Golf is up there with fishing and snowmobiling as top Minnesotan activities. And it’s no wonder—after six months of being cooped up, there’s nothing like donning our polos, grabbing our clubs and rushing to the green. This love of the game is what makes golf events so enticing, but the large scale of such a tournament can be daunting. There’s the weather, the sponsorships, the banquet, the entertainment and a whole mound of things that haven’t even crossed your mind.
And while that’s the case, golf events shouldn’t be something to fear. After all, you don’t need the prowess of Phil Mickelson to host a stellar event, you just need determination and a little help from the pros.
Planning a golf event is more than just booking a venue, selecting a menu and hiring vendors—it’s an entire production with a whole host of nuts and bolts.
“The more planning you do, the better off you are,” says Eddie Wynne, head golf professional and program director of the University of Minnesota golf course, Les Bolstad, where planners can host golf clinics and 18-hole events. “A lot goes into planning these events.”
The first step in the planning process is deciding what type it will be—a corporate outing, a simple get-together or a fundraiser.
“Base decisions such as venue, format, player cap, hole contests, sponsorships, tee gifts, food and beverage offerings on what is attuned with the experience you want to provide,” says Kay Zeigler, membership and catering manager of North Oaks Golf Club, a private club that can host 100-player minimum events on Mondays. “Pay attention to detail and be ready to adapt to the myriad of last-minute changes.”
With so many components to consider during the planning phase, organization and, as Zeigler mentioned, attention to detail are a must.
“The key is having a checklist of the 100-plus things you need to do to make the event go smoothly so that it is a great experience for the players,” says Kevin Unterreiner, owner and chief golf officer of TwinCitiesGolf.com, a website that offers info on courses, golf discounts, events and more. “Once you know what to do, then the next key is to have several key volunteers to help with planning and running the event.”
Jack MacKenzie—who is responsible for implementing an active social and educational schedule as executive director of the Minnesota Golf Course Superintendents Association—notes some courses will also have a list of what needs to be done before an event. “Most clubs who host an event will have a checklist of important components necessary to make the event a grand success,” he says. “If you are a planner, request copies of each club’s specific function sheets for additional successful ideas.”
If the idea is to have the event take place each year, Wynne recommends keeping a notebook that can be revisited when the planning begins the next year to learn what worked and what didn’t.
Before any planning takes place, it is crucial to create a committee. These events require many hands and, according to Jon Dundore— president of Dundore Events, a Burnsville-based golf tournament consulting company— are nearly impossible to do alone.
“Too many times I see people take on the responsibility of trying to [plan] by themselves,” says Dundore. “That is a very difficult situation to try to do it by yourself.”
Committee members should each be given a specific duty to break up the work and make the planning process easier. Wynne recommends having at least a few golfers as part of the group to provide technical knowledge and support.
The importance of a committee can be seen through the success of Dundore’s first client—Floyd Adelman, chair of the Paul Adelman Children with Disabilities Endowment Fund, which he started after his son, Paul, died in 1996. To contribute money, Adelman’s friend decided to start a golf tournament, and after about five years, Adelman took over what is now called the Annual Golf Classic & Paul’s Party.
When Dundore began working with Adelman, the committee was made up of himself, family and a few volunteers. He brought people he knew together to play golf in memory of his son and charged a bit to donate to the fund. Before Dundore got involved, the event brought in about $10,000 to $15,000. Last year, it brought in more than $250,000 and has a goal of $300,000 for this summer’s event, which will be its 20th year.
“You have to understand what is all going to be involved,” says Dundore. “There is no way he could ever do it by himself. To assign a group of people to each item within the event and say ‘you are responsible for this,’ it’s literally no different than a corporation.”
A committee of 20 helped to grow the event and divvy up the workload. The high number of members also brought a more diverse network to the group. With only a few members, the likelihood of each bringing something different to the table is low. So the more people, the broader net you will cast. “If you have one or two people, you will only get so far,” says Adelman. “Hopefully [members] don’t all bring the same things; hopefully some bring golfers or friends for the evening and others bring sponsors or raffle items.”
Aside from the use of a committee, utilizing the help of the golf course’s on-site professionals is a must.
“Golf destinations provide high-caliber professionals who are top in the service industry,” says MacKenzie. “If you allow them to make suggestions that work at their facility and limit the petty requests, you will have a successful relationship and be served exactly or better than you expected.”
When working with these professionals it’s necessary to be organized and use both your and their time efficiently when meeting during the planning process. “Time management benefits the planner for a successful event,” says Anne Colehour, meeting and event manager for the Minnesota Golf Association. “A golf course/staff always appreciates a planner who is thinking ahead and having logistics under control for the event.”
