Well-designed outdoor space can help a property boost event business and update its overall design.
When Eagle Oaks Golf and Country Club in Farmingdale, N.J., redesigned its clubhouse several years ago, a primary goal was to boost event business. While the previous 25,000-sq. ft. clubhouse could only handle smaller functions of 40 to 50 people, the current 60,000-sq. ft. building can now host up to 500, thanks to its new second level of banquet rooms, outdoor Wedding Garden, and wrap-around cocktail patio.
Dedicating an entire level and expansive outdoor space to event business has significantly increased revenue for Eagle Oaks. “Event revenue is so important for a club,” says John Beurskens, CMP, Director of Membership Services and Marketing. “So when we redesigned the clubhouse, we designed it to have two separate entrances and two separate areas—one for members and one for private events—so if you had an event going on in either area, they would not affect one another.”
SUMMING IT UP
• Outdoor venues can make a property more marketable and boost event revenue.
Located just steps away from the main ballroom and wrap-around patio, the outdoor Wedding Garden has quickly become one of the most valuable pieces of the club’s event business. “The appeal of the outdoor Wedding Garden is a big selling point for people booking an event,” says Jim O’Neill, Banquet Sales Manager.
With members and guests at clubs and resorts nationwide now increasing their demands for outdoor options, the value of these spaces continues to soar. But it takes more than run-of-the-mill patio space to provide what the market is now looking for. To become coveted and functional spaces, today’s outdoor venues must find innovative ways to blend the comforts of indoors with the expanded, more open appeal of outdoor settings.
Widening the Walls
In many ways, outdoor areas are becoming extensions of clubhouses. “Unless you have a major renovation coming up, it’s nearly impossible to extend the amount of indoor space at a club,” notes Amber Inberg, Private Events Director at The Hills of Lakeway in Austin, Texas. “But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck,” she adds, “especially if you can transform your outdoor areas—patios, pools, greens—into sophisticated, usable ‘rooms’ that are both unique and flexible.”
|The second level of Eagle Oaks’ expanded clubhouse is dedicated entirely to event business.|
That additional space can also have a unique aesthetic appeal. Often located amidst picturesque settings, club and resort properties are finding more ways to cash in on their surroundings.
Spring Lake (Mich.) Country Club, for example, sits on 250 acres of lakefront property. As a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, Spring Lake prides itself on its environment, and as part of the club experience, members seek to spend as much time enjoying the outside surroundings as possible. So the club’s lakefront setting is a popular natural setting for wedding ceremonies, and the outdoor patios and lawn areas are perfect for cocktail hours and member events.
“The beauty of our area is one of the attractions of living in Spring Lake,” says General Manager Joseph Moore. “Having weddings and other events where you are framed by the natural beauty of Spring Lake is an obvious tie-in.”
These outdoor setups also help increase event business. “Without the outdoor wedding areas, specifically the lakeside ceremony area, we would probably not have about 25 percent of the weddings that we do here,” says Moore. “The outdoor areas contribute significantly to the revenue stream.”
Whether outdoor spaces are being used for large events or day-to-day leisure, these essentials can enhance the space:
Outdoor areas today are often designed to give guests and members the best of both the inside and outside worlds. Indoor design details, such as comfortable furniture and built-in bars, can be merged with fire pits and unobstructed views to establish modern outdoor venues with plenty of panache.
The Hills of Lakeway brought this trend to life with the Pavilion, a permanent outdoor structure attached to the clubhouse that functions as an indoor-outdoor space. It has two open sides overlooking Austin’s “hill country,” a vaulted ceiling with ceiling fans, an outdoor fireplace, a built-in bar and two flat-screen televisions.
“People are trying to bring more of the formal indoor look outdoors,” says Inberg. “I have done events where we’ll move the indoor furniture out there, and we’ll use couches to set up little lounge areas. During the winter, they like to set furniture around the fireplace.”
The Hills at Lakeway also brought the indoor-outdoor concept to its patio, located just off the club’s pub area. Shaded by trees, the patio is decked out with a combination of traditional outdoor tables and chairs and indoor design touches such as a built-in fire pit and permanent outdoor bar (see photo, pg. 25).
Even temporary tent structures can offer indoor-outdoor options. “For special events, we’ll often bring in couches and put them under a tent, to create lounge areas and small rooms,” says Tammy Knock, Director of Catering at Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va.
