Everyone's Game

Planning a golf event for players of all skill levels

The Meadows at the Greenbrier

Long and short tees:
The Meadows at
the Greenbrier,
White Sulphur Springs,

For people who don’t play the game, joining up with the golfers in their midst can seem like trying to get into the popular clique in high school. Players have that golf look, they carry cool gadgets, they know all the game’s esoteric etiquette and rules, and, well, they know how to swing a club.

It’s a pretty intimidating scenario for someone who wants to learn the game, yet golf often is the only formal recreation offered during a meeting. Plus, attendees who don’t play can miss out on some great networking opportunities. So how does a planner make beginning golfers feel welcome out on the course? The following will help you set up an event that coddles the neophytes without ruining the day for the “pros.”

Group dynamics

Just following a directive to bring more attendees into the golf fold does not necessarily mean you should open up a long-standing event to people who have never held a club.

The key is understanding what your players expect to get from your outing and what kind of tone has been set in the past. For the neophyte, you have to make the day all about fun. If yours is a serious event, where the competition is fierce, beginners will be lost. You should consider planning a side event to introduce them to the game (see “Separate but Equal,” next page).

Too many nerves come into play for the new golfer who becomes part of such an outing, where the scoring is the focal point. “The first thing is to take as much pressure off them as you can,” says Dave Bisbee, director of instruction for Seven Canyons Golf Club in Sedona, Ariz., and director of the eGolf Group, which focuses on executive development. You have to make the day fun for all the participants, he adds.

On course

Where the golf outing will be held can make or break a beginner’s desire to join in. Once you’ve narrowed your venue search, talk to the director of golf at each course. Describe fully the makeup of your group -- how many beginners, intermediates and experienced players will be participating -- to help the pro determine if his course is a match for your golfers.

When your players are a real mix, a layout like the Meadows at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., is ideal. “The golf course was remodeled in 1999 by Robert Cupp,” says head pro Hill Herrick. The architect took the shortest of the resort’s three layouts, formerly the Lakeside Course, and lengthened it. “Now it’s the longest course from the back tees, so good players have a challenge, but it’s still the shortest for beginners [from the front tees],” Herrick says.

Other elements that make the gently rolling Meadows user-friendly include wide fairways that allow balls to roll, shallow bunkers that are relatively easy to get out of and large greens that aren’t hard to reach. “There is some water,” Herrick notes, “but you’re not going to lose balls if you miss the fairway, and it’s not going to take you eight shots to get in the hole from around the green.”

And there are only a few “forced carries,” where players have to hit the ball over an obstacle -- typically a pond, a ravine or a sandy waste area. One of the hardest things to do consistently in golf is get the ball in the air. Beginners do best where their misses roll for a while and they can feel like they’re moving forward, even if they make imperfect swings.

“You want some forgiveness to the golf course,” says Bisbee. “It’s a better way to accommodate everybody.”

One way to do a quick comparison of golf layouts, according to Bisbee, is to find out their slope ratings and course ratings. Without going into a detailed description of the process chapters of the United States Golf Association go through to produce these numbers, suffice it to say that the lower both numbers are, the easier the layout.

Each course is rated separately from each set of tees. For instance, Herrick’s remark that the Greenbrier Meadows’ layout is both challenging for experienced players and forgiving for beginners is borne out by looking at the course as well as its slope ratings: From the gold tees (also known as the back tees, which are farthest from the hole), the course rating is 72.8 and the slope is 129, numbers that indicate a fairly difficult course. From the red tees (also known as the front tees, which are closest to the hole), the course rating is 68.2 and the slope is 114, indicating a pretty easy layout.

If you’re wary of putting experienced golfers and neophytes together, book a multicourse resort like the 803-room Greenbrier (www.greenbrier.com), using a difficult layout for the experienced golfers and arranging an outing on the easier one for those who want the less competitive atmosphere. (The venerable resort, opened in 1778, has three courses.)

Following are some other properties with several options to choose from, where the ratings also are favorable.

The Cascades Course at the Homestead
Elegant and egalitarian:
The Cascades Course at
The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.

The Homestead (www.thehomestead.com) in Hot Springs, Va., offers the Cascades, Lower Cascades and Old courses. Here, as at the Greenbrier, Southern elegance from the 19th and 20th centuries mingles with modern-day luxury. The 15,000-acre resort offers 506 rooms and 72,000 square feet of meeting space.

