Using Golf to Enhance Your Meetings
When the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) needed a recreational option to round out its Global Financial Leaders Conference, several ideas came under consideration. But in the end, only one made sense: golf. “Golf ties really well into our overall brand, which is centered around the idea of relationship building,” says Anita Liskey, managing director of corporate marketing and communications for the CME, the world’s largest futures and options exchange. “Golf provides a terrific opportunity to build and strengthen relationships.”
The Global Financial Leaders Conference (GFLC), now in its second year, is an invitation-only networking and educational event for CME’s top clients, including Citi, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, as well as hedge funds and endowment funds for the likes of Harvard University and Notre Dame. Held in November at the Ritz-Carlton Naples Beach, the 2009 event attracted 230 financial industry leaders with a program that focused on the realities and repercussions of the banking industry’s troubles over the past few years. Keynote speakers included Paul Volcker, chairman of the White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board; Fareed Zakaria, an author and the editor of Newsweek’s international edition; and energy magnate T. Boone Pickens.
The three-day conference wrapped up with a golf tournament at the Greg Norman–designed Tiburon Golf Club. To entice busy executives to stay for the tournament, CME chose to partner with the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LGPA), enabling the attendees to play alongside professional golfers like Annika Sorenstam in a Pro-Am tournament. Nearly half of the conference attendees opted in for the golf. he LPGA provided 20 pros—one for each foursome—so all of the participants could spend quality time with the players. Even former NFL coach and star Mike Ditka, who had spoken at lunch the day before, stuck around to play a round.
A Pro-Am tournament provides a great focal point for a meeting, notes Kelly Hyne, vice president of LPGA Properties. “People don’t usually get an opportunity to interact with professional athletes like this,” she says. “For a golfer, it’s four of the most unforgettable hours they’ll ever spend on the course.”
Liskey says the LPGA is a good fit for her audience, because the product is well priced and the pros on the tour are very approachable. “Many of our clients have golfed at the top courses in the world, and maybe with other pros, but the LPGA made this golf tournament unique,” she says.
GFLC foursomes, including the LPGA players, got to know each other the night before at the conference’s gala dinner, which laid the groundwork for a fulfilling day of bonding on the links. Liskey says the pros worked hard to help further the overall goals of the meeting: “The pros are very supportive of our efforts to work with our clients and help facilitate conversation and interaction.”
Hyne says that affability is a specialty of the LPGA. “One of the biggest strengths of the LPGA is the way the players interact with their fans,” she explains. “They really want to share their experience. I’ve seen some of our players take their Pro-Am foursome over to a bunker and give them a chipping lesson afterward.”
“One of the things we love about the LPGA product is that we know our attendees are going to have a great time,” says Randy Frink, associate director of corporate marketing for the CME. When planning a Pro-Am, he adds, “you want to make sure the pros the attendees are matched up with are personable and instructional, and that your participants don’t feel intimidated by golfing with people who are a lot better than them.”
Another way to ensure that the duffers feel comfortable is to use a “scramble” format, says Hyne. Each player tees off, then the group collaborates to choose the best-hit ball, and continues play from that ball. “It’s a lot of interaction,” she says. “You’re actually playing the hole together, versus typical golf, where you play your own shot all the way through. So you’re combining to strategize which shot to use, the different approaches to the green, looking at the conditions of the course…that’s when a professional really provides insight that amateurs wouldn’t have.”
Since networking was the primary goal for the day, the CME team put a lot of effort into creating foursomes that would interact well together, Liskey says. As the attendees were all CME customers, “we could match the folks that we thought would have a nice time together because they were in the same business, or from a similar organization or one that traded the same type of product. That was a lot of work, but frankly, it pays off to do that where you can.”
The day wrapped up with a 19th-hole buffet lunch, prizes for the foursomes with the best score, and individual prizes for longest drive and closest-to-the-pin putts.
While the GFLC has been lucky with terrific weather two years running during its Pro-Am, Frick says it’s still important to have a contingency plan when planning a golf tournament. “My adage is, ‘The better your contingency plans, the less likely it is that you’ll have to use them,’” he quips, explaining that the CME reserved indoor space and equipment for a golf clinic in case the weather was uncooperative. “Make sure the pros you’ve hired are aware that they could be doing instructional stations, and that you have all the equipment needed to run a productive clinic session, [including] putters and drivers. Having the plan and equipment in place is absolutely critical.”
CME is already looking forward to next year’s golf tournament—with good reason. In a post-event survey, 93 percent of the attendees who participated in the golf tournament rated it as excellent. “Attendees really enjoyed the opportunity to golf with the pros and interact with our business representatives, as well as other attendees at the conference who were essentially their peers,” Liskey says. “In the relationship arena, golf is the perfect sport.”
JEANNE O’BRIEN COFFEY is a Boston-based freelance writer and former editor of several employee motivation and meetings industry publications.