By Melanie Radzicki McManus & Wisconsin Meetings
At first glance, Elkhart Lake might seem like a curious spot to hold a conference or meeting. The village is small, with approximately 1,100 residents. About 60 miles from Milwaukee and 100 miles from Madison, it’s not on an interstate highway. And it has a casual, flip-flop vibe. But once you set foot in this charming town snugged against Elkhart Lake’s eastern shore, you quickly see its appeal.
First, there’s the lake — a crystal-clear body of water that’s perfect for swimming, boating or simply relaxing. Then there’s the downtown — a quaint space filled with unique restaurants and boutiques. Then there are three sprawling resorts: the Shore Club and Siebkens Resort, both of which date back more than a century, and The Osthoff Resort, a stunning, white facility with hints of Victorian-era grandeur. Finally, there’s Road America, one of the world’s most challenging road-racing courses, which lies 2.5 miles south of town.
Kathleen Eickhoff, executive director of Elkhart Lake Tourism, says groups that choose to meet here walk away wowed. She says they love the lake, they love the town’s walkability, and they quickly notice that virtually all of the businesses are locally owned and run. “There’s just one franchise, a Subway, so you’re almost always welcomed by the owner,“ she says. “Our visitors love to engage with the owners of our businesses. It makes them feel welcome, comfortable and like an extended part of our community.“
A Variety of Meeting Venues
The village’s three resorts offer a complementary selection of meeting spaces. The Osthoff is the most traditional venue, with 38,000 square feet of meeting space that can serve up to 1,500. Its largest ballroom is the 10,000-square-foot Grand Libelle, while the Palm Garden Ballroom offers another 7,500 square feet of space. Guests can stay in one of 240 rooms or suites and, in their free time, relax in the resort’s Aspira Spa.
Tracie Toth, director of sales, says The Osthoff serves a diverse array of groups and needs — from Fortune 250 companies to state associations and religious retreats. Many of these events are groups of 400 or less, and many are repeat customers. “They love our tenured staff. Our team of people truly care about their event’s success, first and foremost,“ according to Toth. She adds that meeting planners also appreciate the resort’s well-appointed meeting rooms and sumptuous suites, which spoil attendees with luxuries such as fireplaces and private balconies.
As the cherry on top, there’s the resort’s professional audiovisual team, which provides hands-on service. “Audiovisual can make or break an event,“ Toth says. “You won’t have any worries here.“
When it’s time to relax, guests can head to the resort’s private beach, golf at nearby Quit Qui Oc Golf Club, hit the spa or perhaps take in a wine tasting at Vintage Elkhart Lake. Owner and sommelier Jaclyn Stuart offers numerous events, plus she creates wine tastings for business groups.
If team building is on tap, The Osthoff offers everything from scavenger hunts and Family Feud-type competitions to more novel activities, such as cocktail making, beer and cheese tasting, and an etiquette dinner in which participants learn proper business dinner decorum. Then there’s Toth’s favorite: a cooking competition. During one such event, teams had to shop at a market The Osthoff set up, then create a meal from the available ingredients. But there was one catch. After teams decided upon their meal, The Osthoff introduced a mystery ingredient — bologna — that all the teams suddenly had to add.
“Imagine that!“ Toth laughs. “The teams created all of these fancy meals and then they had to incorporate bologna.“
While there are no ballrooms or bologna-based competitions available at the nearby Shore Club, you can find 40 guest rooms that were recently renovated and, for meeting space, a 4,400-square-foot theater that was built around 1900 and offers great lake views. The theater has a stage fronted by a dance floor, where staff can create a variety of seating arrangements. “Our theater has really taken off,“ says Tanya Curtin, director of sales. “People like its old-school vibe.“
The Shore Club sits on about 5 acres of land, so outdoor events are also popular here. When meetings are over, guests can enjoy the resort’s 600 feet of private beach, live entertainment or a plethora of lake activities, as Elkhart Lake Watersports rents a variety of watercraft from The Shore Club’s beach.
“If you’re looking for something unique and historical, that’s us,“ Curtin says, adding the property’s niche is groups looking for a casual atmosphere.
A few paces away, Seibkens Resort — favored by the racing crowds that flood the village when Road America is holding an event — is a beloved spot for groups to hold dinner meetings. Its main dining room can hold up to 200, while smaller groups can dine on its sun porch or outdoor deck, or in its historic saloon or gazebo yard.
Golfing and Racing
Across the road from the lakeside resorts, Quit Qui Oc Golf Club has been in business nearly a century. The business offers 27 holes of golf, a driving range, chipping and putting areas, and also a bar and restaurant. Todd Montaba, who owns the business with his wife, Rachel, says they work closely with customers to offer seamless events. “We’ll set everything up and have names on the carts so guests can just get in the carts and start playing.“
Quit Qui Oc’s course is very playable, making it great for beginners. Yet there are challenges for veteran players, too, part of which come due to its age. Montaba says Quit Qui Oc was established in 1923, when there were no bulldozers to create a highly sculpted course, “so they shaped the land with horses and plows and by hand, and left a lot of the land as it was.“ In this part of the state, that means a lot of rolling hills.
But Quit Qui Oc is not just about golf. In addition to hosting golf outings, the business organizes scavenger hunts, campfires, snowshoeing and moonlight strolls.
While golfing might be a common pastime during meetings and conferences, road racing is decidedly not. That is why Road America is such a bonus for groups meeting in Elkhart Lake. The 640-acre venue can host groups topping 2,000 via its Tufte Center, Road America Center, VIP Tower, outdoor tents or even Victory Lane. Limited lodging is available in 12 cabins and an off-site chalet.
And lest you think a road-racing venue is all concrete and steel, think again. John Ewert, Road America’s communications director, says the property maintains its natural topography and original features, so you can find hills, barns, old farm trails and even rock walls that once separated pastureland. “When there aren’t cars on the track, you feel like you’re in a national park,“ he notes.
Guests can explore this “national park“ through many activities, such as all- terrain vehicle (ATV) off-roading, disc golf, geocaching and go-carting. Other entertainment options for free time include outdoor movies, pace car driving and, of course, road racing. Ewert says the Road America team loves to get creative with groups, too. To that end, the team once created a mini Olympics in which teams earned points according to how well they did at disc golf, cornhole, geocaching and more.
This kind of fun, coupled with a warm, welcoming spirit, is what makes Elkhart Lake so special, Montaba says. “All of us business owners work in our businesses every day, and we want guests to come here and love Elkhart Lake as much as we do.“
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