COVER STORY: How Golf & Recreation Build Relationships

By Selena Chavis

S-1 *Meeting planners have long recognized the value of adding recreation and team-building components to meetings, conventions and social events. Getting out of the humdrum of daily business activity is often one of the most powerful tools for building relationships, both with internal staff and external clients.

For Jessie Chen, senior conference specialist with BMO Capital Markets Conferences, relationships are critical for retaining the organization’s customer base. “The type of transactions that we handle don’t happen every single day but our company needs to be on top of our clients’ minds when a need occurs,” she said. “Therefore, recreational activities mixed with regular business meetings help us build that special bond.”

Pinehurst Resort, aka “Home of Golf” in North Carolina

Eric Kuester, director of group sales with Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, suggested that it’s advantageous for corporate groups to arrange some team-building and recreation activities because it creates camaraderie and shows appreciation for their teams. “When those participants have a chance to get out of the office and do something in a different and fun environment, it allows for a different kind of growth and learning, and it creates lots of memories,” he explained. “Above all that, it’s a stress reliever. It’s hard for corporations to see tangible value but it does work.”

While traditional forms of team- and relationship-building activities such as golf, tennis and ropes courses remain an integral part of the recreation equation, resort and meeting destination professionals agree that groups are also demanding an expanded playing field. In fact, when the economy took a negative turn in the late 2000s, many golf resorts and meeting properties had to rethink their approaches to recreation, according to Heath Carter, regional vice president of sales and marketing of Coral Hospitality.

“Golf has been through an evolution. Several years back, before the recession, it was huge,” he said. “The recession hit and everyone started viewing golf as a luxury. What we are seeing over the last few years now is that golf is com- ing back.”

Kuester agreed, pointing out that as a prominent golf resort, Pinehurst had to “act pretty fast to rebrand” itself in 2008 and 2009 as an expanded recreation destination. The organization implemented a full-service recreation department that designs and produces unique experiences for groups.

Carter added that most groups are looking for new opportunities now. “We’re getting asked this every time we book a meeting, and they want something unique,” he emphasized.

Expanding The Opportunities

Meeting properties and destinations across the South are listening to groups and responding by raising the bar on recreation opportunities. In fact, most offer recreation expertise on their staff and can help groups design their own unique experiences.

Based in Naples, Fla., Coral Hospitality currently manages six state park properties throughout Georgia, including Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club, Little Ocmulgee State Park and Lodge, George T. Bagby State Park, Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa, Unicoi State Park and Lodge, and Amicalola State Park and Lodge. According to Carter, each of the properties offers a host of recreation opportunities as well as meeting facilities and guest rooms that can appeal to a variety of groups. In particular, Amicalola State Park and Lodge and Unicoi State Park and Lodge recently went through multi-million-dollar renovation efforts and were rebranded as adventure lodges.

“What we have found is that groups are looking for something more out of their recreation,” Carter said. “Our properties, specifically because they are in the outdoors, offer an advantageous backdrop for creating unique experiences. The adventure brand includes 8–10 adventure activities.”

Offerings range from traditional zip lining and high ropes to activities with a twist such as GPS scavenger hunts, 3D archery, fire-pit stories and guided waterfall hikes.

While championship golf is central to the Pinehurst experience, Kuester noted that the resort has established a full program outside of traditional recreation opportunities with many things “uniquely Pinehurst.” For instance, the Pinehurst Triathlon includes a putting challenge, tennis skill challenge and trivia challenge, and has proven to be a solid option for team building because it’s interactive, intergenerational and not overly strenuous.

Pinehurst has also established a solid relation- ship with the King Fisher Society, an organization that provides world-class bass fishing and hunting experiences for groups, as well as archery and skeet shooting. Groups have access to an on- site cabin where live music can be offered as well as cookouts around a fireplace and fire pits.

Kuester noted that the resort’s full-service recreation department offers a full flipbook of opportunities and has arranged opportunities such as pit crew challenges at the nearby Rockingham Speedway, historic geocaching team events and pottery tours in Seagrove. The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa in Point Clear, Ala., has been offering team-building activities for decades with its 36 holes of golf and 10 tennis courts, according to

Kevin Hellmich, vice president of sales for PCH Resorts. Responding to expectations for more unique offerings, the organization has put a different twist on golf, offering night golf with food stations and glow-in-the-dark golf balls, as well as FootGolf, a new offering that’s a combination of soccer and golf, introduced about six months ago.

The resort’s full-service recreation department also works with the culinary team to design food and beverage academy offerings, in which groups prepare their own meals. Other unique offerings include team boat building, in which final designs are tested in Mobile Bay, and historic scavenger hunts across the property.

Mixing Traditional With Non-Traditional

While groups will continue to expect more recreation offerings from destinations, meeting planners and suppliers agree that golf will remain a focal point of relationship-building. “It’s hard to avoid golf as a mechanism to build business relationships,” Kuester emphasized. “We try to market ourselves as more than golf, but Pine- hurst is the center of the golf universe right now. For B2B and networking, you can accomplish your goals so much better on a golf course.”

Carter agreed, adding that “we are seeing groups gravitate back to golf and take advantage of the face-to-face time it provides with all their attendees they have coming to conferences.”

Chen pointed out that by booking a world- renowned golf location such as Pinehurst and other top-of-class recreational activity providers such as King Fisher Society, BMO Capital Markets is able to blend traditional with new to “lure our clients in by offering a once-in-a-life- time experience.” Specifically, the organization recently hosted an industry conference at Pinehurst Resort featuring two half-days of one-on- one meetings and recreation activities.

“Our industry is highly competitive. Simply promising high-quality meetings to C-suite clients and top investors is not enough of a draw,” she said. “It was truly a great fit for companies like ours that want to enjoy the best of both worlds: recreation and business.”

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