To transform a conventional outdoor area into an elegant, awe-inspiring event space, clubs and resorts often rely on both natural and man-made design touches. The Wedding Garden at Eagle Oaks, for example, is much more than a simple courtyard. A large, permanent gazebo-like structure, where couples exchange their vows, is the focal point of the garden. Two fountains establish elegance, and a meticulous landscape of bright flowers, rich greenery and lush trees transform the open area into a one-of-a-kind romantic garden setting.
|“Having weddings and other events where you are framed by the natural beauty of Spring Lake is an obvious tie-in. The events that we have outdoors contribute significantly to the revenue stream.” —Joseph Moore, General Manager, Spring Lake Country Club|
Of course, Mother Nature can have an equally dramatic effect on outdoor areas. Thus, positioning outdoor areas with unobstructed views of the natural scenery further enhances any venue. Farmington CC’s patios and expansive lawn areas benefit from the club’s majestic mountain setting. “The spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains really lend themselves to outdoor events,” says Knock.
In addition to the mountain backdrop, Farmington’s grounds maintenance staff ensures that the grounds are green and pristine at all times. In fact, the club’s lower patio space is much more than a standard cement slab—and requires little man-made décor—thanks to the foliage, trees, bushes and lighting that flank the space.
Behind the Scenes
While decorative touches are critical to outdoor success, the behind-the-scenes details built into the design of an outdoor space can make or break its functionality. Coverings, such as awnings or overhangs, offer event planners and party hosts some peace of mind.
At the Ginn Belvidere Resort in Mount Pleasant, S.C., the pool deck of the Cottages clubhouse (see photo, pg. 27), is partially covered with a large overhang, and the resort uses a 10-by-10 tent to house a band or DJ and protect equipment.
|Located steps away from the main ballroom, the unique outdoor Wedding Garden at Eagle Oaks G&CC makes it an especially attractive, and full-service, wedding venue.|
“When we design the layout for an event at the Cottages, we design it with the worst weather in mind,” says Christa Polinsky, Group Sales and Catering Manager. “We try to incorporate the front porch, the back area under the overhang, and the small space inside the clubhouse in the layout. Then, once we get closer to the event, if the weather will permit we spread everything out onto the rest of the uncovered part of the pool deck.”
One of the most important behind-the-scenes details is kitchen access. “When you are serving food or having different stations and buffet lines, you have to have easy access to the kitchen,” says Inberg of The Hills of Lakeway. “We have doors from the kitchen that lead directly to the Pavilion, so we can get out there easily without having to cut through the clubhouse.”
Other properties rely on outdoor kitchens. For events at the Ginn Belvidere Resort’s Pavilion Tent, all of the food prep is done at the resort’s main kitchen at the RiverTowne Country Club, located about 15 miles away. The food is then transported to, and cooked, in the Pavilion’s small outdoor kitchen, which houses ovens, stoves and grills inside a brick-and-tent structure.
A “Live” Preview
Despite the popularity of outdoor areas, these spaces do not automatically sell themselves. It’s often hard for guests and members to imagine an elegant outdoor affair on a blank outdoor canvas. “It comes in handy to coordinate a visit during the set-up of another event,” suggests Knock of Farmington CC. “Then they can see what it will look like or get some ideas.”
|Coverings—like this one at Ginn Belvidere Resort on the South Carolina coast, which was designed with the worst weather in mind—can provide peace of mind to event planners and party hosts, while still preserving the benefits of outdoor settings.|
Many properties are also stepping up their Internet marketing efforts to attract more event business. When Knock first came on as Catering Director at Farmington, she immediately made the catering and events section of the club’s members-only Web site accessible to the public. The updated site now has individual photos of the ballrooms and outdoor spaces, and the club plans to expand the site further to include entire event photo albums.
“The Internet is one of our best marketing tools,” says Knock. “We have a lot of non-member business, and we want to encourage those people to use our space for events and help them plan.”
In addition to a comprehensive Web site with photo and video features, Eagle Oaks hosts a showcase at the club to illustrate its event capabilities. “Our showcase is open to anyone and it is more of a facility showcase featuring many different event setups, vs. locking ourselves in to a bridal or bar mitzvah showcase only,” says O’Neill. “Each portion of the event space will be set up to represent some type of event, and we will have an open bar and food.”
The common thread running through any outdoor venue is the opportunity to create unique and inspired events. “With outdoor events, there is truly no limit in what you can do,” says Inberg. The key, adds Knock, is approaching outdoor spaces with an open mind. “You need to think of your outdoor space as an outdoor room with endless ceilings and endless possibilities,” she says.