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The Freeman Invitational is an extremely successful tournament that is in its fifth year. The Freeman Company prides itself on its contribution to charitable work through its program “Freeman Cares,” and the annual golf fundraiser was created as a part of the Freeman Cares program to provide funds to The American Heart Association and The United Way. The tournament uses Golf Digest Planner’s website to collect online registration and to showcase their sponsor logos. I discussed tournament planning tactics with organizer Brent Hadaway to collect some realistic tips for beginning event planners. Hadaway has about nine years of experience planning golf tournaments and is a producer at the Freeman Company. He is a capable and thoughtful organizer who has great tips to pass on to those looking to create a lasting tradition at their company.

Hadaway’s first piece of advice is to make sure you solidify a good contract with the right golf course. Hadaway lists a few important questions that a beginning tournament planner should be sure to discuss with the golf pro before signing a contract:

•What kind of catering does the golf course have; can you bring your own or do you have to use theirs? •Do they have a designated tournament director? You would like a golf course that does. •Do they have the banquet facilities and the facilities to host and feed the amount of people you have coming? •What beverages can be brought on the course? (different states have different alcohol rules, food, etc.) •Can they handle all the scoring for you? •Do they have a staff that is going to label all the golf carts, take care of sponsor signs, ect, put out signs, ect.? •Do they offer prizes or any gifts as a result of booking at their facility? •Do they have a rain day policy? •Can sponsors set up tents on holes or tees for giveaways? •Is there is a bag check and receiving for players? •Is there sufficient beverage cart access and enough beverage carts?

Make sure to use this list, as well as the checklist found in our Golf Digest Tournament Planning guide, as a checklist for when you go to meet with your potential golf course.

The next piece of advice Hadaway provides helps you determine how much you should charge your players to play. Hadaway advises: “The price you pay per head really depends on your attendees. For charitable events, I would say 150% above the cost of players to the course. If it’s for a private tournament I would say $10-20 above what the rate per player is.” This is because with charitable events, you are looking to earn money. For a private tournament, you are looking to give your golfers the best value possible, while still having some cash to be able to buy prizes, gifts, ect.

Hadaway also gives advice on putting together your pairing sheets, which he said was his biggest challenge as a tournament planner. Hadaway advises only allowing foursomes to register if you fear that pairing lists will be a problem for you. If you do allow individual golfers to register, he advises telling players that the deadline for the pairing list is one week earlier than it actually is, because people will cancel or want to change foursomes last minute.

“It’s insane. It’s pretty much 24/7 and you have a lot of changes the week of the tournament. Cancellations, moving people, waiting lists, customers, corporate sponsors, who you can and cannot pair with people, ect.” Hadaway says that as a corporate event, he needs to know who can be placed together, and who needs to be kept apart. It’s a lot to keep track of and you need to give yourself enough time.

Next, Hadaway discussed his contests. Hadaway uses Long Drive, Closest to the Pin, and Hole in One Contests for sponsorship opportunities that make the day fun. He also introduced a Longest Putt contest. Top of the line signage and a great network of people to mingle with on tournament day is the incentive for Hadaway’s sponsorships, and his corporate sponsorships run at $3,500 for a foursome.

Hadaway also had a great idea to offer something in the sponsor package that costs the tournament nothing but is of big value. “The corporate sponsorship includes either a sponsorship or the chance to choose one of our corporate execs to play with on tournament day,” explains Hadaway. By offering the chance to play with a corporate executive, Hadaway increases the value of the sponsorships because it provides face to face networking opportunities that can only be found at this particular tournament.

For meals, Hadaway says the tournament provides a “grab and go” breakfast of coffee, juices, breakfast burritos, ect, to keep the early morning simple, and then full lunch and award ceremony after the tournament. Hadaway sends out example menus to his volunteer team to get an idea of what food should be served on tournament day. This is a great example of using a team of people to help get good feedback about making choices for big groups.

Another great idea Hadaway passed on was how to have successful raffle that raises a lot of money but doesn’t bore the players. “We get a lot of really high end prizes donated, and we end up with sets of clubs and gift certificates, even big screen TVs, so we usually have from fifty to sixty raffle prizes. We deal with a lot of corporate types -- short attention span kind of guys—and the first year we did the raffle, it took an hour and half to get through the raffle prizes. So, the first thing that we changed for the next year was we decided to just draw numbers when they are on the field, and then list them on the board and have someone pass them out. We would just do a live drawing on the ten biggest prizes. This way worked way better because we’ve got a lot of folks that need to get back to the airport as they fly in for the tournament.”

This way of jumping at the chance to learn from mistakes is part of what makes Hadaway’s team so effective. His volunteers have one telephone conference meeting before the tournament to review tasks, and more importantly, one debriefing telephone meeting after the tournament to discuss what went right or wrong.

“They’re always looking for ways to improve and they always come up for things to do next year. More importantly than the pre-tournament conference call for them is the post conference call two days after the tournament. Everybody puts in ideas, ‘we saw this happen and this worked and this didn’t.’ That’s a big help.

In addition to the pre-tournament conference call, Hadaway prepares for the tournament by sending out the list of raffle items to “wet their appetite” for the prizes, as well as a reminder list to volunteers. This volunteer reminder list is a great idea for all tournament organizers, but especially for those in their first few years. Hadaway advises including:

•Phone numbers of all volunteers so that everyone can get in touch with everybody • Prices of raffle ticket sales in spreadsheet form so that volunteers know how much to charge •Information on the cash bank that will be available on tournament day so that volunteers can make change. •Contact info of golf pros, the caterer, ect, •Reminder to bring sunglasses and sunblock, ect. •List of what sponsors will be setting up where •Explanation of what the alcohol rules are •Review of registration procedures, breakfast lunch, awards, ect.

Hadaway is an expert event organizer and an extremely calm, humble guy. A true leader, he is always thinking about how to make things easier for his golfers and his volunteers. His last piece of advice is to record everything in a spreadsheet so that “God forbid I get hit by a bus tomorrow, someone can take over the tournament and pull it off without a hitch.” He built a large spreadsheet with different tabs for volunteer info, sponsor info, a list of players and their foursome, a lot of payment information, what tee their team is on, ect. Hadaway also does one alpha list in alphabetical order in addition to his pairing list, as we offer on Golf Digest Planner website. He also includes a budget for each year with estimated proceeds. This year, Hadaway surpassed his expected proceeds by $14,000.

The Freeman Golf Classic is a prime example of what a successful tournament looks like. Hopefully this article shows that with organization, determination, and a great team, you too can create a lasting tradition of excellence and charity for your organization.

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