Friday, September 19, 2008

Plan a Golf Event in Six Easy Steps

Planning a golf tournament well creates good memories for attendees, and boosts business, too.

Here’s how to plan a golf event that will stand out from all the others your attendees might attend this season.

Step 1: Plan Four Months Out
Most golf courses are ready to help you with the planning task, as their golf shops likely have a few dozen group events come through each season, and so have a system for handling groups, from the golfing to the food and beverages to the gifts and awards. But you must contact the pro shop at your desired course at least 120 days out; not only do you have to ensure that the course is free on the day you want it, you and the staff will need that much time to create your itinerary, coordinate the details and help market the event.

The golf shop will usually assist any group that has 16 or more players, and can accommodate as many as 144 players on a course for a single event. But groups generally need to have at least 60 players – and sometimes 80 – to secure what’s called a “shotgun” start on a course, though the figure can be flexible depending on the season and the time of day. A dual start from the first and tenth tees is also possible for smaller groups, if the event begins early in the morning.

Step 2: Launch Marketing Effort
To drum up that many players, you might have to market aggressively. One tool that helps planners boost attendance at low cost is the Internet. “I’m seeing many organizations create individual Web pages for their golf events,” says Walt Galanty, founder of AIM Meetings & Events, a meeting planning firm. “A golf-events site can be used for registration and for keeping up interest of attendees by letting them find out who else is playing,” Galanty adds. “We can also post names of the winners and the prizes they won, post photos from last year’s event and allow attendees to order photos directly from the photographer. Not only that, but it can allow hotlinks to your event sponsors’ Web sites.”

Step 3: Choose Foursomes Wisely
Once your attendee list is set, there are several things to consider when grouping players into foursomes. The first, of course, is business interest. People come to business-golf events to meet others with reciprocal business interest, so allowing folks to choose on their registration forms who are in their group, or which type of buyer or supplier they’d like to be paired with, is wise.

The other consideration to make regards players’ handicaps. By having players list their handicap (a measure of how well they play on average) on their registration, the golf shop can determine who should play with whom so that the pace of play does not get too slow (four poor players in any one group is a bad thing). Also, handicaps help the golf shop determine which playing format would be best (scramble, modified scramble, low ball)

Once the format and the pairings are established, you must share other attendee information with the pro shop, such as whether anyone needs rental clubs or shoes, as well as each person’s golf-shirt size and hat size, which they’ll need to help you order merchandise with your firm’s logo on it.

Step 4: Drum Up Prizes
Four months’ lead time also helps when you need to secure prizes not only for the event’s winning foursome, but also for the winners of the longest drive, straight drive, and closest to the pin contests. Plaques and crystal can be customized with your firm’s logo, the year of the event, the name of the resort, and the category for which it was won, but these must be ordered at least six weeks in advance.

Logoed apparel, such as golf polos and imprinted sports bags also make terrific options.

Step 5: Consider Food & Fun
Next, you need to plan for providing food and beverages to your players. Most courses have refreshment carts roaming the course, though players sometimes won’t see one for several holes. In light of this, you should contract with the pro shop to have enough carts on the course so that players don’t go more than three holes without being offered food and drink. Also, let players know either that they must pay for what they consume or that the organization has a running tab. Be careful with the latter option, though, since any on-course accident or injury that occurs due to consumption of alcohol will leave you and your company liable.

Planners can boost entertainment value (and lower the cost) of their event by enlisting the help of sponsors, who “can be creative with their presence on a hole while also maintaining the integrity of the game,” Galanty says. For instance, having a skill contest on each sponsored hole will intrigue less-than-proficient golfers and interest decent golfers too. Possibilities include having players try to chip a ball into a bucket several feet away, or having a variation of “beat the pro” where a sponsoring firm’s sales rep tries to hit his tee shot closer to the pin on a par-three hole than each player. “A sponsor can put a rep out there who’s a decent golfer, unless they are purposely looking to give away a lot of free stuff with the company’s name on it,” Galanty notes.

Conversely, contests need not involve golf at all. Over the years, Galanty has seen sponsors use the Tic-Tac-Toss beanbag game and others to make sure everyone has a chance to go home with a prize.

Once play ends, there should be a post-tournament cocktail reception and dinner where you can thank sponsors and recognize contest winners. It’s best that these events are informal; the cocktail reception should start right after the last group comes in, and be close enough to the scoreboard that players can eat, drink, and mingle while the golf-shop staff posts the scores. Then, rather than having a formal sit-down dinner and awards ceremony, something like a buffet or a barbecue with carving stations would be a better idea, especially since folks won’t have much time to freshen up or even change out of their golf attire.

Step 6: Create a Contingency Plan
Remember that all of this planning will go out the window if the weather doesn’t cooperate on the day of the event. To combat this, you must have backup plans to keep people occupied. For instance, an indoor event space can be quickly and easily configured to become a putting course where you can offer a mini-tournament. Or the golf-shop staff can set up mats and nets in the space, and critique players’ swings and give personalized lessons as they watch folks hit balls into the nets. At the same time, have the golf-shop staff bring in a few televisions with VCRs, and show highlight videos of memorable pro tournaments. Finally, you could even bring in a few Sony Playstations, Microsoft Xboxes, or other home video-game machines; they run excellent golf games that folks can learn to play in minutes.

In the end, expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $275 per person for what resorts call the “tournament services” package, which includes greens fees and carts, player pairings, tournament scoring, complimentary range balls, access to locker rooms and assistance in the event’s coordination. Of course, the awards and prizes, refreshment carts, and other amenities will cost extra, though they are negotiable.

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