Golf Incentives 2.0

Golf Incentives 2.0

It seems during 2009, that no matter how hard you work to surpass your goals and provide excellent service to your customers, you face the prospect of not being recognized or encouraged to keep up the great work.

That’s some of the thinking these days when we read about corporate management, government bailouts and incentive travel in the news. We’re all well aware of the sensationalized AIG scandal and a droopy Dow. So corporations are wary of creating reward programs that consumers believe are undeserved or too elaborate. Today, responsibility and restraint are paramount, from both an ROI and PC standpoint.

So we asked around about the iconic Golf Incentive to revisit its value in today’s economic and political climate.

“We’re still seeing corporate incentives because companies absolutely have to motivate their exemplary employees, now more than ever,” says Patrick Sullivan, president of Site. “Today’s motivational programs are more what can be called “lifestyles,” where you’ll have golf and spa but also things like cooking classes and sailing. Lifestyle motivational opportunities are great because people like choices and learning new skills, and they’re affordable.

“Corporations need to create powerful emotional experiences,” continues Sullivan, “to show their appreciation for a job well done, and to encourage employees to exceed their goals in the future. Employees have to go away and say, WOW, that was an incredible experience for it to have the value to motivate.”

What about the golfing? Is it still as strong an incentive for top performers as ever?

“Yes, golf is still strong. People enjoy playing on golf courses they see in televised tournaments, and being outdoors in a pristine environment with their colleagues. Every golfer loves being in the first foursome of the day on a championship course…. You can organize lessons with a PGA pro, or put together fun golf games appropriate for all different skill levels. And it’s good for teambuilding by nature, you’re pairing up. Companies need their employees relaxing together in a stress-free environment and asking each other: Hey, how well are you selling in Japan?”

Christopher Perks is president of The Opus Group, a Miami-based company managing incentive programs and leadership summits worldwide. Perks was charged up the day after President Obama took office, after all the fancy midnight balls.

“This is a big deal,” he said, but Perks wasn’t speaking about geopolitics.

“If the US Inaugural accomplished anything, it showed that a chief officer’s goals were realized, and it was okay to celebrate the optimism. What he’s doing is motivating and energizing his constituents to commit to the project at hand. That’s what incentives and motivational rewards do. They get people on board and in sync with the company’s mission.”

Above all, Perks questions political correctness as a reason for pulling back on incentive travel. For one, he says hospitality tourism is the #1 industry in the Caribbean and coastal Mexico, and #2 in Florida.

“If we don’t do these programs because it’s not PC, then what are we accomplishing besides disrupting the economies of whole countries?” he asks. “Most importantly, we’re not creating a lot of new business. But certainly, anything frivolous is under the microscope today. Any type of event must be planned intelligently, prudently and with a business focus that’s traceable. It’s critical to be much more efficient and maximize resources.”

Perks says he accomplishes this with multi-passion travel. He does well booking resorts that “offer an array of amenities with options for golf for networking objectives, in the 4-star and above categories.” Wherever attendees go, The Opus Group includes unique, active and/or educational excursions. Choice and excitement, he says, are the priorities.

Successful leadership summits in the past have been based atEl Conquistador Resort, the Gran Melia Resort and Wyndham’s Rio Mar Beach Resort in Puerto Rico. All three have top-ranked golf courses in the Caribbean, and they’re all near El Yunque Rainforest—the only rainforest in the US Park Service. Perks offers three ways to explore it: ATV vehicles, hiking or horseback. That way, everyone can do their own thing and then meet for lunch by one of the waterfalls.

El Morro fortress in Old San Juan

There are also tours to El Morro fortress in Old San Juan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That’s followed with lunch at the elegantly restored, 17th century Hotel El Convento.

“With the fort and historic hotel together, we’re tying in the colonial heritage theme and giving a much broader view of the destination,” says Perks, “which is what it’s all about.”

Same goes in The Bahamas at The Westin Our Lucaya Resort, Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort and Atlantis, Paradise Island. On Grand Bahama Island, Our Lucaya’s Trent Jones Jr.-designed course is ranked in the top 100 globally, with 13 holes playing off the water. And in Paradise Island, the tony Ocean Club course at Atlantis is home to Michael Jordan’s Celebrity Invitational.

How about a race day at sea? At Atlantis, Sail Nassau operates two America’s Cup racing yachts once used by Team New Zealand. The two 25-member teams sailing the sleek 76-ft Kevlar boats must work together in unison to steer the complex machines around the buoys.

The next Opus Group managed event is the IRF 16th Annual Incentive Invitational at The Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage, May 13-17, benefiting the Incentive Research Foundation. Over 350 corporate decision makers from incentive management, hospitality and travel companies will participate in business networking events and research roundtables.

