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Making Your Charity Tournament Successful
Part Three: What Do Golfers Really Want

By Eric Tracy - Published in Southern California Golf Newspaper - February 2002

Every year thousands of local charity golf tournaments raise millions of dollars for wonderful causes. Golf is a fabulous fundraising vehicle. For the last three months, in an effort to help charity tournament become more successful, we've presented a series of reports offering expert advice on key elements of these events that will help your pending tournament prosper this year. The series is written by Eric Tracy, KFWB News 980 Sportscaster and golf writer. Tracy supplies our monthly charity tournament listings which are taken directly from his website, Charity Golf Online, hosted by kfwb.com, the award-winning KFWB website. Tracy, also knows as The Mulligan Man at charity golf tournaments, has played, organized or served as the Master of Ceremonies at some 300 tournaments. If you ever play in a Mulligan Man tournament, it's hard to miss him wearing his wildly colorful knickers and argyle knee socks. This year, through his sponsors, Tracy will provide golf prizes to as many as 50 tournaments. These donated items, when auctioned, will likely raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities around the Southland. We hope these articles have been beneficial to you as you make your tournament plans for 2002. By the way, this series and other articles are available on Charity Golf Online at www.kfwb.com/charity. -Editor

You're the chairperson of a charity golf tournament that everyone seems to agree has been fairly successful year after year, but someone on your committee points out a strange trend: New players continue to be recruited, but the repeat players seem to be mysteriously backing out in greater numbers. That doesn't make sense, right? Every time you've asked your friends who play every year about their likes and dislikes, all you get is positive responses. And your friends are coming back, why not the others? Something's going wrong somewhere. If only you could figure out why.

Ever thought about actually asking the real golfers themselves -- not just the ones who you know? Everybody's got an opinion, but it's finding the right opinions that make a difference.

Last year, I was involved in almost 50 charity events in Southern California, and I've been involved more than 300 total over the years. Through my meeting and greeting of participants, I've formed an incredibly large database of golfers who play in charity golf tournaments. I can even search that list and find players who we'll call the "frequent fairway flyers.'' There are dozens and dozens of them in my database, from all kinds of business backgrounds and, more importantly, with all kinds of opinions.

I came up with my own unscientific poll with four simple questions:

  1. Why do you play in charity golf tournaments?
  2. What attracts to you to a specific charity golf tournament?
  3. What brings you back to a charity golf tournament you played in the last year?
  4. What prevents you from returning to a charity golf tournament you played in?

I offered as many as seven reasons for each question and had the respondents rank the reasons in order of importance. Their answers provide interesting insight, but the expanded responses from some of these players were even more interesting. Remember, it's not what I think or a professional tournament coordinator thinks or the committee members think. The golfers are the ones who are paying the bills and have no axe to grind. The golfers I talked to actually want to help make events better since they enjoy participating. They'll be back, but they'd sure like to do so under better circumstances.

And here's a consensus about what the players think with the rankings of their answers at the conclusion of this article:

The cause or the benefiting charity is a very strong lure for most of the golfers, especially those who run businesses and want to further associate themselves with worthwhile events. Almost equally as important for many is supporting friends who might be associated with the event or charity. While the golfers may not play in tournaments specifically for networking purposes, it doesn't hurt that they meet and greet people who could be potential clients somewhere down the road, and will remember them from your tournament. In response to the question "Are charity tournaments good for business, Doug Swaim, the general manager of Star Ford in Glendale told me, "not in the short-run, but there are many footprints that pay off in the long run," Don Fleming, a long-time Lexus dealer in Valencia, is another who is very involved in his community and will support as many in his surrounding area as possible, both as a player and a sponsor. "I really believe in the causes, but I know this helps business,'' he said. "We even allot a portion of our advertising budget to charity events.

For those golfers who play in multiple events each year, the course is not that big a lure. For those who are avid golfers, yes, this matters. "Especially the courses I normally can't get on to play,'' said Gonzo Paigen, who loves the game so much that he named his business Spyglass Insurance. "I'm competitive and I want to see how I do on these other courses.'' Playing at private clubs used to be a much bigger draw than it is today because so many high-end/daily fee golf courses have blossomed. Tournaments no longer have to be limited to Mondays, traditionally the only day outside play can rent a private club. In many cases these new public facilities are better courses and have better clubhouses than their private counterparts.

Interesting how this really doesn't come into play for many of the players. When they make a decision to support a cause or a friend, they pay up. They know going in that it's for an event intending to raise money, and they're giving a partially tax deductible contribution. "Unless it's an entry fee of like $5,000, maybe I wouldn't pay it, but considering everything your entry fee pays for, it's expected to be a price that not everyone can afford,'' said Judd Swarzman, an investment counselor who plays in many PGA Pro-Ams and serves on the committee for as number of charity tournaments.

This is one of those areas that some tournaments think is important, but almost universally meant nothing to any of the golfers I spoke to. If anything the golfers attitude towards these 'celebrities' was disdain. Quotes like "half the times you don't even know who these celebrities are" came up a lot. Unless the celebrities really are the ones who play at Pebble Beach, the so-called "big names'' do little to draw someone to a tournament. It's amazing that charities spend so much money to get celebrities yet nobody in our poll ranked that the reason they play higher than the 4th or 5th out of 5 for choosing to play in a tournament. Many of these celebrity freeloaders act surly to the paying customers while playing a free round themselves, then leave right after golf and never mingle. Who needs them?

