by J.D. Brown and Margaret Backenheimer | January 01, 2016

More than a million golf events are held each year in North America, and associations account for a good slice of that total. The popularity of pairing golf with a meeting leads many planners to seek out a resort that combines both boardrooms and fairways; however, while such properties often—and should—provide the appropriate personnel to set up and run a good golf tournament, it certainly serves associations well when their meeting planners know the basics of organizing such an event.

Here, then, are nine tips that will help you carry out a successful golf event:

1. Tee off early (metaphorically, that is). Start planning at least six months in advance.

2. Determine the numbers. Decide how many members will sign up for a tournament and how many hours you want to allocate to the event. Eighteen-hole tournaments typically require four to six hours on the course.

3. Work closely with the resort’s golf staff. They’ve seen what works for different groups and can offer plenty of options to make the event memorable.

4. Pick a tournament format that best suits the skills of your membership. A scramble format encourages socializing and enables players of every level to play and contribute, while a best-ball format is recommended for groups with more experienced and competitive players.

5. Create special challenges. Individual holes on the course can be set up with entertaining contests. For example, most courses can run competitions such as closest to the pin, longest drive and straightest drive, as well as putting contests that involve golfers and non-golfers alike.

6. Come to the table prepared. The golf staff will want to know the exact date and starting time of your tournament; the minimum number of players participating and their average skill level; your budget for cart and club rental, greens fees and food-and-beverage services; and what special contests and post-tournament events you want. As a planner, though, it’s not all on you; golf resorts covet group events and often throw in some incentives.

7. Reward players and sponsors. A useful rule of thumb is to allocate 10 percent of your total golf budget to prizes. And give good-quality prizes, not only to tournament winners but everyone who plays.

8. Line up a solid team of volunteers. You’ll need them on tournament day to manage sign-in tables, oversee contests on the course and hand out prizes and gifts afterwards. You’ll also need to designate captains for each foursome to keep the hole-by-hole score.

9. Celebrate. An awards ceremony or dinner at the conclusion of a tournament is an opportunity to thank volunteers, sponsors and especially your member players.

Kris Ruckle, golf and spa sales manager at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme, Michigan, echoed our planning advice. “Lock in the date, course and number of golfers at least six months out, and form strong committees to get the work done ahead of time,” she advised. “On the day of the event, make sure you have volunteers who can handle registration, witness contests on the course, take photographs and coordinate the awards ceremony.” Ruckle favors a four-person scramble format as a way to get the maximum number of people involved, and she suggested that a meeting planner stay in frequent contact with the resort staff three months ahead of the event.

The Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, set on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a great example of a full-service meetings and golf resort. It features 585 guest rooms and condominiums and 86,500 square feet of meeting space, and its three championship golf courses are served by a golf academy, which offers group clinics as tuneups for tournaments. Grand Traverse has twice hosted the National Governors Association Summer Meeting.

Terasa Rivera, director of conference services at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas, also had several suggestions about how associations can make golf a more successful part of a group business event. The premier golf and meetings resort offers a 309-room hotel and 27 meeting rooms, four golf courses, a golf academy and a welcoming staff.

If your association has lined up sponsors for the golf event, planners should work them closely to ensure they maximize the ROI of their sponsorship through proper promotions, Rivera said. Sponsorship signage is key, and “customized signage (including logos) on swag or giveaway items is even better,” she said, adding some recommendations for golfing gifts: sunscreen, golf balls, shirts or hats, all emblazoned with a sponsor’s logo. Planners who are too busy to handle this can leave it to the Omni resort staff, which has sources that can secure logo items for your tournament, Rivera said.

“Customizing food and beverage offerings is another way to make your tournament memorable,” Rivera said. In addition to the standard roving beverage cart, she suggested setting up three or four themed food stations on the course, like a street taco station, a coffee or espresso station or a sandwich station. “There’s a lot of interest in bringing out food trucks right now, but keep in mind it’s more difficult to station them on the course, and the fees are slightly higher,” she said.

Josh Silliman, director of golf at the Mauna Kea Golf Course on Hawaii Island’s Kohala Coast, advises meeting planners staging a golf tournament to pay attention to the details. “It’s the little things that count the most,” he said, “like the quality of the gifts you hand out, the signature cocktail stand you set up on the seventh hole or the longest putt contest you hold on the final par-3.”

Or the newest invention: With a fleet of 24 GolfBoards, described by Silliman as “land-based surfing,” the Mauna Kea has its eye on the latest wave of golf trends. The Segway-like, one-person, lithium battery–powered GolfBoard can cut playing time by 20 minutes or more for associations in a rush. At the very least, giving members a chance to ride the fairways on them will make the tournament the talk of the meeting.

The iconic Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and its sister hotel, the nearby Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, offer a combined 602 guest rooms and 150,000 square feet of meeting space. Each hotel has its own highly regarded championship golf course and PGA golf pros that can offer pre-tourney clinics.