It boils down to experience. The South has always placed a priority on slowing down and enjoying the moment. That’s especially true when you’re being swaddled in scented balms redolent of indigenous minerals freshly compounded in a luxurious spa. Or playing a game of golf on lush courses rimmed with Spanish moss-draped oak trees where of legendary professionals have passed through before. Southern hoteliers recognize that fair skies, lovely landscaping and off-season rates are no longer enough to attract corporate business. Today’s smart Southern hotelier arouses interest with experiences unique to the glories of the region.
THE SPA AT CHARLESTON PLACE
When the director of The Spa at Charleston Place says her Charleston, SC sanctuary takes facials and massages to another level, Annette Sandford-Lopez isn’t just talking about two new signature treatments. A banking client recently needed 900 treatments done over a 3-day period.
“Instead of scheduling appointments in The Spa’s 10 treatment rooms, we converted one of the hotel’s guest room corridors into mini-massage suites and relaxation rooms, themed as a Winter Wonderland,” she says. “It was beautiful.” With the assistance of other Charleston area professional massage therapists brought in, everyone was treated. The creative program of thinking “outside the spa” will be repeated in May, when another client wants 75 conference attendees to receive treatments within a 3-hour window.
Typically, The Spa caters to groups up to 60, but Sandford-Lopez says, “We’re seeing more groups choose massages. With the economy improving, I think attendees’ requests for massages will increase.”
In response, two 50-minute signature treatments were created. Top-to-Toe incorporates warm stones along targeted spots with fragrant Moroccan Oil. For 25 minutes, the oil is massaged into the scalp, neck and shoulders, followed by 25 minutes of foot reflexology. The Ultimate Bliss Spa Treatment requires two therapists working simultaneously on massaging the neck, scalp and feet with the Moroccan Oil. Sandford-Lopez says, “Everyone who has it says it’s incredible.”
There are eight numbered golf courses at Pinehurst Resort, although the one most important to serious golfers is Course #2, where the US Men’s Open returns in 2014. And for corporate guests who don’t play golf, the resort located in the sand hills of North Carolina has built a 31,500-sf spa and a slew of fun group challenges.
Pinehurst hosts events for 600, but the average executive group usually falls between 125 and 250. New programs include redesigning the practice facilities at the historic Main Clubhouse, including the 18-hole Thistle Dhu putting course.
“Anyone can play Thistle Dhu,” says Jack Bickart, vp of sales. Thistle Dhu takes about an hour, can accommodate about 75 and is often used immediately preceding or after a cocktail reception. “Planners use it for teambuilding, strategizing who’ll be on which team.” Sliders and customized cocktails are on the menu for The Main Clubhouse’s six event spaces, holding from 75 to 300.
Three other new golfer programs include a certified trainer leading a group of 10 pax in stretches prior to game play. There’s also a team of onsite Pinehurst Golf Academy professionals who conduct mini clinics to teach golf basics. The program grabbing the most attention is the Golf Skills Challenge, modeled after the Golf Channel’s “Big Break.” Bickart says, “We’ve had as many as 250 playing the Skills Challenge, with multiple skills stations.” One favorite is trying to break plate glass windows set 50 yards from the tee box. The group of 250 came at Halloween.
“We mounted pumpkins atop posts as a Skills Station for them to knock off. They really enjoyed that one,” says Bickart.
The nattily-dressed man in his knickers, long-sleeved white shirt with tie, tartan socks and golf cap scoops water from the bucket and mixes it with the small pile of sand to form the perfect tee from which to launch his handmade “gutta-percha” rubber golf ball. No, this isn’t a movie scene being filmed by The Greenbrier, owner of America’s oldest golf course, Oakhurst Golf Links. It is the West Virginia resort’s way of immersing golfers in the way golf was played in 1884.
“We’re taking golfers back in time with as authentic an experience as you can find,” says Burt Baine, golf club GM. By early June, the 2,235-yard 9-hole Oakhurst will reopen as the retro Hickory Golf Course, along with a new historic golf museum set on 30 acres.
Sheep will replace lawn mowers. No cleats or tees allowed. They weren’t invented yet. An inventory of period attire for men and women—who wore long dresses to golf in— and hickory wood golf clubs will be available. No golf bags. Golfers used to carry the 5-7 clubs under their arms.
“Playing with old equipment is completely different,” explains Baine. “There’s more sweeping motion. It’s less physical, more rhythmic to accommodate the torque from wooden shafts. It levels the playing field between experienced and newer golfers.”
When the group of 25 finishes playing, they’ll be awarded a certificate stating, “I played on America’s oldest golf course” and a sepia-toned commemorative photograph. Then the group moves to the museum for a meal catered by The Greenbrier, while browsing the 4-bedroom home filled with golf relics, including the Oakhurst Medal, the oldest golf trophy in the New World. Baine says golf groups are already booking The Greenbrier for 2014, when the US Hickory Golf Championship plays at Oakhurst.