I must admit this response fooled me. I was of the opinion not many people really cared about trophies or awards. Guess again. "Awards are important because they identify the event, you can keep them out on your desk as a reminder of that event, and it'll make you want to come back and defend it,'' said Fleming, who plays in as many as 20 events a year. "Everybody cherishes something you can keep." Paigen even suggests the awards be extended so that tournaments have both 'gross' and 'net' winners. "Why do they ask you to give a handicap when you enter anyway?'' he wondered. I was right about one thing. Nobody really cares about traditional trophies. You know, the brass column kind with the golfer in a full swing pose, referred to by many in our poll as 'dust collectors'. Most everyone talked about a nice piece of crystal or other useful or 'artsy' award and really liked the fact the piece had a description of the event and their order of finish.

I can't tell you how many golfers indicated they are just plain tired of 'scramble' events. Charity tournament organizers pick this format because it's what they did last year and they've been told that it speeds up play by using the best ball of all foursome's shots. "I'm always up for a modified scramble, because I want to play my own ball a lot of the time after the tee shots,'' said Swarzman. A scramble is very attractive, however, to female participants. "I get to play parts of the fairways that I'd normally not see,'' said Marianne Sfreddo, a CPA who makes the effort to get to as many events as she can for the enjoyment of the game. Think this one over before you just do another scramble. There are other ways.

When it's there, great. When it isn't ... "I can't stand some of those boxed lunches,'' said Swaim. "I don't know why some keep doing that. And sometimes, there aren't any beverages for half the holes. Play during the summer and you need soft drinks and water - not just a trashcan full of beer - on every hole.''


The raffle and auction are not among the key reasons people participate in charity tournaments. However, like most everything in life, a good raffle and auction are enjoyed. Conversely, "if you're just going to give away junk, don't bother" said one golfer who didn't want to be identified. Many do stick around for this activity after golf, and do so because they need to. "If I spend the whole day on the course, my wife won't let me keep doing that unless I bring something home for her,'' said Paigen. "I also love the auctions - I wish I could get a list of the items before I go out to play so I can think about it between holes and figure out what I want to bid on when I get back. "But if I don't come home with something from Mary Kay, I probably won't be allowed to go back out again.''

Do not treat these rankings too lightly. The first and second most important reasons golfers don't return to charity events are "poor organization" and golf that lasts 'too long'. Third on that list is being 'nickel and dimed' at every turn. Volunteers hawking raffle tickets morning, noon and night. Others asking for 'buy-ins' for closest-to-the-hole or "Beat the Pro". The truth is, add up what you make on these collections and you could easily charge everyone $20 more in the entry fee, make more money and make more friends. Besides, as our poll indicates, price isn't that big of a deal if someone wants to play.

The more I talked with golfers, the more of them I wanted to talk to. They provided interesting insight and were quite helpful. Consider this exercise yourself. Not with a flyer given to every golfer at your tournament that they must fill out and mail back. Not by calling your friends. But look at your player lists and call golfers. Maybe someone on your committee will invest a day or two making calls, but like most investments, done properly, it will likely pay dividends in the ultimate success of your event and for the charity you are raising money.

More than 100 golfers were invited to respond. The answers to the four questions below were ranked from most important (1) to least important (5).


1. Support The Charity or the Cause
2. Support A Friend Involved In The Tournament
3. The Golf Course
4. Entertain Clients
5. Networking

Author's note: Without question people play in charity tournaments to support a charity or a friend involved with the tournament. However, when choosing which tournaments to play in golfers are still lured by a good golf courses.


1. Support The Charity/Cause
2. The Golf Course
3. Location/Proximity to Work/Home
4. The Price
5. Celebrities

Author's note: The thinking behind this question was, if golfers are invited to a number of charity golf tournaments every year, what factors help them decide which ones they play. The charity or the cause is still the number one answer, but the golf course and whether that event supported the golfer's local community (home and or business) also played a part in the decision making. Of the golfers we talked to, celebrities as a draw or a reason golfers chose an event was never more than the 4th choice out of 5.


1. Support The Charity/Cause
2. The Golf Course
3. The Golf Experience (skills contests, on-course demos, activities, banquet)
4. The Prizes (goodie bag, awards, photos)
5. The Raffle/Auction Items

Author's note: Notice the consistency in the importance of the cause and the course to golfers. Also notice that the overall experience is more important then what goes in a goodie bag, how big the trophy is or how many items are raffled or auctioned. We kept hearing the same thing, 'quality over quantity'. Remember that.


1. Poor Organization
2. Golf Took Too Long
3. Being "Nickled and Dimed" (being asked to buy stuff during the day)
4. The Golf Course
5. Cheap Prizes (goodie bag, awards, photos)
6. Boring Banquet
7. The Price

Author's Note: From the least important to the most, how much your charge isn't nearly as important as how you pull off the charity golf tournament you planned. Here's the advice of golfers: be prepared for your guests, be organized in how you pull off your event and keep your golf under 5 ½ hours and your "frequent fairway flyer" rate will go up. In my poll it became fairly obvious the golfers I spoke with didn't mind shelling out money to support a cause, they just hate being "nickel and dimed". The bottom line is that a lot of planning goes into creating a good golfing experience but too many tournaments fail on the day of the event.


For more information on running your charity event, contact Eric Tracy at erictracy@earthlink.net

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