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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

At the top of their game

Courtesy Pinehurst Resort

When is a locker room more than a place to strip off sweaty clothes and take a shower? When the locker room is one used by professional golfers at Whistling Straits at the American Club in Kohler, Wis., or the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina.

To use such high-profile facilities after a round of golf is a treat for meeting goers who are fans of the game. It is also one way to elevate a golf outing.

Such off-course golf options are the specialty of America’s finer golf resorts, where accommodations and restaurants grab Forbes’ Stars and AAA Diamonds, where spas are large and luxurious, where other sports, like tennis, are also top rate and where golf courses are designed by the masters of the golf universe — men like Donald Ross, Pete Dye, Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jack Nicklaus. These resorts not only welcome the casual golfer, but host big-name golf events like the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup.

Here’s a look at five top resorts known for making golf outings memorable, on and off the course.

Pinehurst Resort

Pinehurst, N.C.
The Village of Pinehurst, N.C., is where golf took off in the United States. Its Pinehurst Resort, home to eight golf courses, including seven designed by the famed Donald Ross, is where many meetings land.

Not surprisingly, 95 percent of the meetings held at Pinehurst Resort include golf. And the reworking of Pinehurst No. 2, considered Ross’ best work, is putting a brighter spotlight on golf there.

In March, the resort reopened No. 2, showing off Ben Crenshaw’s and Bill Coore’s restoration of Ross’ original design.

The project wrapped up well in advance of 2014, when No. 2 will host the men’s and the women’s U.S. Open, the first time the two tourneys have been played back to back on the same course.

The No. 2 course has always been the resort’s biggest draw, and the restoration has only made it more popular, said Karen DiCarlo, director of conference services at Pinehurst Resort.
Some use it to spark greater interest in their meetings and events there.

“We had one group that had a charity golf tournament in March, and it was played on No. 2,” said DiCarlo. “They used the fact they were the first group to play on it in a tournament format to their benefit to gain momentum and excitement.”

However, with eight courses, No. 2 is not the only choice.

“We have some groups that say, ‘We have to play No. 2,’ and some say, ‘You know, I just want them to go out and have fun,’” said DiCarlo. “Here, there is a golf course for every type of playing ability.”

Pinehurst’s golf professionals enliven receptions and dinners by setting up putting, chipping and longest-drive contests outdoors — or in the clubhouse when the weather is bad. Furniture, hula hoops and other objects become obstacles and targets; organizers take care to give contestants wide berth.

“You just have to make sure that when you are swinging the club, no one gets clocked in the head,” said DiCarlo.

“We will also give clubhouse tours during events,” DiCarlo said. “We have a great hallway in the main clubhouse that showcases all of the tournaments we have hosted, and guides can tell the history of golf at Pinehurst.”

Recognizing the tendency for golfers to gather and rehash their rounds over a drink or two, the resort has tripled the size of its Ryder Cup Lounge, the Carolina Inn’s lone bar.


The Broadmoor

Colorado Springs, Colo.
The 66th U.S. Women’s Open put women’s golf — and the Broadmoor Resort — on the radar of thousands of golf fans.

It is also likely to ramp up interest in the resort’s East Course, where So Yeon Ryu made her come-from-behind win on a Monday morning in July after Colorado’s summer thunderstorms delayed play.

“I have to say that because of the championships that have been played there, the East Course tends to be the more desired, but that’s not to say the other two courses are inferior,” said Russ Miller, director of golf at the Colorado Springs resort.

The resort’s East and West courses combine the designs of Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones Sr. By next year, with completion of work at the West Course, the courses will be restored to their original Ross/Jones layouts.

The Mountain Course, redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in a three-year project completed in 2006, is perhaps the most breathtaking of the three, both for its views and its mountainside layout.

“If someone comes in from someplace at sea level, they know they are in the mountains when they play this course,” said Miller. “There are a lot of ups and downs, and the views over the plains are incredible.”

The Mountain Course, about a mile from the resort, has its own small clubhouse and adjacent putting green, where sunsets and putting contests brighten evening receptions and dinners. Putting, chipping and other golfing contests can also be set up at the clubhouse for the East and West courses, at the heart of the resort.

And for companies that want to help staff be more confident on the course, golf clinics can be arranged for any size group, said Miller.

“We have about 10 golf professionals who can teach, but if a group is so big that we need to outsource some of the instruction, we can call our friends in the industry.”


The Boulders
Carefree, Ariz.
Twelve-million-year-old boulders are obstacles and ornamentation for the two golf courses in the Sonoran Desert at the Boulders Resort on the fringes of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Jay Morrish was not about to mess with the ancient landscape when he designed the North and South courses. On No. 5, the signature hole of the South course, he makes golfers hit their balls over one of the forbidding stone formations.

