PINEHURST, N.C. – Heading into 2020, golf resorts throughout the U.S. were feeling bullish about group business.
A category once left for dead after the Great Recession—the golf-tinged corporate meeting—was back with a vengeance.
Amid the Loblolly Pines of North Carolina’s Sandhills, Pinehurst Resort was among those properties seeing a significant uptick in meetings-driven golf outings. With recent renovations, updates, and additions to its event spaces, and a new pavilion debuting at Lake Pinehurst, 2020 had the makings of another year of big groups enjoying big moments.
However, the obvious impact of the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.
When several corporate and association clients canceled large fall gatherings, the resort’s group meetings and events team was empathetic, as of course, personal safety and well-being were the most important considerations on everyone’s mind.
Once the initial pandemic shockwave was over, the team discovered many key clients did not want to completely cancel their experience and were keen on creative solutions.
“We wanted to help them in any way we could,” said Pinehurst Resort president of sales and marketing Eric Kuester. “Many of our business clientele wanted to repurpose those dollars and, working together, we curated smaller, responsible experiences for those wanting to travel.”
Even before onset of COVID-19, the resort specialized in meetings of 10 to 15 people per group, according to Kuester.
“When you couple this trend with the 18 different outdoor options we can offer for meetings, Pinehurst is not just adapting to a new convention climate, we are creatively customizing experiences serving the needs of our guests while emphasizing safety first,” added Kuester.
Historically, time spent on the golf course was key for driving business relationships. During the pandemic, it also emerged as one of the safest recreation pursuits with many states labeling courses as ‘essential businesses.’
With the game’s storied past merging with the new normal, golf outings are squarely back on the radar of meeting planners coast-to-coast.
At Pinehurst Resort—featuring 10 courses—the ‘royal and ancient’ game of golf is now a leading edge offering for socially distanced team building. With its unique short-course, The Cradle, and 18-hole putting course, Thistle Dhu, being a ‘golfer,’ per se, is no longer a requirement for participation.
“For the foreseeable future we are targeting smaller groups from within a reasonable drive radius,” Kuester says. “We are fortunate to have a large percentage of the East Coast’s population and dozens of Fortune 500 companies within a day’s drive of Pinehurst. Online meetings have their place, but there is no substitute for the surge of excitement you get from being somewhere and the productivity that results from in-person synergy.”