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Charity Events Benefit Great Causes, Golf Courses and the Community

By Eric Tracy (aka The Mulligan Man)

Published in LA/OC/SD GOLF Magazine - February 2003

Editor’s note: This month Eric Tracy (aka The Mulligan Man) concludes his 3-part winter series on charity golf tournaments. In the two previous installments, Tracy provided information to help you chose a venue for your tournament and we published a directory of public and private golf courses we find the most experienced and popular for hosting your charity event. Please visit our website at www.golfinla.com to see detailed reports on the courses we featured in our directory. This month Tracy examines the business of charity golf, and in Southern California it is BIG business. Tracy has been involved as an organizer, Master of Ceremonies, player or consultant in more than 400 tournaments in a 20-year career. There’s not too much this KFWB Sportscaster doesn’t know about charity golf tournaments and how to make them profitable and successful.

“5,000 charity golf tournaments a year!?” I remember my astonished tone 5 years ago when I echoed back that number to the person on the other end of the phone.

I had asked Susan Harrison, who then worked in tournament sales for American Golf Corporation, for an estimate of how many charity golf tournaments there were in Southern California each year. At the time, AGC either owned or managed about three dozen courses in the area, so I didn’t question her number. In fact, I marveled at it.

Today I am here to report that number has changed a lot in the last 5 years. My research in a telephone survey of nearly 70 Southern California golf courses active in hosting charity golf tournaments indicates the number now is actually closer to 10,000 tournaments a year. Again, I marvel.

Suffice it to say, charity golf is big business, raising huge sums of money for charity, helping to keep golf courses solvent in these lean times and pumping millions more into our community by way of the myriad of goods and services purchased by these tournaments to make them successful events. Charity golf is also good business for the companies that participate in and sponsor the tournaments.

Countrywide Home Loans is one of the top mortgage lenders in the nation. They’re also very active in supporting local causes by stepping up big and title-sponsoring a half-dozen tournaments every year. Titles sponsors for small tournaments might write a check for $2,500. For big events, add a zero. And Countrywide is involved in five times that many tournaments in a minor way buying a foursome or two for $1,000 to $1,500 and using the occasion to entertain clients or recognize employee effort.

You’ll see the Countrywide banner supporting the Simi Valley Police Foundation, VNA Hospice Home Care or a local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. “When the organization is aligned with our charitable objectives, it makes great sense to support them,” said Patrick Benton Executive Vice President of Administration.

Countrywide’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Angelo Mozilo, feels a strong responsibility to participate in the communities his company serves and recognizes the added marketing benefits of golf giving. “Being represented at charity golf tournaments helps our corporate branding by giving people the sense that we are a company that participates in our community. That image sticks with people.”

For Countrywide’s Mozilo, participation in charity golf not only satisfies his passion for golf while serving the community, it’s a uniquely revealing form of corporate entertainment. “Golf’s mystical, demanding, frustrating and the absolute best sport for getting to know about people and their character,” his tone getting more reverent as he talks about the sport he obviously loves. “If you go skiing with someone you’re really mostly by yourself. With tennis, your opponent is on the other side of the court. Then there’s golf and no other sport lends itself to the quality of communication you can have with others than golf.” Exec VP Benton agrees with charity golf’s unique benefits. “Charity golf tournaments are a great place to meet new contacts or build existing relationships” then added, “being able to get 4 or 5 hours with key clients is pretty powerful stuff.

Participation in these all-day tournaments helps the bottom line of the golf courses as well. The courses need the revenue these group events bring, and many courses have hired clever marketing people to get groups to come play – an apparent necessity to survive the added competition brought on by the dramatic increase in the number of Southern California golf courses over the last decade.

Charity golf tournaments act as a branding vehicle for the golf courses as well. Many times a golfer’s first experience with a golf course is his participation in a charity golf event held there. What better way to see all that a course has to offer than a tournament that starts with a continental breakfast, serves an on-course BBQ lunch and ends after an awards dinner banquet. The golfer gets to taste the flavor of the golf course, its facilities and its food. And if the event is at a private club, the golfer gets to be a country club member for the day without having to pony-up a 5-figure initiation fee.

Then there are the numerous vendors associated with putting on a tournament -- vendors sensitive to and experienced in the charity golf genre of event fundraising. Tournaments need printed programs and tee-signs to promote their sponsors and many purchase shirts, hats and “Goodie Bag” items to thank their golfers for their participation. The rule-of-thumb is to spend 20% of a golfer’s entry fee on golfer gifts, so we’re talking multi-millions in premium item sales in Southern California alone.

Doug Campbell has represented La Mode Golfwear for nearly 20 years. You’d think the biggest business for this former golf pro would be selling golf apparel to pro shops. But a full 65% of Doug’s business comes from supplying golf shirts with charity and sponsor logos emblazoned on the right-breast to more than 100 tournaments a year.

Sponsors and contributors often receive tee-signs which give prominence to that company’s participation in the day’s events. Ace Tee Signs in Los Angeles (www.aceteesigns.com) provided tee signs for more than 30 tournaments last year. Ace’s proprietor, Shirley Butler, a meeting planner who loves playing golf, found herself organizing more and more corporate golf events. It was a natural transition from the office to the golf course. “It’s really nice to be involved with people whose purpose is doing good for others.”

Finally, and most importantly, there are the charities, the beneficiaries of all the monies raised and hard work that goes into putting on one of these events. In their names millions of dollars are pumped into our economy through charity golf. These non-profits can be as small and personal as the Augie Munoz Foundation started by the surviving son of a pancreatic cancer victim. David Munoz puts on a party--disguised as a golf tournament--that sells out every year. And every year David turns over more than $25,000 to pancreatic cancer research in his father’s name. Or they can be behemoth institutions with sophisticated development departments and a resourceful network of auxiliary volunteers who dedicate their lives to raising charitable dollars. They all have the same goal -- raise dollars, raise awareness and build relationships with people for the cause.

The City of Hope Cancer Hospital, with 13 chapters across the United States, is the beneficiary of more than 50 golf tournaments annually. Rick Leonard, one of City of Hope’s development specialists, understands the unique nature of charity golf tournaments and the many benefits the tournaments provide besides just dollars. “Golf is the social lubricant that brings a lot of elements together smoothly. Some people play for the golf, some for the cause. But by the end of the day many more people know about the mission of the institution.” Just as it is for the golf courses, sometimes the first contact a person has with a specific charity is a charity golf tournament. “We know the focus is raising funds,” Leonard admitted, “but it’s also trying to get people involved with us today for what they might bring tomorrow. It’s relationship building.”

Charity golf tournaments are feel-good do-good affairs whose popularity is growing in our community and around the country. In a November 2002 Charity Impact Report, The National Golf Foundation indicated that there were 140,000 charitable outings with more than 15,000,000 participants in the United States – and it was the small community efforts that had the most impact. Last year professional golf tournaments in the US generated between $75 and $100 million for the charities they support. On the other hand, local charity golf tournaments and the non-pro golfers that support them, generated $2.9 billion of total revenue. Again, I marvel.

As an avid golfer, I hope our paths cross on the tee this year. As a golfer with a heart for helping the community, I hope it’s on the tee for charity.

To find out more about The Mulligan Man visit www.TheMulliganMan.com or send email to Eric@TheMulliganMan.com

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