Following that, The Opus Group hosts its 9th Annual Leadership Summit in Riviera Maya, Mexico from Nov. 12-15. The event is for qualified MICE buyers and supplier organizations in the MICE market, interested in business networking and destination education.

For more info on the two programs, call 305.235.1077, email, and visit the Incentive Research Foundation website at

In Boca Raton and Palm Beach during the early 1900s, architect Addison Mizner was the celebrated hotel designer of the day. He combined open spaces prevalent in sunny destinations with romantic Spanish, Moorish and Venetian design motifs. The look is now bi-coastal.

“The Grand Del Mar sets a new standard for San Diego,” says chief architect Robert Altevers. “We exhaustively researched resort architecture throughout history and ultimately came up with Mizner.”

The romantic Old World charm strikes a resounding chord amid the cliffside setting encircling the 41,000-acre Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve. Inside the valley, the new Tom Fazio golf course is an absolute dream, showcasing varying elevations with clifftop oceanview vistas. For incentive attendees, that’s just the beginning.

“Our SAM PuttLab is the most advanced system to analyze putting in existence,” says Rob Stirling, director of sales/marketing. “And we offer customized individual golf instruction with PGA instructor Shawn Cox.”

How about non-golf events? We hear the food’s pretty good. The resort’s Addison Restaurant is the only 5-diamond eatery in town, and the sommelier hails from French Laundry.

“The days of simply planning a food and wine pairing meal and then a golf tournament the next day are over,” says Stirling. “We’ve gone to great lengths to improve our food and wine education programs.”

The Grand Del Mar’s Culinary Series offers groups customizable cooking classes like Strictly Stag, for men who want to whip up a romantic meal for the little lady. Say, a slow-roasted beef tenderloin with red wine jus, and warm chocolate cake with brandied cherries. Men are also taught wines to help “bridge” the meal. Also, The Grand Culinary Challenge is an Iron Chef-style event where teams prepare meals while sipping the good stuff at three stations: hors d’oeuvres, cheese/wine/charcuterie, and dessert.

For some groups a golf incentive is all about the golf. Lots of golf. These are the guys and girls with fitted clubs. They watch golf on TV, dress their babies in polo shirts, and dream about places like PGA National Resort & Spa, with five master-designed golf courses.

It gets better. The Palm Beach County resort just opened the PGA National Golf Academy with two of the game’s legendary instruction schools. For the first time ever, David Leadbetter and Dave Pelz have their operations under one roof. Leadbetter has coached Ernie Els and Greg Norman on their long game. Dave Pelz is recognized as the foremost authority on the short game, who tuned Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh’s approach shots. Lastly, PGA National just wrapped up a $65 million renovation.

“We took a classic and made it current,” says Joel Paige, vp & managing director. “Our legacy is golf but we’re about so much more. We approach this game from a golf and wellness perspective. Sure, you want to learn the golf technicalities, but you also want to improve your strength and posture. So besides world-class golf instruction, we have aerobic tai-chi at the health and racquet club. And there’s the spa, with 56 treatment rooms. We’re really the most comprehensive golf resort in South Florida.”

How about teambuilding events fun for all golfer skill levels? Paige recommends the 5 Courses on 5 Courses dine-around, at one hole on each course, which might also include putting contests, chair massages and tarot card reading. Buckets, Bunkers & Brew is a lighthearted sand trap competition. And everybody, he says, enjoys the golf cart polo on the driving range.

“You don’t have to be a PGA tour pro to play here,” says Paige. “Even if you don’t golf, the instructors make you feel comfortable gripping a golf club. That’s where it all starts.”

Just 20 minutes from the glam and glitter of downtown Las Vegas, the bucolic Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort is like a lakefront home—albeit with a 40,000-sf casino and recreated Tuscan village with its own Ponte Vecchio next door. Sidling along the lakeshore, the Reflection Bay golf course is the first in Nevada designed by Jack Nicklaus, who laid out five fairways along water while the rest of the holes traverse over rolling, desert mountain landscape. A lot of planners love the location, too, just outside the city.

“We’re far enough from the Las Vegas Strip to be productive and close enough for dinner,” says Jim Caul, director of marketing.

The 320-acre lake plays a big part in group activities, such as golf chipping contests from the shore to a floating green 100 feet out in the water. Non-golf events include fly fishing instruction followed by a couple hours of casting lines. It’s a catch/release program so the fish are pretty good size says Caul. Another favorite is the Far East-style dragon boat racing. Here, a group of 20 people sitting side by side, in up to six boats, race down the lake while a drummer at the bow sets the beat for the paddle stroke.

