19 Ways to Nail a Golf Tournament

A quick-hit guide to planning a stellar event, from tournament styles, to contest formats, to where to place your beverage carts


Up to nine months before the event, set objectives for your outing: networking, getting clients, an incentive award, teambuilding, raising money for charity, raising money for your company, or something else?

Contest idea: Single putt. Participants try to make one long-shot putt, generally of at least 50 feet. This is the golf equivalent of the half-court basketball shot.

Pick a format for the tournament: individuals or teams. One of the biggest factors in determining the format is the number of players and the skill levels of those playing. Four-person scramble formats are the most popular. In a scramble, each player will tee off from the predetermined tee box. Once each player has had a chance to hit an initial shot, the group decides which ball to hit for the next shot. Each player then drops a ball close to the ball the group decided to play. Play continues like this on each shot until the team has finished all 18 holes of golf. Variations also include two- and three-person teams.

Contest idea: THe UnCONVentional putt. This is a great way to give novice golfers a chance to win a contest on the course. Players use hockey sticks or other unexpected pieces of equipment while putting, and the player who makes the longest putt wins. 

You could also set up the tournament as an “alternate shot” event. The alternate shot format is for two-person teams. The two players take turns hitting the same ball at alternating holes. This is sometimes called Evens and Odds or Scotch Foursome. 

Another fun option, especially for groups with novice golfers, is a “best ball” tournament, which allows all team members to play their own balls at each hole. At the completion of the hole, the lowest score becomes the team score. 

Contest idea: Fewest putts. This is a simple contest; players strive to have the lowest number of putts for the round. If there is a tie, coordinate a putting contest to determine the winner. Remind players to count their putts as they play. 

Determine a plan if you have too many registrants: create a waiting list, auction slots off, or roll people over to next year?

Create an outing logo and a brand identity and determine what kind of signage you want on the course. At minimum, you will need signs that feature your company or association logo, and signs honoring your event sponsors, if applicable. 

Market your event. In addition to the usual flyers, e-blasts, and house ads, invest in specialty products like branded golf balls.

Beverage breaks are a must. Some courses have two beverage carts, one on each nine. Others have only one beverage cart driving around. Ideally, you should have three to four beverage stations throughout the course—preferably where two to three holes may cross. The golf course will know the best spots for beverage stations; ask your contact for ideas. 

Contest idea: shootouts. Either randomly selected players, or those who won the closest-to-the-pin contest, participate in a post-tournament shootout. A popular prize is a big-screen television.

Develop a sponsorship package. It will vary depending on your group and budget. For a sample sponsorship package that Roger Caldwell, president of Kansas City-based Great Golf Events, coordinated for a client, go to www.greatgolfevents.com/HopeNew-Sponsorships.htm.

Pull together your prizes. Great options include traditional trophy cups, crystal awards, personalized golf balls or gloves, and Belgian chocolates shaped like golf balls. For very high-level events, you could offer a one-year membership to a golf club.  

Contest idea: Shortest Drive. This fun option recognizes those individuals who may not be proficient at golf. Unlike the longest drive, where the golfer attempts to move the ball a great distance down the fairway toward the green from the tee box, the shortest drive measures the shortest distance the ball travels down the fairway.

Coordinate the contests you want to include as part of the tournament or events that follow. In addition to the options we have explained here, popular events include a longest putt or a longest drive contest. And don’t forget the prizes for contest winners! Check out our sidebar for suggestions that match any budget.  

Contest idea: Closest to the pin.This contest is held on a par-three hole, and the objective is to hit the ball as close to the hole as possible. A par three is a hole that professional golfers are expected to score in three shots, and there are typically four par threes on a golf course, which create four different opportunities to have the closest shot. Make sure to have a measuring tape near the green in case two shots are very close.  

A variation of this is a hole-in-one contest. The objective is simple: Contestants have to make the shot in only one try. Consider hole-in-one  insurance if you plan to offer a substantial prize should someone successfully sink a ball in one stroke.

Develop a feedback plan. Create surveys to gauge what players liked and what they didn’t. Online surveys sent out after the event generally receive the best responses. For paper surveys distributed at lunch or dinner, expect only about a 25 percent response rate.  

Plan the post-golf party. After 18 holes, your group is going to be ready for something to eat. Not only should you serve a meal, but this is the time to honor competition winners.