“Seltzerland” vendors set up stations on several holes at the Chicagoland club to serve 2-ounce samples of a variety of flavors of the popular new beverage. Cog Hill, which has four golf courses, was paid by organizers for cart and greens fees it would have collected on the courses used for the event, and still managed to have a shotgun tournament at the same time, while also picking up extra halfway-house food revenue and exposing its facility to a new demographic.
Festivals and other large gatherings, including the Chicago Bacon and Beer Classic at Soldier Field, have taken a hit this year, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions. When that event was cancelled, however, its organizers came up with an innovative solution to fill the void—“Seltzerland,” a series of contactless, hard-seltzer tasting events held at golf courses in large metropolitan areas across the country.
To hold the inaugural Seltzerland on August 29, the organizers found a willing accomplice in Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Palos Park, Ill., near Chicago.“We were excited to try it [but] it was nerve-wracking to do something new,” says Troy Newport, PGA, Cog Hill’s General Manager. “You never know how it will work out.”
The production company behind the Seltzerland event paid Cog Hill, a public daily-fee property with four courses, for the use of its facility in an amount that equated to the cart and greens fees the property would collect on a standard Saturday. Seltzerland was held using two of Cog Hill’s courses (although the organizers asked for the use of nine holes, the event ended up taking up only six.)
About 25 vendors set up at Seltzerland with three or four stations on each hole, so attendees could maintain social distancing. Each hard-seltzer brand served 2-ounce samples of a variety of flavors. People had two to two-and-a-half hours, or about 20 minutes per hole, to visit all of the booths. Cog Hill also served food at its halfway house.
The production company lined up the vendors, but Cog Hill approved their booths beforehand. One vendor served seltzers from a sailboat; another set up an Airstream-like trailer (see photos below).
Tickets were only sold online for the event, and groups of 15 people were allowed to enter every 10 minutes at a scheduled check-in time from 11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. “It was like golf, in that there was almost a tee time,” says Newport.
Cog Hill posted signage to direct attendees from one hole to the next, protecting the golf courses by trying to keep them on cart paths. A security person monitored each hole, and Newport asked some of his key staff to also be on duty.
A full array of COVID-related safety measures were enforced, including text notifications to check in; one-way routings from booth to booth; single-use disposable cups, plates, and utensils for sampling; and sanitation stations at every booth. Attendees also had to stay in their groups throughout the event, and they underwent contactless temperature checks before entering the premises. And all festival-goers were required to wear a mask when they were not consuming seltzers or food.
Despite Newport’s initial concerns, it all worked out quite nicely, with 500-plus general admission and 150 VIP tickets sold. Cog Hill even found a way to still incorporate golf into the day, holding a 27-hole shotgun event on the courses that weren’t in use.
“Some people have the same tee time all season long,” Newport notes. “[So] the golfers [in the shotgun] got to play a unique routing they wouldn’t ordinarily play, and they got to play 27 holes.”
The Seltzerland event attracted a younger, more female clientele that included a lot of non-golfers, Newport notes. “Seltzer is super-hot right now, [and the event] exposed the golf course and facility to people in a different demographic,” he says. Cog Hill also did some “windshield marketing” during the event, placing fliers with a QR code on cars.
“We had an absolutely perfect weather day, [so for the Seltzerland attendees] it was like taking a walk on a nine-hole golf course on a nice day,” Newport says. “There was no competition to speak of with other activities. It gave people a chance to hang out with friends and be outside.
“It was as safe as something could be that’s outside right now. Both the golfers and the seltzer folks had a good day.”