by Adam Lazarus
Everyone knows that playing in a golf tournament can be really fun. What’s not to like about taking a day off of work, spending time with some friends or clients, (in some cases) raising money for a good cause, enjoying a meal or two and going home tired with a goodie bag filled with cool stuff, maybe a trophy and possibly some great prizes? Sounds like the perfect Friday to me.
But what very few people know is how much time, energy and detail goes into organizing a golf tournament. And what even fewer people understand is how to plan and execute a successful golf tournament.
There are literally thousands of golf tournaments held in the United States each year. A growing number as more and more charities and organizations are using golf to raise awareness or funds for their cause while more companies are using fun tournaments to thank their employees or clients. The overwhelming majority of these tournaments are small, locally run and, while fun for the golfers, most don’t make a penny for their organizers. What makes a tournament a “success” is certainly subjective, perhaps it’s to raise awareness and not revenue, but a well run event is about as obvious as a good golf swing.
The reasons why most golf tournaments are unsuccessful can be as varied as the causes they’re supporting. Factors range from things organizers can typically control like poor planning, flawed execution, picking the wrong course on the wrong day and time, lack of marketing or inefficient accounting to the things no one can predict such as inclement weather, poor course conditions, bad economy or other tournaments being held that same day. So how can your tournament be different? What can you do to ensure success? How do you turn your passion for the game into planning a thriving event? How does the non-golfer or someone new to tournament planning make it successful?
Following the advice below won’t guarantee that your event raises millions or sells out every spot, but the tools and tips you’re about to read come from professionals with years of experience in the golf business planning, operating and marketing successful golf tournaments. But apply these best practices and your tournament is guaranteed to be head and shoulders above the average event, will likely make some real money, will definitely be memorable and be sustainable for future years.
There are hundreds of ways to make a tournament profitable, exciting and memorable, but the basics of organizing and executing a successful golf tournament fall under the Five P’s: Purpose, people, planning, players and presentation.
What is the purpose of your event?
Golf is fun, golf is popular and golf can bring in big dollars and tons of exposure, right? Setting goals and managing expectations is the most important, and most often missed, crucial first step. What are you trying to accomplish with your golf tournament?
Are you trying to raise money? If so, perhaps a golf tournament isn’t the best way to do it. Are you trying to bring attention to a cause? Maybe there are faster, more visible ways to highlight your cause. Do you want to make $5,000 or $50,000? Do you want 100 players or is it invitation only? Will the tournament be high-end or economical? What is the format for the event? Don’t book a course and send out 200 invitations without first answering the above questions, and more, to ensure a golf tournament is the right way to achieve your goals.
Involve as many good people as possible.
Establish a committee. Putting on a great golf tournament can’t be done alone. Develop a committee of passionate, energetic and persistent people to help organize and execute the event from soup to nuts. You don’t need golf-lovers, just people committed to the same cause you are. Golf tournaments require effort. Effort takes time. A committee helps share the load of responsibilities, leverages connections and holds everyone accountable. Find the right mix of personalities and put everyone to work! Meet regularly. Make goals. Push each other. Have fun!
Assign everyone a responsibility for the planning phases and for the day of the tournament. There is a lot to do so make sure you have the right person in the right role. 95% of the work is done before a golfer even tees off, so make sure you have enough people and everyone has a clearly defined job to do. Some of the most important roles include:
- Course liaison – communicates with the course, gives updates, provides accurate numbers and sets expectations
- Prize Patrol – Securing prizes, goodie bags and auction items
- Golfer acquisition – filling foursomes and getting golfers to sign up
- Golfer goodies – everyone should be involved in gathering prizes, auction items and giveaway items, but designate a point person to order the shirts, hats, trophies, pens, signage, raffle tickets and items needed on the day of play.
- Accounting – What are you charging? What do you need to make? How can you cut expenses without impacting the experience? How many players do you need? By when? What can you get donated or underwritten? Just like in life, sometimes having a good accountant and simply “doing the math” is what makes or breaks an event, especially in year one. Marketing – get the word out! Send “save the dates”, tell everyone, send emails, put up flyers, have the golf course help spread the info and connect with popular businesses. Use traditional media and social media. Start early. Be frequent. Stay positive. Be persistent.
- Ancillary revenue – one of the most underrated, yet effective, ways to make money at events is the successful organization and operation of fun “contests” like hole-in-ones, closest-to-the-pins, longest or straightest drives, putting games, beat the Pro holes, raffles, mulligans, silent or live auctions and more! Golfers giving to a good cause in the form of a golf contest can raise thousands of dollars and be a fun and exciting way for golfers to win some more cool prizes.
Plan, plan and plan some more.
The primary reason most tournaments fail to meet expectations is poor planning. People spend a year or more planning a wedding, so expect to spend several months or more planning a successful tournament. Put the plan down on paper. Think of everything you can. Have others review and develop the plan. Poor planning will derail your event before it even gets started.
Be realistic, economical and practical with your plan. For example, if you can be flexible with the date and time of your event than perhaps the golf course will work with you on the rate, adding value or the day of play execution? Plan for contingencies on “game day” for weather, wind, no shows, pairing changes, course surprises, golfer handicaps, drawing names and anything else you can think of. A good plan helps you order enough shirts, serve enough burgers, hand out enough prizes and have enough people to help run the event. For a golf tournament to be successful, the plan must be successful.
Go get players and go get sponsors.
Without golfers, you have no golf tournament. Without golfers, you have no sponsors. Get golfers! Get them to commit early, get them to bring friends and coworkers, get them to spread the word. Offer incentives for prepayment or for bringing an entire foursome. Be persistent and make the message personal. Just because your event is at a popular course, is for a great cause and the value is there, don’t expect golfers to just show up. Fill those spots!
One of the most overlooked, yet crucial and cost-effective components to any event, is the sponsorships. Whether underwriting the lunch, providing the shirts with their company logo on it, buying a tee sign, handing out material or more, securing a good sponsor, or sponsors, can be the single biggest revenue stream (or expense reduction) a golf tournament can experience.
Get local businesses, organizations, friends and family to support and sponsor your event. They can’t say yes if you don’t ask. Leverage connections. Call in favors. Build good will in the community. Have committee members hit the streets. Every time you visit a local business find the manager and talk passionately about your event. Even if you don’t fill a foursome or sell a sign, maybe you can get them to donate a raffle prize. Be creative – allow sponsors to hand out coupons at your tournament, have a table on a tee box, provide free samples or more. If they’re shelling out money, give them something good.
Presentation is everything.
You’ve planned, you have the right people in place, the players are there and tournament day has arrived. This is when you need to get it right. Make sure everything runs smoothly: have multiple people registering golfers and collecting money, make sure the prize distribution is efficient, have someone driving around the course during play ensuring golfers are happy and selling raffle tickets, have ample staff on each hole manning the contests, pull the names of the small-prize raffle winners during the round to expedite the raffle and keep golfer interest for those big ticket items, recognize the sponsors and host course, make certain that rules, formats, sponsor signage, etc. is correct and easy to see. The devil truly is in the details.
By establishing the purpose of the event, developing a good plan with a strong team of people and getting as many golfers as possible to enjoy the great presentation, you’re guaranteed to run a successful golf tournament – One players’ will be talking about for awhile. It won’t be their score that gets them to return next year…it’ll be the great experience they had. And think of the great experience you’ll get as a tournament operator? You’ll be one of the very few that knows how to run a successful golf tournament and I promise you you’ll have a blast while doing it.