SBJ/August 30 - September 5, 2004/Marketingsponsorship

Retail king Wal-Mart launches golf sponsorship this week

Golf fans will witness a rarity this weekend: a Wal-Mart sports sponsorship. The retail giant is presenting sponsor of the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, a new Champions Tour event that will combine medal play for the pros with a team best-ball format for them and for 156 amateurs and 78 junior golfers representing the growing First Tee program.

Friday and Saturday rounds will be televised on the Golf Channel, Sunday’s on NBC.

Wal-Mart signed as presenting sponsor last December, the company’s only major sports deal apart from the FLW Wal-Mart fishing series. Company spokesman Dan Fogleman said the deal doesn’t represent a change in Wal-Mart’s approach — only that the event’s altruistic side meshes with Wal-Mart’s philosophy.

“We looked at this more as providing young people of all backgrounds with opportunities for character development through golf,” Fogleman said. “These are the same skills we instill in our associates, and we were interested in fostering them in the communities where the [tournament] program has been held.”

Wal-Mart gave $150 million to support communities and nonprofits last year. It would not disclose the cost of this presenting sponsorship in its first of two years. Champions Tour title deals cost roughly $2 million a year.

The First Tee is a program of the World Golf Foundation, which uses golf to teach life skills in kids who would not normally have much access to golf. It has opened 154 golf learning facilities since 1997 and taught more than 300,000 children.

The young participants in this year’s tournament — roughly one-quarter of them women — were chosen partly through a qualifying system in five cities and partly through a long application process that included essays and interviews. Roughly 450 kids applied. The program was supported by in-store materials in the five qualifying-site cities, and Wal-Mart associates acted as marshals, greeters and caddies at the events.

The amateur players will come from various companies who are secondary sponsors of the tournament.

At the tournament, there will be a mixer for all the players, and many of the kids are expected to play a practice round with their pro. Several luminaries, such as Wal-Mart CEO Tom Coughlin, Peter Ueberroth, Arnold Palmer, former NFL coach Bill Walsh and Tom Watson, will speak on First Tee’s core values.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, Royal Bank of Scotland and Coca-Cola are “national trustees” of First Tee, and Shell Oil is its founding corporate partner. All have made seven-figure donations to the program, according to Joe Barrow, First Tee’s national director.

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