That's Entertainment

Corporations' interest in renting hospitality venues for hosting clients at professional golf tournaments has fully recovered from the noticeable dip following September 11, 2001. In fact, 2005 seems as if it will be a year of solid growth for corporate participation at PGA, Ladies' PGA, and Senior PGA events.

Most tournaments have tents or skyboxes for rent, providing a private, air-conditioned setting for favored guests. These venues include food-and-beverage service, big-screen TVs, and an electronic real-time scoring system. Tournaments also sell tickets to shared tents, where a corporation may reserve a table for 10 or simply provide guests with access to food and beverage counters and other amenities.

While pro tournaments (which are set up as non-profit charitable organizations) typically don't release information on revenue from corporate hospitality, their charitable donations are considered a benchmark by which tournament profitability is measured. And according to Chris Smith, public relations director for the PGA Tour in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, the organization has had increases in charitable donations each year for the last decade, except for a slight decline immediately following the September 11 attacks, which he attributed in part to the fact that a couple of tournaments were canceled in the weeks after the attacks.

Heidi Kolbiaz, assistant tournament director for the annual Buick Invitational in San Diego, says, "There have been increases in corporate hospitality revenues every year I've been at the tournament [since 1996], although the increase wasn't quite as large in 2002 as in other years." Following the 2004 tournament, the Buick Invitational gave a record $952,054 to charity.

Corporate hospitality venues available at the Buick, which was held in January, included skyboxes or 20-by-20 chalet tents, each seating 20 guests. Including food and beverage, the cost ranged from $17,500 to $20,000. "We had 60 corporate clients this year, in groups ranging from four to 100 guests," Kolbiaz notes, adding that large groups have the option of renting larger tents or several ones around the course. For example, Bank of America had 100 people each day, so they purchased three chalet packages.

Strength Nationwide

Corporate participation also is increasing at the MCI Heritage, a PGA Tour event held each April in Hilton Head, SC. "We have seven new corporate sponsors for 2005, and we're already sold out for the event," said Bill Wagner, tournament sales director. Last year, the event donated a record $1.35 million to local charities. At the MCI Heritage, which offers skybox suites as well as 20-by-20 tents, "half of our ticket sales are individual tickets and half are used by corporate clients," said Wagner.

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a February event in Monterey, CA, has been "picking up steam" in the past four years, says Cathy Scherzer, director of marketing. "We have three corporate hospitality options to choose from," she said, including 30-by-30 chalets, Trophy Suites skyboxes, and the Champions Club, a large enclosure adjacent to the 15th green. The $1,600-per-ticket price for the Champions Club includes entrance to the tournament for three practice-round days and four official-play days, and upscale food and beverage service. This year's event has 45 corporations scheduled to attend the Champions Club, says Scherzer.

To plan for and operate the hospitality venues, some corporations use internal meeting planners, some hire independent planners, and some turn over the job to the tournament staff. According to Roger Caldwell, owner of Great Golf Events, a Kansas City-based golf event planning company that also does corporate hospitality at PGA events, the biggest reason corporations hire outside planners is for the "benefits of a single billing source. We do everything from reserving and setting up the space, arranging for the caterer and wait staff, setting up lodging and travel, and occasionally arranging golf tournaments for the corporation before the PGA event begins," Caldwell said.

Chuck Mycoff, senior vice president of sports entertainment at Chicago-based Intersport, which also coordinates corporate hospitality packages, said the company's job is to "work with the tournament director to set up travel and lodging, catering, shuttle service, invitations, and more. Corporations use us for ease of coordination, experience in negotiation, and professional management."

At the Bay Hill Invitational, a March tournament in Orlando, "approximately 50 percent of our corporate clients use their own meeting planners, and we do the planning for the other half," said Bob Yount, who handles corporate sales and marketing. He adds, "Our corporate tents are all the same size and have a consistent exterior look, but corporations can do anything they want inside. Many firms go all out with a theme."

The tournament has 18 tents, which are all 40-by-40 and can accommodate up to 125 guests each. They include carpeting and complete furnishings, as well as flowers and decorative plants, televisions, telephones, security services, and an outdoor, fenced-in patio area that measures 40-by-16, according to the tournament's Web site. A tent package, which includes 400 single-day tickets and a discounted price for additional tickets, goes for $35,000, excluding food and beverage.

In some cases, corporations hold internal or customer meetings before or after the pro event. "Merrill Lynch, one of our biggest clients, often arranges breakfasts for their guests before the event," says Michael Milthorpe, tournament director at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, a January tournament in Rancho Mirage, CA.

In addition to skyboxes, the tournament offers the members-only Bob Hope Club, catered by Morton's, the Steakhouse; it's open on the Saturday and Sunday of the event. Corporations such as John Deere, a frequent client, can buy blocks of seats under the tent or outside it. Approximately 40 percent of the Bob Hope Club membership is corporate, Milthorpe says. Membership in the club, which overlooks the 18th green, sells for $600 per person and includes food and beverage.


SIDEBAR

Your Home Base

Corporate hospitality at PGA events is usually a joint effort between the corporate group's planner and the tournament's staff, so it's important that a good relationship be developed, preferably six months to a year before the event.

Among the many reasons why, here's an often overlooked one: You might actually want to use an off-the-course hospitality house to entertain clients in a low-key atmosphere—and the tournament staff can help you find one, despite the fact that the tournament does not reap any revenue from doing so. Allison Ellermeier, director of operations for Chicago-based International Sports Management, says that her firm seeks out homes for rent during tournament week that are within walking distance to the course but also have a swimming pool, basketball court, tennis court, or other amenities to help guests feel relaxed and insulated from the tournament crowds. She notes, however, that using a home off the tournament site means that you must contract for group-use parking permits, catering services, cleaning staff, and other vendors on your own.