According to MacKenzie, the staff also appreciates when planners are succinct with their wants and needs. With such a big event to plan, every last detail has to be laid out and an honest, open relationship needs to be developed early on. “Let the professionals do their job,” says MacKenzie “Be clear on your intentions and allow them the space to fulfill your desires. Micromanaging will negatively impact the service you receive.”
Club staffers are useful because they know every nook and cranny of both the course and the clubhouse and make planning a breeze. They can give suggestions and advice on what works best at their course based off past events.
“Ask questions. The host golf professional is always willing to help with the event and give you information that will help run a successful event,” says Wynne. “Most host professionals have run hundreds of tournaments and they know what works and doesn’t work.”
The majority of golf events tend to support nonprofits. Take Dundore Events: In his eight years, Dundore has only consulted on two or three corporate events, and even those raised money.
“Golf events are a great way to generate fun and excitement and to raise money while building a sense of community and support for great causes,” says Unterreiner.
Adelman, however, cautions the use of golf events for smaller organizations. Before starting out, they need to think carefully and plot out the details so as to be successful.
“I think for charities, you better have a real following or you better find another event than a golf tournament because it just takes so much,” he says. “[The event] has to have an organization that can bring people together, because there are just so many places people can go now; you get invites every week.”
Adelman credits his success to being so transparent about exactly where the money raised is going. For his golf classic, the donations always go to organizations that work with children and adults with physical and development disabilities. Every year, a list is published so attendees know exactly what is done with the money. “People understand where the money is going,” he says. “They know there is almost no overhead, and they all know it goes to the same purpose.”
In planning a fundraiser golf tournament, Dundore again emphasizes the importance of a committee. “Be very careful of choosing the path of attempting to do it on your own,” says Dundore. “Develop a good committee, choose your golf course wisely and then come up with as many things as you possibly can to maintain the interest of your participants for the entire time they are there.”
Selecting the perfect club with the greenest of holes that will give attendees everything they expect in a golf event is of utmost importance. To choose such a venue, Unterreiner relies on four criteria: The location should be no more than a 30-minute drive for attendees; the course’s design should have an 18-hole layout; there must be a driving range so players can warm up; and the banquet facility needs to have the capacity to fit your golfers and their guests.
“A golf event is always popular because the sport can be played by all ages,” says Colehour. “When a golf event is involved, participation is high and easy to extend invitations to others. An attractive course will receive more participants at the event.”
However, finding a venue is just the first step in attracting participants. The real work comes in finding unique entertainment that will both find and keep attendees for the future.
“I think the key here is to know your audience,” says Unterreiner. “For example, if they are mostly beginner or occasional golfers, then having the right format (scramble), contests and perks (like mulligans) will help them enjoy the day more.”
If you’re stumped in coming up with something new and bold, MacKenzie goes back to the course’s professionals as tools to use when looking for a way to entertain guests.
“Each golf destination has its special nuances,” says MacKenzie. “Allow the course managers the opportunity to share what works well, isn’t a pain in the neck to implement and will give you the biggest bang for the buck.”
Dundore uses entertainment as a way to keep attendees happy and boost sponsor recognition—a key component for every fundraiser event. “I recognize sponsors throughout the entire process as much as I possibly can because I believe that’s the most important thing,” says Dundore. “And many companies sponsor these events because they believe in the particular cause.”
At events he consults on, Dundore takes candid photos from registration through the last minute of golf, and then projects them during the reception. After every fourth photo, he mixes in a sponsor slide. Another fun option for sponsor recognition is custom scorecards and signs on golf carts.
At Les Bolstad, which has hosted such golf legends as Jack Nicklaus and Patty Berg, golf clinics typically take place one or two hours before the event to give more people the opportunity to attend and make them comfortable about their abilities.
“One thing we have been doing to get more participation that is unique for the host tournament is to hold a golf clinic in addition to the golf event,” says Wynne. “This increases the numbers that can attend or encourages the people that want to go to the event but decide not to because they are worried about their playing ability.”
Another great draw for guests? Prizes. “Golfers love to win stuff,” says Unterreiner. “The more prizes events can offer, the more excitement it generates and the more people will talk about the event after it’s done.”
Silent auctions or raffles are popular at golf events and can be an easy way for entertainment. To keep things exciting for his event, Adelman adds new items each year. And the winnings are big. Past raffle items include tickets to New York Fashion Week, the Kentucky Derby, the Masters Golf Tournament and the Emmys.
And while unique and exciting entertainment is important, ultimately what all guests are there for is the golf—whether it’s the competition of the sport or just the general camaraderie that goes along with a day on the links, under the sun, playing a great game.
“We have some very serious golfers, but everybody that comes knows they are going to have fun,” says Adelman. “Nobody is worried about winning the event; it’s about having a good time.”