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Posted: June 10, 2009

Golf: More than just a schmooze fest

The value of incentives

Robert Polk

My parents taught me early the benefits of combining sports and business entertainment.

I grew up mostly in Louisiana, but for four years we lived in Birmingham, Ala., where my dad was in the banking business. The social, athletic and business highlight of the year was the Alabama-Auburn football game, which back in those distant years was held in Birmingham. Each year my dad opened our home to his customers and employees for a brunch before the game. 

The importance of this event in our household cannot be overstated. My parents pulled out all of the stops for this event. I am one of seven children, and we were all involved in the preparations. The house had to be perfect. Because the community seemed to be evenly divided between Alabama and Auburn fans, decorations had to be perfectly divided between both schools. Weeks of preparation went into getting the house, food and school colors exactly right.

By the time I was 14 years old, I had already been bitten with the golf bug. Days before the big event I was, against all rules and better judgment, swinging my favorite club in the den. I had been told for years not to swing a golf club in the house, but I was 14. Somehow I slipped and, while I was falling, I let go of the club. The club went up and, proving wrong everything I knew about gravity, did not come down.

It had stuck perfectly in the ceiling. 

With a 7 iron protruding from the ceiling, something I could hide or quickly fix, all I could think of was that I had just ruined the biggest social, athletic and business highlight of the year for my parents. 

Thankfully, my mother always knew how to keep my dad from doing anything for which Child Services would need to intervene. She found someone who agreed to fix the hole before the big event ... and she talked my dad out of killing me.               

The point of this long story is that when social, athletic and business events come together, they are so important that even a 14-year-old knows a big deal when he sees it.

I talk often about the value of incentives, and what a great return on investment they offer when you are able to make a lasting, personal connection with customers and employees outside the four walls of an office. Anyone that knows me at all knows that I also happen to think golf is an awfully good way to do this.

Golf is a game of skill, yes, but moreover it is a game that encompasses so much of what we are all looking for in business relationships. Whether you play well or not, golf can tell you a whole lot about someone with whom you are considering doing business. Do they abide by the inherent honor system of the game? Are they willing to pull their own weight and carry their own clubs? How do they treat the caddies and other folks who work so diligently to keep the course immaculate? Do they toss their clubs and swear when they land in the sand, or do they simply try a little harder on the next hole?

Even without hitting the links yourself, golf can provide an amazing outlet to align your company with these principals through incentive programs. In Colorado we have been fortunate to host many major golf championships as such venues as the Broadmoor and Cherry Hills. Columbine has hosted a PGA. Castle Pines hosted the International for years. These are great golf courses and wonderful venues. 

Next May, you will have a new opportunity to put your company on par with golf’s positive ideals when the state of Colorado will be lucky enough to host the Senior PGA at the Colorado Golf Club, a stunning course that many of you may not have not yet seen or had the pleasure of playing.  When you combine the Senior PGA with the unbelievable setting of the Colorado Golf Club, you will have a chance to combine golf and business like this region has never seen. 

Those of you who may still be leery of criticism at planning or hosting an incentive program in a faraway, exotic locale should consider keeping it in Colorado and hosting your clients or employees for a day at the Senior PGA. 

The setting at Colorado Golf Club is unlike any in the state. As a member (admittedly biased as I am), I still get excited every single time I pass the front gate.  Your customers and employees will share this excitement, especially when they get to see Fred Couples, Tom Lehman, Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer and the rest of the best over-50 golfers in the world.

If this golf nut could fathom at 14 years old the importance of athletics and business entertainment, I am certain you can figure out how to make the 2010 Senior PGA your most beneficial marketing opportunity of the year.

Luckily, the Colorado Golf Club has already informed me that I will never be allowed to swing my 7 iron in the clubhouse, so there is little danger of last-minute remodeling before the event.

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Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group, Denver's largest independent travel agency. He welcomes your comments and questions at

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