by Andrea Doyle | November 27, 2018

In 2017, 23.8 million people played golf on a course -- approximately the same number as in 2016, according to the National Golf Foundation's latest Golf Industry Report. But of greater interest to incentive planners: The number of U.S. non-golfers who said they are now "very interested" in playing at a golf course hit a new high, 14.9 million.

In addition to full-blown golf outings, "golf-lite" activities are growing in popularity for groups. "Golf courses across the country are stepping away from the past and utilizing new tactics to encourage Millennial involvement," says Jim Stegall, executive vice president of KemperSports, which manages over 125 courses across the country. "Golf courses are changing rules in order to be more accommodating to younger customers, such as allowing music on golf courses and relaxing dress codes. Guests are bringing speakers, and golf apparel is much more colorful. Additionally, many courses are creating outdoor experiences such as building fire pits and installing permanent chairs, and tables and lighting on the driving range. More outdoor programs such as footgolf, frisbee golf, tennis courts, paddle courts and pickleball courts are being created to attract Millennials and appeal to the entire family."

Footgolf, a cross between golf and soccer, consists of players kicking off with a soccer ball and maneuvering it down fairways with the objective of getting the ball in a 21-inch-diameter hole in the fewest number of kicks.

For speed golf, a four- to six-hole course is also a popular alternative for groups, as are group clinics, glow-in-the-dark night golf and scrambles where each player tees off on each hole and the best of the tee shots is selected and all players take their second shots from there.

"Golf has still proven a popular activity on incentive programs when a sufficient number of the attendees are golfers and have the opportunity to play a high-quality course," says Luci Robinson, CIS, program manager, Brightspot Incentives & Events. "When the group is less interested in the game of golf or the destination doesn't offer a quality course, golf-lite activities are a recommended alternative."

She recently helped arrange a three-day golf event for a group of 20 executives at Whistling Straits near Kohler, Wis. The attendees played two rounds of golf, one round at the Straits Course at Whistling Straits and one round at the River Course at Blackwolf Run. What added to this incentive's allure is that Whistling Straits is hosting the 2020 Ryder Cup, a competition that takes place every two years between the top players from Europe and the United States. The group also participated in a skill clinic taught by the golf pro at Whistling Straits.


Scrambling for the Best

In a corporate outing, nearly all tournaments are scrambles. This format is great because it takes the pressure off the novice/first-time golfer.

Another way golf can be incorporated into a program is that vendors can set up on different holes, host contests and give gifts to clients. "This not only makes the organization and planner look great because the customers were able to attend a very fun event with many free giveaways, but it also can be a wonderful way for up to 18 different vendors to market, with a guaranteed five minutes of time to all of the attendees in a very enjoyable setting," says David Tyler, director of sales and marketing at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club in Florida. "Plus, incorporating a golf event into an incentive program is a great way to build long-lasting relationships, which is the goal of any program."


Golf in the Dark

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island, The Links at Terranea is an oceanfront golf course composed of nine championship-caliber par-3 holes, integrated with each other and the natural surroundings. The Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., course offers a number of elements that allow groups to enjoy a quick game of golf with ample time left in the day for meetings and other activities. Alternative golf options at Terranea Resort include not only footgolf but glow golf, which lets groups enjoy a glow-in-the-dark course and round of the sport overlooking the coastal setting at night, and the Full-Swing Golf Studio that offers a state-of-the-art Foresights Sports GC2 Golf Simulator, Launch Monitor and V1 Golf Video software to provide real-time statistics and help attendees perfect their swings.

A round of nighttime golf
is possible at Terranea Resort's
glow-in-the-dark course

Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, located only 20 minutes from downtown San Antonio, is another resort that provides interactive group golf activities at its Hill Country Golf Club, including traditional golf clinics and speed golf, Frisbee golf and more.

"Whether you're looking for a quick round of fast-paced speed golf or challenging your teammates to a variety of skills competitions, we have customizable options to fit the needs and preferences of any group or function," says Eric Claxton, director of golf at Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa.

Those looking to add an energetic twist to the traditional game can participate in a round of speed golf in which participants carry up to seven clubs while running the course to play nine or 18 holes as fast as possible. There is also Frisbee golf, where participants throw the beloved discs with the aim of landing them in a circled target on the course. The course also features glow-in-the-dark putt putt, in which participants follow glowing props and putt at each hole using glowing golf balls.

Attendees can also take part in "All Sport" golf in which each team receives a golf bag filled with a football, soccer ball, lacrosse stick and ball, a tennis racket and ball, and other pieces of sporting equipment. Participants can select which equipment they would like to "tee off" with and continue playing with that equipment until they reach the green. Once they make it to the green, team members will use a hockey stick to sink a golf ball into the hole.



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This article appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Incentive.