For years, cruise passengers enjoyed hitting golf balls into the ocean with no pin in sight. The fun ended in 1990 when the International Maritime Organization prohibited dumping plastic waste into the sea, those little white balls included.
“Cruise lines realized they were losing potential customers to land-based resorts by not offering shipboard golf,” said Joyce Landry, chief executive officer, Landry & Kling, a corporate cruise consultant company in Florida.
Technology came to the rescue in 1997, when a San Diego company called Full Swing Golf sold its first golf simulator to Princess Cruises. Now, water-borne golf is attracting corporate incentive groups by the dozens, with prize trips handed out to top sales people from BMW to Geico to Motorola.
And it is luring executives who want to talk business in seagoing privacy and play golf on breaks. “Golf is more than a hobby, it’s a passion,” said Bob Sharak, executive vice-president, Cruise Lines International Association, whose 24 member companies operate about 160 ships.
“Around 75% of our members offer golf programmes.”
Using real balls and clubs, plastic grass, electronic sensors and a video screen, the simulators combine the feel of playing golf with the visuals of a live PGA event.
After driving into the screen, players follow a ball’s trajectory as the screen picks up its flight. The short game near the hole is as realistic.
Full Swing’s $75,000 (about Rs30.75 lakh) system, which provides 60 games and tutorials, is a big draw for business golfers. Many cruises addshipboard golf clinics led by PGA instructors.
Scott Durkin, a 12-handicap player who is a vice-president of Experient, a trade show and meeting management company in Ohio, recently tried out a simulator during a cruise.
“We squeezed in a quick nine holes before the evening functions,” said Durkin, 40. “It was just like the real thing with the weather thrown in.” It also helped networking. “You can get to know someone well.”
For many salespeople on a company-paid trip, it is a chance to play on world-famous courses they would not visit at their own expense. The bill for cruise golf can be high. The charges on Celebrity Cruises can amount to $250, while golfing ashore could cost around $500.
For incentive recipients, and executives as well, the delight is that their employer is picking up the tab.