Mystic Rock at the Nemacolin
Welcoming greens:
The Mystic Rock layout
at the Nemacolin in
Farmington, Pa.

The Mystic Rock and Links courses anchor the recreation at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (www.nemacolin.com) in Farmington, Pa. The property has three hotels and an inventory of condos and homes for rent. Its function space includes four ballrooms, a 200-seat lecture hall and 25 meeting rooms.

Teaching women to play is the specialty at Pine Needles and Mid Pines golf clubs in Southern Pines, N.C. (www.pineneedles-midpines.com). The two layouts are served by two golf-outing-sized hotels: the 110-room Mid Pines Inn and the 72-room Pine Needles Lodge.

Tradition course at Treetops
Northern links:
The Tradition Course
at Treetops

At Treetops Resort in Treetops Village, Mich. (www.treetops.com), the Masterpiece, Premier, Signature and Tradition courses welcome golfers of all abilities. The 238-room property also offers a nine-hole, par-three course where experienced players can practice their short games and beginners can find out how it feels to get off the driving range and onto the fairways.


Wet, wild: Disney’s
Magnolia course, Orlando

Another enclave with several championship layouts and a short course is Walt Disney World Resort (disneyworld.disney.go.com) in Orlando, with five full courses and a nine-hole junior layout called Oak Trail. Choosing where to stay is the hard part. Five of the hotels that have use of the courses are the 372-room Disney’s BoardWalk Resort, with 20,000 square feet of meeting space; Disney’s Contemporary Resort, with 1,008 rooms and 115,000 square feet of function space; the 1,912-room Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, with 220,000 square feet of meeting space; Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, featuring 867 rooms and 40,000 square feet of function space; and Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort, offering 1,197 rooms and 73,000 square feet of meeting space.

Barton Creek’s Crenshaw Course

Barton Creek’s
Crenshaw Course

"Golf is not necessarily related to how coordinated you are; it’s a series of skills that are learned,” says Jack Bickart at the 300-room, four-course Barton Creek Resort and Spa (www.bartoncreek.com) in Austin, Texas, where he has helped groups set up outings that separate out the beginners and immerse them in learning the game.

One option is to keep new golfers on the driving range, with several pros teaching them how to swing, or have them play only nine holes on their own instead of all 18, says Bickart, Barton Creek’s vice president of sales. To spur competition, conduct a chipping-and-putting contest in the short-game area, which also gives newbies a feel for working around the green.

Planners can run a Golf 101 program at the 56-room Lodge and Spa at Cordillera (cordillera.rockresorts.com) in Vail Valley, Colo., which offers three championship links and a nine-hole short course. Similarly, the two-course Wild Dunes Resort (www.wilddunes.com) in Isle of Palms, S.C., offers the Discover Golf clinic. Players stay at the 93-room Boardwalk Inn and in 365 villas and homes.

Another idea: Bring beginners to the resort a day early, a ploy used with a group of attorneys by Dave Bisbee, director of instruction at Seven Canyons Golf Club in Sedona, Ariz. -- S.B.

Putting fun into play

Sometimes mixing beginners with seasoned players is the right thing to do. Charity events, team-building tournaments and client outings easily can be designed so everyone out on the course has a good time.

“You have to come up with a format that doesn’t put the newbie in a position to fail and have his ego bruised,” says Bisbee, whose club, Seven Canyons, services the 220-room Enchantment Resort and 77-room Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa.

Shambles and scrambles are the most popular scoring methods for groups where the talent ranges from good to bad. In a shamble, all players in the foursome tee off, and then everyone plays from the spot of the best shot, finishing out the hole with their own ball and recording each score. For tournament purposes, you can either enter a number for the team using an average for each hole, the best score for each hole or adding up everyone’s scores for an aggregate total. “People can still play the course, but they don’t get left behind,” says Roger Caldwell, president of Great Golf Events in Mission, Kan.

In a scramble, as with a shamble, each player in the foursome tees off on every hole, then everyone plays their second shot from where the best drive landed. Unlike a shamble, however, this process is repeated until the hole is completed; for example, once all four balls are on the green, the golfers all putt from the spot of the one that landed closest to the cup.

But it’s the interesting variations on these formats that really can add enjoyment to the day. “You can play a string-and-scissors event,” says Steve Harker, manager, golf sales and performance, at Walt Disney World. Each team gets about 50 feet of string and a pair of scissors, Harker explains. They can use lengths of string to move the ball and save as many shots as they can, until all 50 feet are used up. “It’s a lot of fun to watch people debate over it,” he notes. Many charity events collect extra donations by selling a few “mulligans,” or “do-overs” to use when players botch a shot.

