Across the South, the weather is warm, many COVID-19 restrictions have been lightened or altogether lifted, and in-person events are finally returning.
Many organizers are flocking to outdoor venues to host their next event. Luckily, there are iconic resorts all across the region offering not only beautiful, sprawling outdoor spaces for such an occasion, but also unique ideas for bringing the event together.
Break out of the old
Vineyards and patios are a fresh alternative to standard indoor meeting rooms. Spanning 3,500 acres of rolling hills and wooded forests, north Georgia’s Chateau Elan boasts approximately 20,000 square feet of outdoor event space, each area somehow more beautiful than the next.
There’s the Rose Garden, which offers approximately 2,100 square feet of space and can host up to 175 guests. The Chateau Courtyard is a luscious double lawn that accommodates up to 300 guests, situated in front of the 16th-century-style French chateau. Then there’s the vineyards themselves.
“We have a huge section of vineyards, including three different quadrants,” said Chateau Elan’s Drew Mailloux. “The vineyards can be used in so many different ways, whether it’s hosting the actual meeting or breakouts or simply overlooking the vineyards from the main estate. That’s another benefit: these spaces are close together, so you can move from the Rose Garden to the Courtyard to the vineyards easily.”
The winery pavilion and its indoor/outdoor space is often utilized for meetings and events, not only because of its walls lined with antiqued oak barrels, but also because of its ability to raise its garage door-like panels to create an open-air environment.
“It’s an incredibly unique setting with all of the personality and charm that you could possibly imagine,” Mailloux added. “It’s much more memorable than sitting in the typical meeting room or ballroom.”
Socially distant entertainment
Hosting outdoor meetings and events is nothing new for the Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa in Point Clear, Ala. The resort boasts a picturesque backdrop that necessitates little, if any, décor, and the spacious alfresco setting also provides an overabundance of outdoor lawn space on which to set up entertainment.
“Our lawns really let people spread out, and we’ve got great lawn games, such as corn hole, that people can enjoy while being socially distant,” said Ann Penebad, the Grand’s director of event management and catering.
In addition to lawn games, Fripp Island Resort tries to incorporate additional outdoor options to group events to create little pockets of entertainment for guests to enjoy.
“Offerings like fire pits and bonfires make an outdoor event more appealing to more types of people,” added resort services director Glenn Byron. “It’s better to have multiple ways for guests to be entertained. That usually makes the event better attended because it will appeal to more people.”
Another sought-after entertainment option the Grand has managed to keep relevant is craft cocktail and food demonstrations. The resort offers a variety of classes each month, and groups can work with the resort to customize a special session for their group.
“A food or beverage demonstration is a great way to provide a unique and memorable experience for guests,” said Penebad. “Everything can be set up to keep them socially distanced, and it’s something fun and memorable that they can talk about for years to come.”
Go green or go home
Fripp Island Resort primarily offers outdoor event space, and the South Carolina resort is always looking for new ways to utilize their square footage. As more people have opted for outdoor events since the pandemic began, the resort has offered up a new, beautifully landscaped green space for events: its 18-hole golf course, Ocean Creek Golf Course. The cart tents are being converted to event space, and the fairways and even driving ranges are being used as well.
“People want to be outside, and the golf course is a beautiful space,” said Kathy Kluttz, Fripp Island Resort’s director of organizational development. “It not only helps keep everything socially distanced, but it’s different and fun.”
Reach new (meeting) heights
Other resorts are looking for higher ground. Massanutten Resort, a 6,000-acre venue in the mountains of Virginia, has been conducting socially distanced group events on its ski slopes and even recently added the Mid-Mountain Grill about halfway up the slopes. Plans are in the works to add a veranda to accommodate outdoor events at the very top of the peak, with a big focus on weddings.
“We also take advantage of the pavilions on property to host group events, including our western slope, where there are more than 1,000 acres to explore and hiking and biking trails throughout,” said resort marketing manager Morgan Mowbray.
Take it to the big screen
Projection screens have always had their place in meetings and events, but some resorts are finding ways to put the fun in their functionality. In fact, the resorts are finding ways to include the screens as more of an entertainment option than a meeting resource. Chateau Elan offers groups 72-foot screens that can be hung from the side of the building, typically around sunset, to project videos or presentations for the group.
Fripp Island Resort also offers a large screen for groups to use while floating in the pool.
“The screen can be viewed from both sides, even in the daylight,” explained Kluttz. “It’s portable and has its own speaker system, so it can basically go anywhere. We can even have someone walking around taking photos during the event, and then project photos to the screen to entertain the guests.”
Paige Townley is a lifelong Southerner and freelance journalist based in Birmingham, Alabama. For the past 15-plus years, she’s been writing on a variety of topics and loving every minute of it. When not weaving her latest story, she’s usually spending time with her two little girls or chasing around their French bulldog.