Getting the Party Started

These days, entertaining guests at a golf tournament takes more than just setting up a tent with a buffet

Sometimes, golf is just an excuse for a party--or a fishing expedition or a hot-air balloon ride. As directors of professional golf events on both the men's and women's tours explore ways to increase revenues, they have given companies many more options for entertaining. Gone are the days when all a company could do was buy pro-am spots and set up an air-conditioned tent with a laden buffet. "More events are drawing on their locale--whether historic sites, sports teams, or special attractions--to provide unusual entertainment opportunities," says Henry Hughes, senior vice-president and chief of operations for the PGA Tour.

A case in point is the Senior PGA Tour's Napa Valley Championship presented by Beringer Vineyards. At the October event, companies host lavish dinners at famous restaurants as well as golf outings at area courses. But some also treat their guests to winery tours, train rides, bike trips, and hot air ballooning. "Golf and wine are a great combination," says tournament director Adam Dove. "Golf is a morning thing, wine isn't."

While multiple pro-ams are now the norm early in a typical tournament week, before the pros begin to compete for official money, some tour events have found more innovative uses of their golf venues. At the PGA Tour event, generally held in late February or early March at Miami's Doral Golf Resort & Spa, a Concert on the Green takes place the Saturday night before the tournament. Corporate sponsors underwrite the performance, which is open to the public free of charge, and their guests get to view it from the comfort of sky boxes used later in the week to watch golf. At the recent Aerus Electrolux USA Championship at Nashville's Legends Club of Tennessee, tournament hosts and country-music stars Vince Gill and Amy Grant entertained ticket holders at a concert on the driving range the Tuesday night before the main event started.

Not all customer gatherings at tournaments offer rip-roaring entertainment. At the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship in Atlanta, hosted by LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, technology company EMC Corp. (EMC ) has been sponsoring an executive breakfast on Friday mornings that features a business speaker--a good excuse for corporate guests to leave their offices. The golf spectating then follows. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (WYE ) and the Houston Clinic, two of Lopez' sponsors, are planning a conference at the tournament next year for orthopedic surgeons.

For hard-core golf fans, the best form of entertainment may still be the old-fashioned kind: watching top golfers ply their trade on a top-ranked course. For this June's U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y., corporate tents quickly sold out at prices ranging from $85,000 (with 60 tickets each day) to $175,000 (with 125 tickets each day), depending on size and location. That's not including food and beverages or such tent enhancements as Persian carpets and potted plants.

Those prices may sound steep, but companies don't seem to mind spending on tournament hospitality. Says John Subers, president of tournament-management company Executive Sports International: "Businesses are justifying every golf-related dollar. They are tracking products and services sold to people they entertain and deciding golf is a good investment."

By Lisa Furlong

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