Planning a meeting or conference in Hilton Head Island? Don't forget your golf clubs

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

With some 20 quality golf courses, terrific weather and more than 150,000 square feet of meeting space, Hilton Head Island provides a great location for corporate or association meetings.

Hilton Head golf outings
Planning a golf outing during a corporate event builds camaraderie.
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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- As the saying goes, all work and no golf makes a meeting a dull affair.

Okay, there's no such saying, but it applies well to golfers who attend conventions, association meetings or corporate retreats.

These days, corporations must keep a watchful eye on extravagance associated with off-campus staff activity. The primary goal is business. But to get the most out of a three- or four-day agenda of seminars and budget meetings, you need to mix in a diversion or two, and golf still fits the bill.

On Hilton Head Island, several golf resorts are all too happy to work with any group -- large or small -- to complete an agenda that blends the appropriate mix of work and play.

"If you were to call a corporate meeting planner at a resort, and left a message that you wanted to include golf with your corporate meeting, you would get a call back immediately," said Jack Reed, director of sales and marketing for the Hilton Head Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In other words, they want your business, so there are probably some good deals to strike. This is especially true if you pick the right time of year.

Fall is a great time for meetings and golf

On Hilton Head Island, there are many attractions including the beaches. So the resorts often fill to capacity with families, driving the cost of hotel rooms to premium rates in the summer.

"There's value on the golf side when it's 95 or 96 degrees," said Ken Nason, director of sales and marketing for The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa. "But the hotel side is a little pricier. In spring and fall, you get a better deal on the hotel, but the golf goes up."

The Westin offers 30,000 square feet of meeting space.

Autumn is especially good for corporate outings, which typically encompass two to four days with a round or two of golf to interrupt the meetings.

Nason also recommends that corporations plan their meetings or retreats for midweek, when green fees and hotel rates drop.

"Sunday through Wednesday are your best value days," he said.

"Fall is the hidden gem in Hilton Head," Nason said. "You've got great weather; you've got great overall package pricing. And in my opinion, you don't have to fight the crowds."

He also recommends November, December and January. While golf weather gets a little iffy in the winter, it remains a year-round activity at Hilton Head Island. Winter is typically when you find the best discounts, both on hotels and on the golf courses.

Golf vs. meetings: Finding the balance

The first question, according to David Sulak, director of sales and marketing for the Hilton Head Marriott Resort and Spa for anyone who books a corporate meeting and wants to mix golf: What are you trying to accomplish at the meeting?

For example: Does the convention require attendees to retain a lot of information, to study and stay fresh?

It may determine when to play play golf.

Also, Sulak said, afternoon rounds typically take more time, and they require play in the heat during the early fall -- one reason he typically recommends quicker morning rounds.

And if you're looking to create more of a team-building experience at your meetings, you may want to consider getting creative with the golf.

A couple years ago at the Hilton Head Marriott, which features 17 meeting rooms and 45,000 square feet of meeting space, Sulak's team concocted a special event for a group that included a mockup of the movie "Caddyshack."

"We had a Rodney Dangerfield impersonator come down," Sulak said. "When they came into the room, there were lockers set up with amenities inside those lockers. Then we brought that to the course."

During the round of golf, another performer impersonated Carl, played by Bill Murray in the movie.

Other tips for planning meetings with golf

• Golf outings can serve as charity tournaments, too, of course, and the formats vary. Managers need to assess the relative skill levels of the players when choosing the format. Often, a scramble is the best choice, because it allows all levels of players to have fun. Resorts like the Westin and Marriott typically help choose the best format of play.

• Time is also a consideration when choosing a golf course. For example, on Hilton Head Island, one of the most popular choices is the famed Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort. But for groups staying at the Marriott, it's a bit of a drive to Harbour Town.

Guests could instead play one of the layouts close to the Marriott -– Palmetto Dunes' Robert Trent Jones course, George Fazio course and Arthur Hills course.

• Group clinics are also a good option. Corporate staffers range from novice to avid golfers, and a half-day clinic tends to foster cooperation and encouragement among employees. Plus, it allows them enjoy the game more at the next corporate outing.

• Finally, schedule something for the spouses and family members. In these economic times, many corporations encourage employees to travel with their families. Spa packages for spouses are usually a hit. The Westin offers its unique, heated golf-ball massage. Managers are also advised to schedule a little downtime, so employees can spend a few hours with their families on the golf course or at the beach.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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