The Asian oeuvre continues indoors with Sushi & Sake Education, where groups learn what sake pairs best with what sushi. There’s also Sushi School taught by the resort’s master sushi chef, where attendees are provided aprons and manuals as they learn to roll the rice.

“Really the best thing for incentive groups is participants can have either a quaint and quiet time, or something totally adventurous and fun,” says Caul.

Driving in BERMUDA

Just 90 minutes from major East Coast gateways, the chain of islands known as Bermuda is more English than England. Civility and tradition are demanded, and style is not a matter of taste. So after much careful planning, the 88-suite Tucker’s Point Hotel & Spa opens April 1 around one of the most visually appealing golf courses to open in recent memory. The unveiling represents a bit of a resurgence on the island since it was 37 years ago when the last resort opened.

Showing marked changes in elevation, the winding golf course within the 200-acre estate commands attention over Castle Harbour and Harrington Sound, swooping up and around the lushly tended grounds and gardens. The Golf Club is perched at the summit of the course, where planners can host events on the sweeping verandah or inside the Clubhouse Grille Room, with views clear across the island.

“The vistas and scenery are definitely a wow,” says Ann Walker, director of marketing/sales. “That includes the rooms, which have a romantic cottage feel very indicative of Bermuda. All of them have magnificent terraces with expansive water views, which are really something. And the interiors were designed to make you feel like you’re entering a beautiful Bermuda residence.”

There are some serious boutique hotels in Bermuda. How will Tucker’s Point make a statement?

“While we are a boutique hotel with only 88 rooms, we’ve overbuilt the amenities of the resort,” explains Walker. And we’re the only resort on the island available for a buyout.”

Here’s the lineup: There are no less than four restaurants and four pools, a 12,000-sf spa and a full watersports center on the private pink beach. The 5,000-sf Conference Center takes care of small meetings, unless planners opt for the Venetian. This is pretty. The 100-ft yacht was exceedingly well designed for sophisticated reception-style soirees for up to 50 people. It can also scoop up guests for shopping jaunts into the colorful capital city of Hamilton.

Scheduled to open at the end of the year, The Westin Roco Ki Beach & Golf Resort sits on a seaside bluff, unusual for the typically flat landscape associated with Punta Cana. Presently, the golf course and club house restaurant and pro shop are open for business.

During a helicopter flyover, we fell hard for this course and the scalloped peninsula and bay. Fairways undulate through various elevations, from 90-ft high bluffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea, down through sawgrass flats and mangrove lagoons.

“The thing I like best about the course is that it takes in a variety of environments, and the headlands on the cliffs are really breathtaking places to golf,” says David Krech, director of sales/marketing. “It’s like a journey. You always wonder what’s coming up next.”

On the Dominican’s south coast in La Romana, Casa de Campo is the father of golf incentive travel on the island. The Teeth of the Dog ocean-skirting layout is ranked the best in the West Indies. Considered even better by some golfers, The Dye Fore course, high up on the riverside plateau, requires tee shots over gaping crevasses. Nothing in the Caribbean really compares to this dynamic duo of links for sheer drama.

Not that the neighbors aren’t trying. Back in Punta Cana, Cap Cana’s first of three Jack Nicklaus Signature courses is now open. The Punta Espada course features eight hotels directly on the water. Meanwhile, the new Moon Palace Casino, Golf & Spa Resort opens this month, with their Jack Nicklaus course opening in summer. So with 12 golf courses and counting, the eastern half of the Dominican Republic is establishing itself as a golfing goliath. No shortage of new hotels to book, either.

Opened in December, The Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real is an all-inclusive, all-suite private resort within a resort. The ground floor suites have their own front yard, with chaise lounges and a tiki daybed leading into the pool. There’s a jacuzzi on the verandah and another one inside, opening off the bedroom. The real stunner is the GABI Lounge, inspired by the swanky Nikki Beach concept in St. Barts, St. Tropez et al. Lots of bamboo daybeds, flowing curtains and built-in champagne pods around the pool, with neon strobe lights and Pussycat Dolls tunes emanating from the curvy bar overhead.

“These suites are the most impressive all-inclusive rooms in the Dominican Republic, without a doubt,” says Michel Albahari, sales/marketing director. “I think what planners should know is, due to our size and sense of exclusivity, an incentive group here feels like they own the place.”

Grand Velas All Suites & SPA Resort, Riviera Nayarit is one of only two fully all-inclusive, AAA 5-diamond resorts. Which is important when you’re trying to make everyone happy, including attendees, shareholders and procurement/purchasing people. With a luxury all-inclusive property, you’re delivering an opulent reward product while proving high value.

All 267 suites at Grand Velas are designed with a moddish vibe, with marble floors, plasma TVs, teak furnishings from Bali and original Mexican art. And all have ocean views.

