Golfers making marks on the links with business associates

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Published: November 28,2005

Fore! As golfing has increased in popularity, so has the appeal of doing business on the golf course.

“I’d much rather spend four hours on the golf course with a client than 30 minutes in the boardroom,” said Nancy Branton, account vice president of UBS Financial Services and president of Steel Magnolias chapter of the Executive Women’s Golf Association.

Chris Jester, head golf professional at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, said corporate golf activity has increased steadily over the years as more business folks have taken up the game for networking opportunities and exercise.

“We probably host 20 or 30 corporate golf outings a year,” he said. “But the days of corporations coming in and renting the golf course are pretty much over. They’re under such a magnifying glass these days, concerning expenses and entertaining, that most employees have to pay for themselves.”

Rosemary Prisock, director of hospitality at Old Waverly Golf Club, said corporations often schedule golf outings during multi-day meetings. “Typically, they’ll hold meetings, play some golf, stay overnight in our corporate cottages, and do it again the next day,” she said.

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) recently reported that sales at Mississippi public golf courses — rounds of golf and dollars spent in pro shops — had increased 48% over the previous year.

“There’s no way to break it down to corporate golf, but I’ve got to think that increase correlates to the overall increase,” said Janet Leach, manager of sports development for MDA tourism. “Most corporate meetings that come through the tourism division’s office include a golf outing.”

John Cox, head golf professional at Canebrake Country Club in Hattiesburg, said he’s noticed at least 50 members have expanded their golfing to mix business with play on a regular basis.

“We’d probably have more corporate golf outings, but we’ve had to limit non-member players since we went private January 1,” he said.

Carol Smith, official packager for the Magnolia Golf Trail, said individuals often book golf packages for foursomes and groups of eight or 12.

“I can only assume that most of it involves business associates playing golf together,” she said.

Even though 75% of the Magnolia Golf Trail’s market involved Mississippi Gulf Coast golf courses, there hasn’t been a noticeable drop in interest since Hurricane Katrina devastated south Mississippi on Aug. 29.

“We’ve shifted our focus for now to Hattiesburg, Jackson, Tunica and a little bit in Tupelo,” she said. “We’ve found that people like to stay in Vicksburg and drive into Jackson for golf.”

Since the Steel Magnolia chapter was founded in 1999, membership has grown to nearly 100, primarily because “of the networking opportunities that men have seen on the golf course for many, many years,” said Branton.

“Golf gives us a chance to get to know each other in a less constricted environment,” she said. “With all of us being professional women, we’ve developed a strong loyalty and referral base. Time management is so important that golf represents a way to get a break from the office. In the four hours it takes to play a round, you’ve got someone’s complete attention.”

Charitable golf events have also risen in popularity, producing greater revenues for worthy causes. Every May, Old Waverly Golf Club hosts the annual Catch-A-Dream Tournament, sponsored in part by West Point-based Mossy Oak, a company that “brings a lot of people to the table,” noted Prisock.

This year, the Steel Magnolias chapter raised more than $30,000 for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation through its annual golf tournament.

“The event gives us a chance to work with the community, with each other, and continue to build friendships that make for good strong business relationships,” said Branton.

The granddaddy of all golf charity events in the state, Century Club Charities, a not-for-profit corporation that conducts the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, has raised nearly $4 million for worthy charities since 1968.

“Since its beginning, the tournament has had a positive impact on the state in terms of tourism and economic stimulation,” Southern Farm Bureau executive Gerald Garnett said in 1999, the year the company took over title sponsorship. “Most rewarding, though, is the effect it has had on Century Club Charities to continue its work in the state.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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