-hour round if possible.
“The first two Morning Meetings were held at public courses, but we think the model will work great at private clubs as well,” says Andrew Fleming, KemperSports’ VP for Hospitality. “These events not only provided some additional revenue early on weekend mornings, but got some new people out to the golf courses. We’re encouraging other clubs in our portfolio to try it next year, and we anticipate that 25 or so will give it a try.”
New Twists to Old Favorites
Many clubs are always looking for ways to add pizzazz to their annual member-guest tournament. The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch in Boerne, Texas, about a half-hour drive northwest of San Antonio, used a golfer’s bucket-list item to spice up its event this year. After a practice round in the morning and lunch at the club on the tournament’s first day, two chartered buses transported the 120 tournament participants to short-game guru Dave Pelz’s home in Dripping Springs, Texas and his famous backyard.
Pelz showed off his immaculate synthetic grass short-game facility, featuring seven exact replicas of some of the most famous greens in golf, including Augusta’s 12th and 17 at TPC Sawgrass. Cordillera Ranch members and their guests were treated to a tour and a three-hour dissertation from Pelz on his visions for teaching the short game, played a quick team event at the facility, and were treated to a catered meal from The Salt Lick landmark barbecue restaurant before returning to the club and the weekend tournament.
“We were blown away by the comments from our members and their guests,” says Director of Golf Marc DeWall. “It was a great opportunity for them, and for Pelz to demonstrate his product.” The member-guest entry fee went up slightly to allow for the additional outing, which is rare for Pelz’s facility and took nearly a year and a half to plan and execute. And while other clubs may not have the same access to that facility, there are quite likely other golf-related venues within their range that could also become attractive Member-Guest add-ons.
Bending the Elbow
To extend golf events’ appeal to folks who like to bend an elbow when not using it in their backswing, where better to look than a couple of popular local bars? The Golden Bear Club at Indigo Run on Hilton Head Island, S.C., decided to tap the friendly rivalries among the small island’s taverns to raise money for charity, and generate additional exposure for the semi-private facility, through a “Battle of the Bars” event that now promises to become an annual tradition.
Head Professional Jeremy Steiner and other Golden Bear Club staff members talked up the event at bars around the island, and eventually tabbed the Frosty Frog Cafe and Casey’s Sports Bar as the inaugural contestants. Each bar raised money from its customers for charity and the right to have a tournament outing at the Golden Bear Club, Steiner says.
The Frosty Frog ended up as the top donor, and its employers and supporters joined the top four money-raisers from Casey’s in a 90-person outing at the Golden Bear Club this fall. Local vendors and sponsors provided prizes, and a good time was had by all, including the local Humane Society, which received a check for $4,000. The event was so popular, Steiner says, that the club plans to have at least two a year going forward, perhaps pitting other local organizations such as Emergency Medical Services personnel vs. the Fire Department, or using local high schools as the contestants.
As further testament to the allure of beer and golf, the Twin Oaks Golf Course in San Marcos, Calif., has incorporated an annual Twin Oaks Brewery Tour event at the 18-hole public course. Golfers pay $99 for an 18-hole tournament that features tastings of the wares of nine local craft beer breweries, on-course food stations, contests and prizes. This year’s event, says Scott Butler, Twin Oaks’ tournament sales director, drew 140 players, a number of whom were playing the course for the first time.
And for most of the Y-chromosome golf population, the only thing better than beer and golf, of course, is beer, golf and attractive women. That’s why for several years now, Twin Oaks has also hosted a “Golfers Gone Wild” event, featuring staff from a local Hooters Restaurant. For those who wanted to try out their best pickup lines during all 18 holes, “Caddie Girls” were available for $150 per foursome, in addition to Hooters Girls “manning” the food stations.
Whatever the actual results, the flyers, and word of mouth from previous events, worked in both cases—this year, Twin Oaks held full shotguns for each event in both the morning and afternoon, with 144 and 152 players.
“We’ve gotten such a following for those two events that we’ve even had people pre-signing for the next ones before the next date is even announced,” Butler says. “I even got a call from a course in Pennsylvania wanting to know more about the events, after they saw the flyers online.”