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6 Great Hosts for Outdoor Group Gatherings in Southwest Michigan

Looking to bring your next meeting or event into the open air?

Groups headed to Southwest Michigan destinations—well-known for their natural beauty—will find a fun lineup of offsite venues that can accommodate outdoor receptions, picnics and a various other functions in the outdoors.

Following are six great ideas, including two zoos, two golf courses, a park and a ballpark.

John Ball Zoo, Grand Rapids 

Groups of all sizes are welcome to host events amid resident wildlife at John Ball Zoo, which is located less than two miles from downtown Grand Rapids.

Tiger at John Ball Zoo
Photo: Mountain lion at John Ball Zoo; Credit: John Ball Zoo

The zoo boasts seven different outdoor spaces, including the spacious Picnic Acre area that’s perfect for a large company event and pavilions that are well suited for smaller groups.

Additional experiences, including the onsite Sky Trail Ropes Course and a four-story, 600-foot zip line, are available to literally elevate group gatherings.

“An experience is totally customizable, from different food and catering options to camel rides,” said Roy Graves, sales and account coordinator. “Education programs like our Wild Encounters are a fantastic way to get an up-close and personal animal experience unlike any other. Guided tours are another popular add-on.”

New for the 2020 summer season is BrickLive Animal Paradise, an exhibition that will run until October 25. It features more than 40 life-size animal sculptures created with over 1.8 million individually colored building bricks.

Sculptures of both non-resident and resident animals, including favorites such as the African lion, snow leopard and ring-tailed lemur, are scattered throughout the zoo.

“After checking out these amazing sculptures, guests can then visit their live counterparts to see how they compare to their building brick look-alikes,” Graves said.

Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park

Located several miles from Grand Rapids is Fifth Third Ballpark, which is both home to the West Michigan Whitecaps Minor League Baseball team and a fun place for outdoor events.

Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park Credit: Progressive AE
Photo: Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park; Credit: Progressive AE

According to Dan Morrison, vice president of sales, planners can build a variety of customized corporate outings at the ballpark, including business luncheons utilizing covered decks and patios, and picnics right on the field.

“The ballpark is unique for this time because it’s an outdoor venue with covered areas, with a 10,000-person capacity,” Morrison said. “We could meet any social distancing guidelines because the size of the venue allows the ability for people to spread out.”

While the size of groups accommodated at the stadium currently depends on fluctuating pandemic guidelines, it’s most often booked by groups with up to 1,000 people.

On-field events generally feature competitive games such as ping-pong, Frisbee golf, kickball, catch and batting practice. Morrison added food can be stationed in covered areas, and local musicians can be hired to entertain groups.

[Related: 4 Ways to Enjoy the Outdoors When Meeting in Michigan]

The parking lot is also used for group events, including carnivals complete with amusement rides and drive-in themed galas perfect for these pandemic times, complete with live music, meals served to cars and a movie.

Windmill Island Gardens, Holland

Holland-based Windmill Island Gardens is a municipal park featuring DeZwaan Windmill, an authentic working Dutch windmill that produces whole-wheat flour, grits, polenta and bran.

The park is currently open, but at publication time, due to COVID-19, the popular windmill tour and antique carousel were not running. However, visiting groups can still explore the beautiful gardens and enjoy music from the operating antique Dutch street organ.

Julia Johnson, event specialist, said that while the pandemic has limited gatherings to 10 or fewer people, the attraction normally welcomes large corporate groups of up to 250 people for a variety of outdoor events.

“We can accommodate large company picnics on the grounds using our celebration pavilion as a ‘walk-through’ buffet area with some seating inside and picnic tables outside on the lawn,” she said. 

The venue is seasonal, available starting in mid-May after Holland’s Tulip Time festival through the end of September. 

The Medalist Golf Club, Marshall

The Battle Creek metropolitan area is home to The Medalist Golf Club, which hosts more than 50 events per year for up to 300 people.

The golf club’s two outdoor gathering spaces include a patio that seats up to 150 people and a tented pavilion that accommodates up to 300 people.

The Medalist Golf Club, Marshall
Photo: The Medalist Golf Club, Marshall

“The patio, attached to our Medalist Grille, overlooks our 18th green and pond, which we feel makes it one of the most beautiful outdoor patios in the state,” said Lowell Weaver II, managing partner.

He added the tented pavilion, located a short distance from the clubhouse, is situated in a wooded setting and also overlooks the 18th green and pond.

“The pavilion decor includes great lighting throughout, its own full-service bar and, again, one of the most beautiful settings in the state,” he said.

Golf outings are a natural addition to gatherings at The Medalist.

“We have about 30 corporate golf events per year, and whether you are trying to raise money for a cause, show your employees a great time, or impress your best customers, we are ready to do it all for you,” Weaver said.

Potter Park Zoo, Lansing

Located in the heart of Michigan’s capital city, Potter Park Zoo can host a wide variety of outdoor events, from receptions to picnics, for groups from five to 3,000 people. 

Outdoor gathering spaces at the zoo will have attendees mingling by the otter exhibit, viewing elk by the backyard garden and more.

Or, groups can buy out the entire zoo, which encompasses over 20 acres and features more than 500 animals, for a memorable after-hours visit and event. 

“The Potter Park Zoological Society offers tours of the zoo, as well as animal meet-and-greet sessions that can be added on to your event,” said Kaiti Chritz, the society’s communications manager. 

The Tent at Stoatin Brae, Augusta

At Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort, which sits on top of one of the highest points in Kalamazoo County, groups with up to 200 people can book the Tent at Stoatin Brae for an outdoor event.

The covered 40-foot by 60-foot space, with decks that reach beyond the tent in each direction, sits in an area that is nicely landscaped and features a long pergola, paved patio and flat fairway mowed grass.

The Tent at Stoatin Brae, Augusta
Photo: The Tent at Stoatin Brae, Augusta

According to Paul Perks, the resort’s director of marketing, the grass areas that surround the tent allow for outdoor games, teambuilding exercises and extended seating if necessary.

“We are equipped to provide all the amenities that you would need to put on a business presentation, banquet or networking event,” he said. “We also have lovely and conveniently located men’s and women’s facilities and additional storage if needed by our guests.”

The resort boasts six golf courses, including Stoatin Brae, which is ranked in Golfweek’s “Top 100 Courses in the U.S.”

“We are perfectly equipped to handle small- to large-sized golf outings where our guests can enjoy a round of golf and a meal afterwards,” Perks said.  

Read Next: Standout Venues and Meetings Updates from Montana


Calhoun County Visitors Bureau  

Discover Kalamazoo  

Experience Grand Rapids

Greater Lansing CVB  

Holland Area CVB

Visit Muskegon


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About the author
Carolyn Blackburn