Event managers are often expected to think up an innovative event solution for a client’s specific need or target audience. These days the solution is quite likely to be a business-to-business – or B2B – golf day, structured to provide a platform off which a company’s staff can entertain customers and clients, and engage with them.
You can be as creative as you like about planning one of these occasions, but there a few basic rules that always need to be followed if a golf event is going to be successful. And it’s the guests who will decide whether it was, in fact, a success. They will do so according to three basic criteria: the format of the day, the quality of the gift pack and prizes, and the venue.
Of these the format is probably the key. If the competition scoring format is wrong for the handicap levels involved, or is insensitive to less proficient players, or if the field is too big, then you are likely to have one of those days where a six-hour round is the average. This in all probability will be followed by an interminable prize-giving at which the host company’s MD is a distant and unrecognisable speck at the end of the room, and by the time he or she has finished speaking, many players will have fallen asleep, face down, onto a plate of congealed Chicken à la King.
Don’t be afraid to be innovative, and be led in this by your event management company, but get the basic elements right from the outset.
Choose a suitable playing and scoring format. Team events (either better ball or four-ball alliance) are always popular – and never use medals as the scoring format.
Make every player a winner before they have even teed off with a good-quality gift pack, and brand it discreetly. It still amazes me how many companies think that their clients are going to want to walk around in golf shirt which looks like a billboard! Keep the number of prizes down, but make them of really good value.
Finally, choose a venue that suits your brand, company image and needs, And it must match the players’ abilities. The Gary Player Country Club is a brilliant test of golf, but not necessarily for the average corporate golfer who plays three of four games a year, especially if you want him or her to actually make it back to the clubhouse at the end of the day.
I can offer a specific example. In the 2000s Leon de Klerk, the head of SABC Radio’s business development section, requested me to design an event series which would enable his department to market its radio product to clients in the SABC’s various regions. As part of this initiative, Leon also saw a sports development opportunity through which the SABC could introduce golf to the relatively new black South African management staff with various key clients and target customers.
The first requirement was to create a programme that could accommodate golfers of various ability levels, from the complete novice to the established player. The second requirement was to ensure that Leon’s team had the environment and the numbers of guests that would allow them to engage and interact effectively. And for this kind of event, size really does matter! Overly large fields, unsuitable programmes and unwieldy formats make it impossible to generate meaningful personal contact with guests. If it’s about personal contact, then let me ask you: if you want to feel special and singled out, would you prefer to be invited to a dinner for twelve people or one for two hundred?
Another related question: what is the optimum number of people attending any event that will provide your company and staff with the ideal opportunity to make meaningful contact with all of them? Many companies are tempted to invite too many people to an event or function because they are scared of leaving people out.
When faced with the numbers problem, I recommend a number of smaller events rather than a single big one. The increase in logistical costs is more than offset by the quality of contact and the return on investment that can be gained from a smaller event, which has an exclusive feel and makes every guest feel special. The result of our discussions with the SABC was the National Golf Academy Series which was run in South Africa’s nine provinces. In very simple terms this was a tweaked version of a coaching programme that I had been running since the mid 1980s.
It offered a dual schedule: all the invitees met as a group as they checked in. Then the established players attended a master class hosted by the head pro or head coach at the venue, after which they went on course in a pro-am format and played eighteen holes.
The novices’ programme provided an introduction to the game of golf, with three sections to cover the full swing, short game and putting. When this was completed the group was then taken onto the course for a couple of holes with the coaches in several groups to see first-hand what a golf course actually looked like from a player’s perspective.
The SABC’s staff were spread across the groups, and by about 17:30 both of the programmes had been completed and the two groups joined for the evening function, prize-giving and presentations. The formal proceedings were followed by the one-on-one networking that makes this type of event and golf in general so successful as a business tool.
After the event, each player received a swing analysis on a branded USB stick, the delivery of which provided the SABC staff in the region with another reason to go and meet with the guests.
The success of any programme really rests on the returns that the host company generates from the initiative. As far as the effectiveness of the SABC Golf Academy Series is concerned, let’s give the final word to Leon de Klerk:
“The effectiveness of the teaching programmes and event platforms that John created for me during our National Academy Series in 2005 certainly contributed to the financial success achieved by my business unit for that financial year.”
John Cockayne, Golf Editor Estate Living, CEO Business of Golf