No wonder golf caps emblazoned with the Boulders logo and often presented as mementos to meeting attendees are considered a badge of honor.

The upscale nature of the Boulders, with its Golden Door Spa and its Waldorf Astoria affiliation, draws many incentive or customer-appreciation programs.

“They’ll bring their entire client base in, and wine and dine ‘em, and golf ‘em and spa ‘em,” said Jeff Gillick, director of sales and marketing. But with 80 percent of meeting groups opting to golf, “golf is the driver,” Gillick said.

The Boulders courses are so visually striking that planners clamor to have events on or near them, a demand that has led the resort to create venues near the courses.

The newest is Promise Rock, popular for weddings but also an option for dinners and receptions. A low spot near the resort’s massive rock pile was leveled and sodded, and a waterfall built. Promise Rock “looks like a huge golf green,” said Gillick and will seat 120 theater-style and 70 for dinners. It overlooks the golf course, and restrooms on the course are used for events.

Also popular after group golf outings and tournaments is a “19th green” party at the resort’s clubhouse, where both the North and South courses end. Casual fare can be served from the resort’s customized Airstream kitchen, the Rolling Stone, or the Rolling Stone can be used as a shiny bar.

The views and venues change when groups opt for progressive dinners. After appetizers at the 19th-green party, guests hop into golf carts and drive to the Duck Pond Lawn by the resort’s main lodge for the main course. For dessert, they can drive their carts to Promise Rock.


The American Club Resort

Village of Kohler, Wis.
If a golf trip to Ireland is out, a visit to Wisconsin is a worthy substitute.

A herd of 28 Scottish Blackface sheep gently mow and fertilize the Irish-style courses at Whistling Straits, two of the four courses at the American Club Resort in the Village of Kohler, Wis., 55 miles north of Milwaukee.

“People have said that if they had just gotten dropped off here, they’d think they were in Ireland,” said Ed Eisner, PGA professional and tournament coordinator at the AAA Five Diamond resort. “Many days we even have the fog and the mist for them.”

And, of course, the sheep add to that mood. It’s not likely that you’ll hit one, and if you do, you play the shot as a lie and don’t worry about the sheep. “They have pretty thick skin,” said Eisner.
The courses were all designed by Pete Dye. The Straits Course has hosted the U.S. PGA Championship and will do so again in 2015; it has also been chosen as the site of the 2020 Ryder Cup. The resort’s Blackwolf Run course will host the U.S. Women’s Open next year.

The American Club’s courses, especially the Straits, where eight holes front Lake Michigan, and where walking and using a caddy are required, tend to decompress the most tightly wound workers.

“The Straits is old-fashioned golf,” said Eisner. “It is a better experience — stress relief from the hectic pace.”

And the feeling of being removed from the workaday world doesn’t have to end at the 18th hole.
An event venue at the Straits, built of stone and called the Irish Barn, looks out on the 18th hole; the lake is in the distance. Open on three sides, with a fireplace inside, the venue can adapt to cooler days with roll-down plastic walls and portable heaters.

Dye is known for designing courses that intimidate the eye, and those at the American Club live up to this reputation.

“When you stand up there for the first time, all you see is bunkers all over the place,” said Eisner.

It is not unusual, then, for meeting planners to request golf lessons for group members at the resort’s golf academy. All those arrangements are handled by a golf professional, who, like a conference planner, is assigned to assist a group.

“We try to make this a one-stop shop, but the exception to that is golf,” said Missy Dortman, director of meetings and events. “There are so many details that go into golf.”


Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Kiawah, S.C.
The stars at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, near Charleston, S.C., go beyond the five awarded by Forbes to both its hotel, the Sanctuary, and its spa.

A decade ago, Kiawah was one of the stars in “The Legend of Badger Vance,” a golf story set in the early 1930s.

Scenes for the film were shot on the Ocean Course, designed by Pete Dye and by far the best known of Kiawah’s five golf courses.

“The Ocean Course is one of those that is on your bucket list,” said Marty Couch, director of sales.
The movie has become an inspiration for one of the resort’s themed events — a Badger Vance reception with vintage cars and actors in period dress — a perfect way to top off a round of golf on the Ocean Course.

The movie theme party is among the ways the resort spotlights its sterling reputation for golf. The Ocean Course was the site of the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2007 Senior PGA. The 2012 PGA will be played there, a first for a South Carolina course.

Those high-profile events led Kiawah to create a special locker room for PGA players in its Ocean Course clubhouse.

To add extra cache to a golf outing, the locker room can be booked for small golf groups so that players can freshen up in the digs of the professional players.

“With a group of 30 or so, we can arrange an actual PGA-type event for you,” said Couch. “Players will go out to the driving range with the caddy who has their name on the back of their bib.”

Pyramids of golf balls with the players’ names in front of them are also stationed at the range.