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Golf experts talk group tips and trends

New superstars like Millennials Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have emerged on the golf landscape, and there’s also a refreshing attitude these days about how to enjoy the sport with non-traditional events and competitions.

Meetings Today recently connected with pioneering golf instructor and author David Leadbetter—in addition to several savvy golf directors and resort pros—to discover how the group golf game is changing with the times.

David Leadbetter, Founder
Leadbetter Golf Academy
This month’s cover subject, David Leadbetter, is arguably the most renowned golfing instructor in the sport’s modern history. His background includes mentoring fellow Englishman Nick Faldo to six Majors championships, and he still coaches several PGA pros today, as well as overseeing his acclaimed golfing academies.

As the host of many corporate programs, including a newly created golf-themed leadership training program, Leadbetter has his finger firmly on the golfing events scene.

“It’s vital for the long-term health of the sport to appeal to young players,” he says. “Golf has always had a reputation of being a bit stuffy and elitist. Thankfully, efforts are in place to change that and make golf more appealing to young people.”

He believes a balance must be found between maintaining the key traditions of golf with finding new formats that appeal to today’s changing societal demographics.

“Greater flexibility, faster pace of play and shorter formats of the game are all great solutions,” Leadbetter says, though stressing these concepts should be additional options, and not replacements, for traditional golfing formats.

His advice for planners putting together golfing events includes breaking away from the everyday.

“Try to think creatively about the event,” Leadbetter explains. “Instead of just playing 18 holes, think about adding mini-coaching clinics covering all aspects of the game. Skills challenges like the ones you see on Golf Channel’s Big Break can be engaging and team-oriented.”

As a master technician of the game’s mechanics—with a current bestseller on the subject, The A Swing—he would like to see education and training at the forefront of more programs and events.

“The most successful corporate days I’ve hosted have placed an emphasis on improving golf skills, rather than just heading out to play a round,” Leadbetter says.

As part of this effort, he’d like to see more company and group golfing events offer a training experience as an option to the golf rounds being played. Leadbetter believes this would both emphasize education and potentially boost added participation from a company’s “non-golfer” contingency.

“Every golf course has a range, and professional teachers, so it wouldn’t be difficult to arrange,” he says.

Kelly O’Donnell, Director of Golf
Wolfdancer Golf Club at Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, Austin, Texas
To appeal to today’s time-conscious groups, courses must be more innovative in design to include a golf event that will fit in the itinerary and keep golfers engaged, according to O’Donnell.

“For those who don’t have six hours to spare, we offer alternatives that get them on the course in some form or fashion,” O’Donnell says. “We have four-, six- and nine-hole rounds for the younger generation, who seem to have less tolerance and interest in lengthy, multi-hour activities.”

For creative and unusual ways to spend time in a golf setting, O’Donnell says Wolfdancer has executed events like kickball on the driving range, after-dinner night putting contests with glow-in-the-dark golf balls, food trucks on par-three holes and mobile bars across the course.

David Kass, Head Golf Professional
Salish Cliffs Golf Club at Little Creek Casino Resort, Shelton, Wash.
“Non-golfers tend to erroneously believe golfers in general are much better players, and that creates lots of anxiety,” Kass says.

He is correct. According to the National Golf Foundation, an industry research and consulting service, the average 18-hole score for recreational golfers is around 100.

“You can’t play and enjoy golf in any form if you’re not relaxed with a positive attitude,” Kass explains. “Incorporating some form of socialization component before a clinic or event helps everyone bond and they’re less intimidated when it’s time to play.”

For prizes, Kass says gift cards are still very popular, allowing participants to select merchandise that appeals to them individually. Other attractive prizes he’s used include casino chips, which players can cash in at Little Creek Casino, bottles of Washington state wine and customized equipment.

Eric Lohman, PGA General Manager, Monarch Beach Golf Links,
St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point, Calif.
Planners should think “outside-the-course” to make golf more appealing to Gen Xers and Millennials, according to Lohman.