For groups interested in getting more women out on the course, Harker suggests holding a Three Kings and a Queen or Three Jacks and a Jill event: “This makes the men go hunting for a woman to join them, and quite often it turns out that she’s a beginner,” he says.

Another way to lighten up the day is to challenge everyone to hit trick shots. “We’ve done events where everyone had to hit a gag shot at each hole,” says Herrick, a 23-year veteran of the Greenbrier. “On one hole you might putt a tennis ball; on another, you might get a throw; you might have to hit left-handed; you might have to hit off your knees.”

Bisbee likes setting up what he calls a step-aside scramble, where the person whose shot you use has to skip a turn on the next shot; their ball can’t be used twice in a row. “If you have a strong player,” he says, “you only can use his ball every other shot, but there’s no pressure on the beginner.”

To involve new players in a way that doesn’t slow down the entire group, Disney’s Harker also suggests having them play from the 150-yard markers instead of playing the full length of the course. This way, they still get to ride with the better players and experience the full golf day.

Another option is to tell beginners that during the tournament they will be putting from a spot marked beforehand on each green. “If the team gets to the green in four shots, but the beginner holes out in three putts, that’s the score that is recorded for the team,” says Harker. “If they hole out in one, we’ll even give them one of our hole-in-one plaques. That’s a great way to engage the beginners.”

Paired up

While attempting to mix and match your players can be quite a challenge, especially if your group’s abilities run the gamut, it’s best to take the time to arrange fair pairings. The head pro or director of golf can help you manage this task.

Usually, golf events work best when every foursome is made up of that mix of abilities. When people are allowed to form their own foursomes -- which, particularly when clients are involved, can be unavoidable -- good players tend to choose each other, leaving the beginners to scramble around the course together, possibly slowing down the rest of the group.

Using a handicap system with a scramble puts golfers of all levels on an even playing field and ensures the more inexperienced players will get the opportunity to contribute to the team’s final score.

“We’ll really work with the meeting planner on their pairings to make sure each team is made up of several skill levels,” says Harker.

As a way to find out everyone’s handicap, ask for the information up front right on the registration form, and include a place for beginners to indicate that they have no rating yet. Foursomes made up of an A, B, C and D player should be finalized several days before the outing.

The welcome mat

Once all of the elements firmly are in place -- the date, the course, the format -- it’s time to invite the participants. The way to get beginners to join in is to emphasize how you have thought of them in the planning.

Talk about how much fun the day will be, underscoring that the format will allow neophytes to contribute. Describe the course and how playable it is for golfers of all levels. Reassure them that good rental clubs will be provided for those in need.

“Make sure you say beginners are welcome,” says Disney’s Harker. “Assure them there will be no formal scoring, and explain how the format works and that everyone will get a chance to hit.”

Also, you can play up the business advantages of learning golf. If you’ve
set up a special clinic or separate event for those just learning to play, for example, highlight it so the information doesn’t get lost in an invitation that
also is geared for the experienced player, who will be signing up for a more traditional outing.

Golf Gifts For Beginners

Shortcut to Golf RulesCheat sheet. Give beginners a dogleg up on the game and the fine points of its etiquette by handing out Shortcut to Golf Rules ($9.95), a concise summary of official rules 1 through 28 and easily packable in any golf bag. www.shortcutbooks.com

Golf for DummiesBuy the book. The new edition of Golf for Dummies, by CBS golf analyst Gary McCord ($21.99), is a quick, easy and fun look at the game. Here are swing tips, advice for playing with the boss, information on golf workouts and more -- a good read even if you’ve evolved beyond “dummy” status. www.dummies.com

Welcome to the club. To neophytes who get jazzed by the game, give the first club in their bag: a putter. A hot one to try is the Heavy Putter from Boccieri Golf, available for $199. (800) 546-2952; www.heavyputter.com

FootJoy shoeShoe business. Golfers spend a lot of time walking, so set a beginner off on the right foot with a great pair of shoes. FootJoy, a leading golf-shoe brand, offers custom-made footwear, allowing buyers to choose the style, size, width and color combination. Personalize a pair with up to six characters or a logo. Costs range from $140 to $190; shipping is free. www.footjoy.com  -- S.B.