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by Sarah J.F. Braley | July 01, 2010

The good news is that people are starting to play again. "The business definitely has started coming up," says Ryan Thomas, head golf professional at the ChampionsGate Golf Club in Orlando, available to guests at the 732-room Omni Orlando Resort. Not surprisingly, though, groups tend to be smaller, and planners are being exceedingly careful about retaining the glamour of the game on conservative budgets. Here's what they told us.

Dollar wise The cost to put on a golf outing doesn't change much year-to-year, no matter what is happening with the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

"In the nonprofit world, planners all want to skimp," notes John Parker, president of Parker Golf Enterprises in Roswell, Ga. But the problem with trying to cut corners, he adds, is the risk of undercutting the event's cachet, and players might not come back the next year.

One way to add pizazz -- and give golfers the illusion that the host is shelling out for it -- is to have contests with high-end prizes. Offering a hole-in-one competition, for example, with a car going to any player who hits the magic shot, essentially costs the event organizer the price of hole-in-one insurance. As administered by one major supplier, US Hole-In-One, the cost of such insurance is based on the number of participating golfers, the distance of the par-3 hole chosen for the competition and the value of the prize. For example, running a contest to win a BMW during a tournament with 72 amateurs playing a 165-yard hole typically costs less than $500 via US Hole-In-One.

Looking for a layout Even with tight budgets, downgrading the course to save money is frowned upon by golf experts. "The course is such a drawing card for tournaments," according to Pam Hamilton, president of Denver-based EventOvations, a third-party tournament planner. "Clients still are going to the more elite and private courses for the higher-end event."

Parker asks clients to look at this choice from the player's perspective. "If I'm not going to get all the goodies and play a nice golf course and have a nice meal, I'm probably going to play another tournament," he says.

Hamilton has found some clubs are willing to bargain a bit, and she has had occasional success negotiating multiyear contracts for events that agree to use the same course more than once. But old rules of thumb still stand, similar to nongolf meetings: If the tournament has a history of bringing in a healthy number of golfers, the pricing will be more favorable than for a first-time event.