by J.D. Brown and Margaret Backenheimer | January 01, 2017

With a notable decline reported in golf participation in North America in recent years, meeting planners booking gatherings at a golf resort these days tend to be concerned about how to make the most of the fairways and greens for the majority of attendees. Although some associations still have plenty of golfers eager to fill the course for a full traditional tournament, many groups find themselves seeking a beautiful golf resort with a staff willing to think outside the tee box.

The Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa in San Antonio relishes that kind of thinking, although with 23 years hosting meetings and golf tournaments, it might initially be viewed as a traditionalist. The resort has everything an association planner looks for to make an event and golf tournament successful: 500 guest rooms; 54,000 square feet of meeting space; 165,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor event space; 27 holes of championship, Audubon-certified golf; professional instructors and a pro shop; food services; a driving range; practice greens and four sets of tees to include players of all skill levels. But when it comes to accommodating the interests of groups, flexibility and increased options are key to increased member participation. “We work with planners to incorporate golf in a way that works for their agendas,” said Teresa Sinor, the resort’s golf sales manager. “Whether or not attendees are golf purists, we want them to have fun with golf in a new way.”

The Hill Country Golf Club can reset all of its holes to less intimidating par-3s, for example, thereby attracting a larger pool of participants and saving hours in playing time. Another twist on the old game is speed golf, in which players race the clock while negotiating a nine-hole round. Individual players or teams tee off at five-minute intervals and walk, jog or run the course with a set of just four clubs, competing to see who can complete the course the fastest.

All Sports Golf is another way to bring non-golfers onto the links. The golf bag for All Sports Golf is filled with an assortment of footballs, soccer balls, tennis balls, baseballs, hockey pucks and Frisbees, along with accompanying sticks (such as lacrosse), rackets and bats. Players tee off with the equipment of their choice, choosing a different apparatus for each shot until reaching the green. Once on the green, a golf ball comes into play, but the putting instrument remains anything in the bag except a golf putter.

The Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa also willingly changes the dynamic of the course with other group options such as equipping the layout for a fun round of Frisbee golf, staging an early-morning 5K run on the course or holding a glow-in-the-dark putting contest and cocktail party in the evenings. All encourage more attendees to take advantage of the manicured outdoor premises together.

Other golf resorts around the country have also come up with their own options for visiting organizations. At Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire, Michigan—a destination with more than 450 rooms spread across three villages and 36,000 square feet of meeting space—associations can use the Summit Golf Course to enjoy the cutting-edge game of FootGolf. This version of the sport follows many of the rules of golf and can be played on a standard golf course, but it employs soccer balls in place of golf balls, feet in place of golf clubs and greens holes that have been widened to 21 inches to accommodate soccer ball entry. Additionally, 18 holes of FootGolf can be played in about the time it takes to complete a nine-hole round of traditional golf. Shanty Creek has created special FootGolf fairways and greens that run parallel to the regular golf course, ideal for groups that want to stage two very different tournaments simultaneously on the same course.

“Because not everyone plays golf, having FootGolf as an alternate option has really been a hit for conference-goers,” said Chris Hale, vice-president of sales and marketing at Shanty Creek Resorts. The skill level required for FootGolf is far less demanding than that of regular golf and “has a tendency to create a lot of laughter,” he observed. “And when it comes to team-building activities, fun and laughter are key.”

The Crystal Springs Resort in northern New Jersey also promotes FootGolf as a fresh way to enjoy two of its six championship golf courses. A popular resort with groups, thanks to 395 guest rooms and 41,125 square feet of meeting space, Crystal Springs stages more than 600 events a year, many on its golf grounds. Its Cascades and Minerals courses are newly equipped with 18 and nine FootGolf holes, respectively.

About 140 miles northwest, in Johnson City, New York, the 41-room Traditions at the Glen Resort & Hotel recently converted what was formerly IBM’s country club golf course into a dedicated, 18-hole FootGolf course, one of the first such courses in the nation. According to Naomi Nesenoff, its PGA director of golf, the response has been strong. “People really wanted to try something new,” she said. Groups quickly took an interest in the FootGolf course, and the resort began arranging tournaments with shotgun starts. What especially struck Nesenoff was how much FootGolf events appealed to all ages and abilities. The resort still offers traditional golf—with a course overlooking the Susquehanna River—and it can host groups as large as 300 for events.

Many golf resorts’ fairways and greens aren’t what they used to be—and that’s a great thing for visiting association groups. A growing number of properties have adapted their courses to offer more than what many attendees might consider a time-consuming annual tournament. With some imaginative planning and the support of a creative resort staff, a golf course can be inviting to the masses, whether they love the traditional game or not.

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