Though Oakhurst is two miles away, The Greenbrier has three onsite championship golf courses, the oldest of which was built in 1914. The courses are known for hosting Ryder Cup and PGA tournaments. The success of hosting Golf Channel’s reality show, “Big Break Greenbrier” last June prompted a second new adventure for golf groups: Big Break-styled challenges, such as the Flop Wall and Glass Break. Baine says that in The Greenbrier’s version, “We can run challenges for four to 25 players over one or two days. It’s good camaraderie and great fun.”
THE WESTIN HILTON HEAD RESORT & SPA
There are 24 golf courses on Hilton Head, SC, but only one offers Glow Golf, an innovative craze that turns golf into an enjoyable evening experience for novices and veteran golfers alike. The Westin Hilton Head Resort & Spa in Port Royal Plantation gets that not everyone feels up to competing opposite better golfers on any of their three onsite courses. Glow golf is their solution. The group’s day can start with a beginners’ clinic, followed by a scramble. As the sun’s rays darken, Glow Golf lights up the practice range. A cocktail reception on the golf course jumpstarts the evening with giant glow sticks and tiki torches lining the driving range.
“A radar scope attached to a laptop records the speed and scope of each player’s drive, turning this into a fun team challenge,” says Kevin Baker, director of group sales. A couple dozen golfers can play each station, but by adding multiple stations, the range can accommodate 200. Other “glowing” twists can be added, such as providing each player with glow necklaces and glasses, or lighting up sand traps and water features. “Add a bar, cocktail glasses with blinking lights, s’more makings and firepits, and you have an event appealing to everyone,” says Baker.
After all of that glow golf, Baker says the group can buy out the Westin Hilton Head’s spa for Royal Tee Massages. He says, “We use heated golf balls instead of warm rocks for a deep pressure sports massage. When the heated balls are rolled around the muscles related to your golf swing, it helps those muscles relax.”
THE WESTIN SAVANNAH HARBOR GOLF RESORT
On the first of three nights during the Ultimate Golf Experience, an executive group of 12 to 20 has time to size up the opposing team over a lowcountry boil of steamed oysters, shrimp, sausage, corn and beer on the Harbor Lawn of The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa. By the next morning’s day of play in the Ryder Cup-modeled competition, everyone is relaxed having already met their opponents.
“The fact that we’ve hosted the CBS-televised Champions Tours Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf each April since 2003 is a strong selling point for planners,” says Craig Cupit, director of sales/marketing. “But the Ultimate Golf Experience brings them back.”
Sporting their team polo shirt, a different one each day, competition play begins with 18-27 holes. That evening, Executive Chef Roger Michel, winner of the prestigious French Order of Merite Agricole, presents a 5-course dinner paired with superb wines in the main clubhouse’s private dining room. Then it’s off to the lighted 9th hole for the Chip Off challenge. The golfers sip cordials, smoke cigars and compete to get one of their two numbered balls closest to the hole. The winner selects prizes from the resort’s golf shop.
Day 3 offers various options. “The group can play on one of the premier private courses near our resort, or as one group just did, take a 25-minute boat ride to Daufuskie Island, a barrier island in South Carolina only accessible by boat,” says Cupit. They golf, lunch and then return to The Westin Savannah. That evening’s dinner is at one of Savannah’s famous restaurants. Day 4 concludes the tournament with a final 18-hole match and award presentations.
THE SANCTUARY AT KIWAH ISLAND
After hosting the PGA Championship in 2012, that created an immediate uptick in the number of golfer-themed corporate groups at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. The luxurious hotel reacted by designing treatments to improve a golfer’s performance. One of the most popular is the Executive Renewal Massage, a 60-minute deep-tissue treatment to alleviate upper body aches. The 30-minute High Performance Stretching is a fast and effective method for pre-play stretching and warming up.
Three new services promote recovery. The hour-long Athletic Recovery Massage flushes metabolic wastes from over-worked muscles wtih rhythmic strokes and hot towels. The 60-minute Deep Tissue Massage is for tight muscles, and the 30-minute Foot-Joy is designed to soften up the soles.
Event professional Rod Provart has brought 45 board of director members and senior executives to the oceanfront resort off the Charleston coast since 2002. When The Sanctuary, a 4-story hotel that resembles a seaside mansion, opened in 2004, the corporate body moved their meeting there because it was so well suited to their needs. Although 85% of his group golfs and gets massages, the benefit of The Sanctuary is that is it helps them accomplish their business goals.
“The Sanctuary provides the exclusivity and productivity that is the chairman’s focus: conducting business,” says Provart. “The accommodations are five star, the staff doesn’t turn over, the wine cellar is remarkable and the food is spectacular.”