Grand Velas All Suites & SPA Resort

The 5-diamond rating especially kicks in with the F&B. Nothing against Argentine/Chilean wines found at many all-inclusives, but the wine at the Italian Lucca restaurant is from Italy. Bottles served with the chateaubriand at Piaf are French. Even the Mexican restaurant serves Mexican vino. Also, chefs prepare food to order at each dinner station. Meaning, you’re watching your NY Strip being prepared in front of you, which is a deal starting at $300 pp nightly all-inclusive, off-season.

“People on an incentive trip need to be recognized and made to feel that they deserve the best, and we are the best,” says Margarita Guitron, director of sales/marketing.

Meanwhile, Riviera Nayarit just north of Puerto Vallarta is blossoming with golf. Presently, there are six courses with two of them five minutes from the resort, while the renowned Four Seasons Punta Mita course is only 20 minutes away.

Across the Sea of Cortez, the Los Cabos corridor is where good golfers go to die. No less than nine courses (all with ocean views) are presently operating, with another nine under construction. Why so much demand?

“There’s so much demand because we’re like Scottsdale on the beach,” asserts Ella Messerli, general manager at Marquis Los Cabos Beach, Spa, Golf & Casitas Resort. “We have this clean, dry and crispy desert air so there’s no humidity, and the ocean breezes help keep everything cool. This is a non-sweat destination and golfers looove that.”

What everyone also loves are the 28 oceanfront casitas with private plunge pools on the beach. The 1,600-sf accommodations have “bathrooms bigger than a bowling alley,” says Messerli. “They feel like a private villa, or 28 presidential suites, which is wonderful for an incentive group.”

Casita guests can walk right out their bedroom to board the 70-ft Novia Mia schooner for private cocktail receptions up to 40, elegant lunches or dinners, and snorkeling or sunset cruises. Built in Turkey, the classic wooden sailboat features air-conditioning and an open galley for serious dining at sea.

“The tours are very exclusive,” adds Messerli. “This isn’t your typical booze cruise thing.”

Of all the Caribbean islands, Jamaica possesses the most unique identity and culture from a global perspective. Jamaica moves to the beat of a different drummer, aka reggae, which Bob Marley’s producer once said feels like you’re dancing in glue. Visitors should try to pick up that rhythm, slow down, exhale deeply and feel their heart beat. That’s irie, and quintessentially Jamaican.

Jamaica is also one of the best, most underrated golf deals in the world. Montego Bay is the main gateway, and the legendary Half Moon estate is only 15 minutes away. The Robert Trent Jones Sr golf course meanders over rolling palm-fringed hills overlooking the Caribbean Sea, backdropped with misty mountain ridges. Inquire about the area’s Total Golf Experience package to include two neighboring, equally stellar golf courses on one master account: White Witch and Cinnamon Hill at The Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort, Rose Hall and Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa.

For group activities, Jamaican limbo parties, Dunn’s River Falls, and horseback riding on the beach are usually sure things. Our favorite is floating down Martha Brae River on bamboo rafts while the man standing up front—like a Venetian gondolier—poles through the gentle current. The resorts offer an event where groups can build them with the locals.

No less than 27 American Presidents have stayed at The Greenbrier, tucked away in the leafy mountains of West Virginia. They have a small cottage museum where groups can get to know the men a little better.

Grandeur is the selling point. Golf and staggering natural beauty are the closers. Gentility, too. Boys 10 and older are asked to wear a jacket and tie for dinner in the main dining room.

“You know, it’s funny but we played with the idea of relaxing the dress code in there years ago,” says Jerry Wayne, vp of sales/marketing. “And we were surprised when just about everyone said absolutely not. It’s a big part of our brand, with the violin and piano…. For those who don’t want that, we do have many other exceptional dining options.”

Wayne says the variety of golf product and scenery are what separates the golf at The Greenbrier, established in 1778. The Old White Course was built in 1914, designed with Scottish-style, “dragon’s teeth” mounds that guard the bunkers. Serious golfers fawn over the Nicklaus-designed Greenbrier course, which has played host to the Ryder Cup and LPGA Solheim Cup. Lastly, the Meadows course is the prettiest and most forgiving, inundated with rivers and lakes.

Then there are the 50+ non-golf activities at Greenbrier. Whitewater rafting is open through the April-November season, and the rapids get up to Class V in September when the dams are opened. Fly and trout fishing can be organized with guides for up to 75 people. And Wayne says, “Groups just rave about the off-road school where people drive Land Rovers upcountry through the rivers and forests.” He adds that many groups like to build multiple day programs incorporating different activities for an Olympic Decathalon-style teambuilding event.