Burgeoning Supply Helps Golf Mtg. Buyers Find Deals
Corporate meeting planners shopping around for golf sites will find a lot to choose from these days, as the number of new and improved golf courses continues to increase in resort destinations. At the same time, there are good values to be had, especially for events held during the middle of the week.
"All golf destinations have been seeing more golf course development, a lot of them not at resort hotels," said Eric Redd, president of Eric Redd's Golf Event Co. in Palm Desert, Calif. "A lot of resorts are feeling the pinch. Those with tired, older golf courses are investing heavily to bring them up to speed."
While Redd noted that greens fees, in contrast with room rates, have remained stable over the past year, he said that it has become increasingly important for buyers to look at such factors as scheduling times. "One big change is that the golf market, much like hotels, has grown more sophisticated about yield management," he said. "Golf courses will have very different price points, according to time of day, time of week and, most of all, season. It's especially true in resort destinations such as Arizona, Florida or Palm Springs."
No matter what time of year, it nearly always pays to steer clear of weekends. "Midweek is best, especially Monday," according to Tom Pasha, executive director of the Golf Event Managers Association in Orlando. "Monday is not only the best value day, it's usually when the course is in the best condition, as courses are usually groomed late Sunday or early Monday morning. Greens fees are less than on weekends, and you can negotiate for more extras, such as gift certificates for the pro shop. Another advantage is that many courses require a minimum of fewer players for tournaments held midweek."
The fact that buyers will find much better availability midweek is a factor as well. While Pasha noted that the leisure golf market is declining, he said demand for corporate golf tournaments and other events is up this year. "It's become more important to book early to get the course and dates you want," he said. "We're working months ahead in some cases."
Redd saw it similarly. "We've had a great year for corporate golf and expect next year to be just as good," he said. "The biggest change is that group size is getting bigger and people want more creative programs."
At the same time, however, the fact that many corporate meetings remain short in duration means that some golf events need to make efficient use of time. "With shorter meetings, a popular option has become the nine-hole tournament, rather than the full 18-hole event," said Jacqueline Beaudreau, golf sales marketing manager for the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa in Litchfield Park, Ariz. "In some cases, companies are opting for a putting or long-drive contest. It gives people a chance to get out and have some fun with golf, while not taking a whole day."
One of the most prominent growth areas in corporate golf is in client entertainment, according to Pasha. "Companies want to put their money where they will get the greatest return," he said. "We're seeing fewer golf events just for salespeople and more for salespeople and clients."
Andy Finn, senior vice president of sales at the Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, N.C., also observed this trend. "Customer entertainment is especially big right now—people really want to impress their clients," he said. "Along with this, customized golf equipment is really hot. We've done a lot of events lately where clients get fitted for high-end putters. After the meeting, they are sent a putter along with a letter from the company CEO."
Pinehurst is one among many top golf resorts that are making heavy investments in improving and updating their courses. The resort, which has seven golf courses, recently completed the renovation of its Tom Fazio-designed No. 6 Course, which included rebuilt and repositioned greens. The Pinehurst Resort also is enhancing and expanding its golf school facility and practice areas.
"Competition is really keen among high-end resorts now," said Pinehurst's Finn, alluding to such new golf resorts in the region as The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island. "We know we can't just rest on our laurels, so we continue to improve our product. The pressure is definitely on. We can't just rely on our repeat customers. We want to grow our business."
Also noting the trend toward resort course renovation is Scott Smith, a consultant who specializes in the resort hotel market for PKF Consulting in Atlanta. "We're partly seeing this because resorts have more capital now to invest in making capital improvements," he said. "Another reason is that older resorts, in order to stay competitive, need to do such things as adding a spa or improving their golf facilities," he said. "There are a lot of major golf improvements going on, including new clubhouses, practice facilities, golf course renovations. Everything has to be state-of-the-art."
Golf Event Managers Association's Pasha agreed, adding that a growing number of resorts and golf clubs want to have a "trophy course"—a prestigious course associated with a famous golf pro or designer that will attract elite players. "Even though golf pricing is stable for middling courses, the market for high-end golf, where greens fees start at $200, is very strong," he said.
Among projects underway is a $45 million renovation of the Indian Wells Golf Club located near Palm Springs in Indian Wells, Calif. The project includes the construction of a new clubhouse and the complete reconstruction of its two 18-hole golf courses, which serve four adjacent resort hotels, including the Hyatt Grand Champions and Renaissance Esmerelda.
Roger Behling, director of golf operations, said the Indian Wells Golf Club has no choice but to make major renovations given all the new golf course competition in the area. "Since we opened in 1986, everything has changed, including golf course architecture and the type of grasses," he said. "We know we've lost market share because we have aged."