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If meetings and lunches are your staple, organising a day for 50 fairway fanatics might take you out of your comfort zone. Fear not – like an over-familiar golf instructor, Mark Sansom is here to guide you to a pitch-perfect golf day
The car park is lined with glossy company cars, rows of suits hang neatly in the locker rooms, the BlackBerrys are turned to silent. Golf and business just go hand in hand. But why is it such a perfect match? Obviously, an alfresco afternoon is always a welcome release for office-bound executives but the golf course is more than just a haven from distractions. The slow pace – it takes at least four hours to play a round – gives ample opportunity for discussion, both business and beyond, and doesn’t demand a level of physicality that excludes more senior members of the team. While tennis and squash have similar links with industry, it’s hard to imagine striking a deal while carving out a delicate top-spin lob.
However, the benefits of the game to business relationships run even deeper. Seasoned corporate golfers often coax prospective employees or suppliers onto the fairways to test skills like patience, ability to overcome obstacles, strategy and mental strength. As American sports writer Grantland Rice puts it: ‘Eighteen holes of match play will teach you more about your foe than 18 years of dealing with him across a desk.’
‘People put golf days on – in essence – to reward clients, raise brand awareness, suss people out and affirm business relationships,’ says Michael Harris, editor of Golf Monthly. From the moment guests arrive until the time that they leave, it’s not the golf course that’s on show, but the company. As with any form of corporate hospitality, it has to be memorable to justify a return on spend.
‘Golf days give us the chance to invite clients and colleagues to an event that mixes hospitality and networking,’ says Chris John, managing director of Sodexo Prestige. ‘Our main business is in food and beverage, so it’s a great opportunity to show what we do. It’s the informality of a golf day that really works – it gives people the opportunity to understand each others’ backgrounds in a relaxed, yet competitive setting.’
Like John, high-level employees are usually the driving force behind hosting a golf day, given that they are often keen players themselves. It’s often the most important event of the year in their eyes, so it’s a good idea to get it right.
Teeing up the most successful golf day in your company’s history needn’t be difficult, as long as you know what you’re looking for. Get the cornerstones of the day right before compiling the guest list or hiring buggies with beer coolers.
Choose Your Course
Corporate days are big money spinners for golf courses, so don’t be afraid to shop around. Prices vary significantly, ranging in the region of £50 per person for modest clubs, and rising to around the £200 mark for the top courses. Decide whether a group will want to play a ‘trophy course’ (the likes of Wentworth, St Andrews or Sandwich), or a local club which is more accessible to get to and indeed, to play.
Group size is also something to consider early on. Do you want to splash out on a top course and go with fewer players, or include as many people as you can at a cheaper 18 holes? Bear in mind that the maximum one course can accommodate is 18 teams of four – 72 players working their way round the course from a shotgun start (where each foursome begins at a different hole at the same time).
Pick a Programme
The type of package varies widely. A standard programme for corporate days is to take breakfast, then play 18 holes followed by lunch, or an early supper. ‘We like to put on days where people can get back to the office in the afternoon,’ says John of Sodexo Prestige. ‘Some guests don’t like be seen to take a whole day out on the golf course.’
Equally, it’s just as popular to make a day of it. Other options include nine holes in the morning, followed by a light lunch, 18 holes and then a presentation dinner in the evening. Top-end trophy courses often have five-star hotels, spas and Michelin-starred restaurants on site, giving organisers plenty of scope for a full programme after the game. A group of top-level clients may also expect accommodation, particularly if they’ve had to travel to get to the course.
It’s the organisers’ job to determine which programme is best suited to the group. The best opportunity to network is often during the post-golf dinner. With many courses hosting top-end restaurants, it’s a good idea to devote a fair chunk of the budget to the catering. Offering transport home will give guests a good lasting impression, bearing in mind that golf courses are generally a fair hop from public transport.
Get an Agent or Go
The next thing to decide is if you want to work with an agent, or approach a course directly. At top courses like Wentworth, a dedicated golf events team does the legwork for you. ‘Clients come to us with their requirements and I go away to build an event to suit them,’ says Claire Lipscombe, head of golf events at the Surrey club (tel: 01344 846313, squaremeal.co.uk/wentworth). ‘Each aspect needs to be done separately, from course booking to room hire and catering spend.’
Dedicated golf clubs – as opposed to trophy courses – will have set packages available, where a flat fee will cover everything. These will often be local clubs suited to lower ability groups, or those with fewer numbers. Simply contact the course directly (see the venue menu on p.190 for options) and pick a package.
Unless you’re using a specialist agent, you as the organiser will have to handle the admin: sending out invites, giving directions, hiring buggies and organising company branding at the first tee and around the course. ‘Using an agent means that we can do most of the admin for you, creating a much easier process,’ says Keith Mitchell, director of product development for Golfbreaks.com (tel: 0800 279 7988), the largest golf day operator in Europe. ‘You also have access to our knowledge, buying power and promotions. We will take your requirements and come back with three or four venues to choose from,’ he says. Although easier, using an agent can have also have its flaws. Emails and invitations coming from a third party appear less personal and while it can work out cheaper (for some courses, agents can knock a third off of the price), their expertise generally lies in the leisure golf market
Once a price point, venue, group size and booking type has been decided, it’s time to move on to the finer points of the day. The main keys to a successful day are solid organisation, good communication and providing the sense that a guest has been looked after, from start to finish.
‘It’s imperative that guests arrive on time to golf days,’ says Clive Agran, writer for Golf Monthly and World of Golf. ‘If one set of players tee off late, all the timings for the other teams are ruined. A phone call the day before the event to ensure people know where they’re going can go a long way to getting a prompt start.’ Any regular attendee will be well aware that it’s bad form to be tardy.
Much of the admin can – and should – be done before people arrive. Players of a similar handicap should be grouped together and it makes sense for guests from similar industries to play in a team. An excellent handicap is between one and 10, good is between 11 and 18, and 18 and above will be considered a recreational player. It’s also good to split up players with knowledge of the course among the groups to advise on club and shot selection.
Get Guests excited
Good PR prior to the event is easy to establish. If you’ve selected a trophy course, let players know early so they can tell colleagues and friends. Leaking a couple of top-end prizes that are up for grabs is also a good way to set tongues wagging.
Attention to partners
Although it’s still pretty rare among many organisers, taking partners into consideration gives guests that rosy glow. Spa treatments are a time-honoured way of looking after other halves, but why not come up with something more original?
Golf lessons – as offered by nearly all courses – are a great way to get everyone involved. Golf’s cool credentials are on the rise among young women, so to offer an hour’s group tuition is a cheap and easy way to make a golf day memorable. Plenty of other activities can be built in. Clay pigeon shooting, tennis coaching, and cookery classes are common, or you can go off-piste with whisky tasting, perfume consultations or a spot of duck herding. Ask your chosen course what they can offer.
Whether opting for a top-end package or keeping a budget tight, the fact that everyone will be there to enjoy themselves and engage in a spot of healthy competition guarantees a good atmosphere. The old adage, ‘my worst day on the golf course still beats my best in the office’ is one to remember, even if it was a round to forget.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, summer 2010