by By Hunter R. Slaton | January 01, 2009

TPC ScottsdaleEric Redd isn't nervous anymore. "Last January, I was scared to death of what might happen," admits the PGA professional and president of Eric Redd's Golf Event Co., based in Palm Desert, Calif., "and now we're actually up for the year. We've seen people spend less, but we haven't seen many events fizzle out because of the economy."

Lori Burton, an incentives manager for Woodstock, Ga.-based GamePlan Financial, supports this assessment. Burton, who plans three golf-focused incentive trips every year, says she has not had to cancel any events. However, "we have been directed to scale back," she says. "We're not doing international events now."

For planners, some softness in the market means golf courses feeling the pinch might be more willing to negotiate to secure group business. In fact, courses might be even more flexible than hotels. As Redd puts it, "The rap to the hotels is, 'Have you guys seen the economy? What's up with this room rate?' And they will give you the song and dance, because they're trying as hard as they can to hold the rate."

Not so for golf courses, which "have been very accommodating and tried very hard to reduce their rates to assist," Redd says. "They've been lenient with their cancellation and attrition clauses, and willing to negotiate up to some point."

What follows are front-line reports from key players in the group-golf business, along with pointers for those with golf events to arrange.

Who you know
"The relationship between meeting planner and golf course is even more important now," says Charles Kingsbaker, regional director of sales and marketing for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Troon Golf, which manages 200 courses worldwide. "The planner's clients are always looking for more bang for their buck. If the planner has confidence in the course, there is more trust there from the standpoint of, 'I know I'm going to take my business to this golf provider.' 
"The golf courses also realize that if they provide a real high-quality experience, their relationship with the planner is going to improve," Kingsbaker adds.

The overall hope is, once the economy pulls out of its decline, planners will remember which golf courses went the extra mile when times were rough -- and repay them with future business.

Money back
In Walt Disney World, "We definitely have seen people starting to back off" from golf events, says Steve Harker, manager of golf sales and performance for Lake Buena Vista, Fla.-based Disney Group Golf Sales. "We haven't had any of our golf events cancel yet, but we are expecting it could happen."

In response, Disney is dangling a few incentives to try to keep that business on the books. "Some courses will provide some golf and rooms to groups that bring a certain number of people," Harker notes. "A couple offer a straight 5 percent of the total golf bill back to the meeting planner either as a payment or as credit."