The Ladies Invitational at Grey Oaks: building community with flagsticks, fun & fire

(Naples, Fla.) With the goal of increasing growth in the game, the PGA of America recently announced a new task force charged with developing and evaluating innovative concepts to drive participation. Composed of a diverse group of individuals from both inside and outside the golf industry—including representatives from tennis and skiing—the task force, in the words of PGA President Ted Bishop, will “consider any and all potential alternatives to enhance consumers’ enjoyment of the game.”

Here’s my suggestion to Mr. Bishop and the task force: reach out to your fellow PGA members at Grey Oaks Country Club in Naples, Fla. These folks know what they’re doing when it comes to adding a needed dash of fun to the game while not abandoning its competitive roots.

Case in point is Grey Oaks’ phenomenally successful Ladies Invitational. Just completing its 14th anniversary, the event has grown from a one-day event on a single course for less than one hundred participants, to a two-day extravaganza over three courses attracting nearly 300 players. The six-flighted field plays two nine-hole segments each day, in various team formats, for low net/low gross awards.

Leslye Dyke

Leslye Dyke

Since its inception, Head Golf Professional Leslye Dyke has overseen the Invitational and watched it flourish. “The first year, I ran the whole thing and it was a nice event,” said Dyke, a former Duke University and Futures Golf Tour competitor. “But with member input and involvement, the Invitational has evolved over the years, incorporating more fun and entertaining features. The emphasis has been on having a good time with one’s fellow members and guests.” As someone personally witnessing (from the parking lot, not the first tee!) the camaraderie, laughter and high spirits of the Invitational field, let me attest good times are in ample, Jimmy Walkeresque (“Dyn-o-mite!”) supply.

Twirling fire batons

Twirling fire batons

Helping the cause, a different theme is chosen each year by a member chairperson and the Grey Oaks staff. In the past, such themes as Circus, James Bond, Under the Sea, Slow Boat to China and Out of Africa have set the stage for the event. “This year our theme was Hawaiian Luau and it was carried out in the names of the flights, courses, decorations and entertainment,” said Dyke. “Unlike the Men’s Invitational, the social aspect is more important than the golf. Many of the women decorate their golf carts and wear special team outfits and all of it is done in a let’s-have-fun atmosphere.” Dinner entertainment this year fittingly included hula dancers and fire baton performers.

Karl Bublitz

Karl Bublitz

Karl Bublitz, Director of Golf & Operations at Grey Oaks, described the enthusiasm level of the Ladies Invitational as “off the charts with an incredible energy level.” He attributed the event’s popularity to several factors. “One, is how proud the members feel about it. The ladies are eager to show off their club while guests are able to experience the social fabric of Grey Oaks over a compact two days,” said Bublitz, a former Michigan native who was named Southwest Florida PGA’s Golf Professional of the Year. “Second, the ladies have input and influence in how the Invitational is conducted. It’s their event and we’re here to make it happen.”

On that last point, Bublitz added “understanding your audience” is critical for country clubs and golf in general. “We’ve learned to adjust the golf event calendar to reflect both the social and competitive wants of our golfers. Traditional medal and match play events, both team and individual, are important and will always have a place at the club; but frankly they’re becoming a smaller piece of the pie.” While citing that women’s play comprises over 40% of the rounds at Grey Oaks, he sees the importance of “designing events that help build community and are responsive to member wishes.”

Building member relationships is also a tenet at Grey Oaks, a luxury gated community opened in 1993, that has garnered a host of notable awards and national recognition and is experiencing double digit growth this season in the activity level of various member amenities.

“Along with name recognition of members and guests, we work hard on member-to-member relationships,” said Dyke. “By getting to know our members, the staff often sees if there are commonalities among them for introductions. Positive relationships and friendships can build from there.”

With such a community mindset and fire batons lighting the way, Grey Oaks remains on the right path to make the game more fun and welcoming.

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