“At our most successful events for younger participants, we put a heavy emphasis on making them more interactive, more social and less traditional,” he says. “We incorporate more music, food and drink, and keep the length less than four hours.”

Lohman suggests less preoccupation with scores, and a stronger emphasis on fun is also the key to success with younger, lesser-skilled golfers and first-timers.

“Golf skills challenges, relaxed instruction clinics, an ice cream truck and upgraded food and beverage that appeals to Millennial foodies are some of the things we use to raise the fun level,” Lohman says.


Brian Rashley, Director of Golf
Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club, Galloway, N.J.
For those groups with limited time and a strict budget, there are some fun and engaging solutions available at golf resorts.

Rashley has designed several successful events that are fun for skilled golfers and even those attendees who don’t know a golf ball from a baseball.

“One of our favorite indoor golf activities is the Marshmallow Long Drive in one of our ballrooms,” Rashley says. “We put the marshmallows in a freezer before using them, then everyone tees up and it’s hilarious because you don’t know where they’ll be flying. It’s a way of getting a golf club in someone’s hands that would’ve never even considered playing golf.”

Night golf is another attractive event at Seaview that’s inexpensive and less time consuming.

“We set up a layout with glow sticks and glow tee markers and conduct long drive and other contests,” Rashley says. “Regardless of skill level, night golf always creates a buzz with everybody, and we incorporate food and beverage in the experience to make it a party atmosphere.”

Seaview’s new nine-hole Turtle Putting Course, which has bent grass and gently sloping holes, has also quickly become a hit with groups.

Kellie K. Hines, Head Golf Professional
Kauai Lagoons Golf Club, Lihue, Hawaii
Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to golf events.

“Lately, the trend has moved toward smaller, more-intimate group outings,” Hines says. “While we still have a number of large events, we’ve seen an uptick in groups that want to play in less time and who are open to different formats that encourage non-golfers to participate. This gives us the opportunity to think a little more creatively in terms of how we set things up.”

And how can planners address the anxiety often felt by newcomers to the game?

“I feel if the format is not intimidating, and you present more group challenges instead of individual merits, the non-golfers or less-frequent golfers come out to play more,” Hines says. “Golf clinics, putting contests and fun challenges such as trivia on each hole, or something like that, keeps people’s minds off their score and golf ability and more on having a good time.”

Matt Flory, General Manager
TPC San Antonio, TPC Network of Clubs, San Antonio, Texas
As a general manager at one of the 30 courses on the TPC Network, operated by the PGA Tour, Flory is firmly entrenched in the golf industry.

“While our courses are obviously appealing to skilled golfers, we work hard to make the game fun for every skill level,” Flory says. “To speed up play and increase enjoyment we can move tee boxes up to par-3 yardages, give free tosses to those who land in sand traps, and make larger cups on the greens for easier putting.”

For teambuilding, Flory suggests a program where participants design and build their own miniature golf course, followed by a tournament or a speed golf competition, which allows teams to work together for the common goal of lowest score and time.

Clark Sinclair, Director of Golf
Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
With three tournament-class golf courses, a golf academy, a versatile driving range and other amenities, the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort is well equipped to accommodate corporate groups.

Sinclair, the resort’s long-time director of golf, says his staff is working hard to make the game more appealing to Millennials.

To address Millennial needs and desires, Palmetto Dunes has golf bikes, which players can ride on the course and carry their clubs with, golf carts with Visage GPS on one fleet and USB ports on another, and a golf app.

“We have also opened the door to the short course, or quick course, concept,” Sinclair says. “The George Fazio Quick Six is an example of how we created a classic golf feel within a time frame that’s more appealing to Millennials.”


Our slate of hosted events for planners in 2016 will include a special Meetings Today Live! Golf program in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Join us May 15-18, 2016 at PGA National Resort & Spa, prestigious home of “The Bear Trap” and annual Honda Classic, for networking, education, plenty of golfing fun and much more.


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About the author
Edward Schmidt Jr.