PGA Tour’s 9 trendsetters
The PGA Tour is a traveling carnival with the tournaments providing the promotional engine. The circuit serves as the front porch to the players and the property, with each stop offering its own distinct take. Here is a front nine list of stops outside the majors that have won accolades from tour and industry insiders for innovative fan amenities and sponsorship integration ranging from celebrities playing in the pro-am at Pebble Beach to the giant farm machinery dotting the course at the John Deere Classic.
AT&T Byron Nelson
Trinity Forest Golf Club,
May 6-12, 2019
Key sponsor: AT&T (title sponsor)
Key executive: Jon Drago
The approach: The stately Byron Nelson celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018 with a move to Trinity Forest Golf Club, ending a 35-year run at the TPC Four Seasons Resort. The move brought some unique, new client hospitality products, most notably Club 360, a structure that provides 360-degree views of the course and direct views of six holes. The $6,000 cost this year included four passes to the all-inclusive club, 24 daily passes to the tournament and two daily premium parking passes.
TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Conn.; June 17-23, 2019
Key sponsors: Travelers Insurance (title sponsor); Stanley Black & Decker, Trinity Health of New England (presenting sponsors)
Key executive: Nathan Grube
The approach: This is one of the tour’s strongest events of the summer as evidenced by the tour naming the Travelers tournament of the year in 2017. The draw? A strong field and a fan experience like no other in the Stanley Black & Decker Fan Zone that draws interest from golfers and non-golfers alike with activities including a kids zone (featuring a rock climbing wall and miniature golf course), concerts, and a host of offerings from local concessionaires.
The Players Championship
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
March 12-17, 2019
Key sponsors: Optum, Morgan Stanley, Grant Thornton (“Proud Partners”)
Key executive: Jared Rice
The approach: This is the PGA Tour’s show and as a result, the tournament boasts the biggest purse and the strongest field on tour. Next year, it moves to March from May but don’t expect much to change except the weather. The event provides oversized offerings in fan amenities, concerts, food and most notably hospitality. The swanky Players Club, which this year cost $6,000 for the week, provides access to the posh clubhouse featuring all-inclusive food and drink prepared by celebrity chefs, special viewing areas of the famed 17th island green, golf simulators, merchandise credits and other perks.
AT&T Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach Golf Links,
Feb. 4-10, 2019
Key sponsors: AT&T (title sponsor)
Key executive: Morgan Matthews
The approach: The event’s star-studded pro-am has roots dating to the Bing Crosby Clambake. While the players and pro-am participants are treated to niceties such as an on-course barber shop, private shopping market and massive private gathering space, complete with baristas and big-screen TVs, the fan hospitality component stands out as well. At the “take a shot, hit a shot” experience at Toby Keith’s Wild Shot Bar, fans can down a shot of booze and then try their skill at the bar’s golf simulator. The Triangle Plaza near the 8th hole features bars and music, while the AT&T FanDome offers views of the surrounding holes and additional entertainment options.
The Honda Classic
PGA National Resort & Spa,
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Feb. 25-March 3, 2019
Key sponsors: Honda (title sponsor); United Technologies, Tire Kingdom Service Centers (Founders Club sponsors)
Key executive: Ken Kennerly
The approach: The tournament this year set an attendance record with 224,642 fans. Yes, the return of Tiger Woods to the tournament brought huge spikes at the gate, concessions and merchandise, and increased sponsorship activation. But the Honda also has won accolades for its recent addition of the upscale Legend’s Club at Nicklaus Village, which last year was named the best new product on the tour. The 2,000-square-foot, ground-level club is built under the grandstands at the 18th hole and features a private outdoor patio. Tickets cost $750 per day, which covers food, a full bar and champagne.
FedEx St. Jude Classic
June 4-10, 2018
(2019 date not yet announced)
Key sponsor: FedEx (title sponsor)
Key executive: Darrell Smith
The approach: This historical event next year becomes the World Golf Championship-FedEx St. Jude Invitational as the tour shifts the previous WGF-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio to Memphis. The shift brings far more prestige to the event as it becomes one of only four WGC tournaments, but what continues is the high level of sponsor and charitable integration between FedEx and St. Jude. Since 2014, the FedEx St. Jude stop has won the tour’s best charity integration award and over the past 30 years of FedEx’s involvement, the event has raised $38 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
John Deere Classic
TPC Deere Run,
July 9-15, 2018
(2019 date not yet announced)
Key sponsors: John Deere (title sponsor)
Key executive: Clair Peterson
The approach: Small-town charm is showered on this stop in the Quad Cities area. Yes, this event has one of the smallest purses on tour and doesn’t attract a powerhouse player field given its date the week prior to the British Open. But the event is a perennial winner in the tour’s community engagement category and ranks high in social media activation. A wildly popular Tuesday night “Big Dig” allows players, wives and their children to try out giant John Deere farm equipment. Other player perks include a chartered Boeing 767 jet that after the tournament ferries players to the site of the British Open.
Silverado Resort and Spa,
Oct. 1-7, 2018
(2019 date not yet announced)
Key sponsor: Safeway (title sponsor)
Key executive: Jeff Sanders
The approach: This event ties golf to the wine and food scene of Napa Valley as Lagardère Sports, which took over tournament operations in 2016, looks to revive the event that is held during the fall and kicks off the FedEx Cup season. The Safeway Open isn’t known for its strong field (Lagardère client Phil Mickleson’s appearance notwithstanding), but the overhauled hospitality featuring a food and wine pavilion and a concert series draws locals and tourists alike.
Waste Management Phoenix Open
Jan. 28-Feb. 3, 2019
Key sponsors: Waste Management (title sponsor), The Ak-Chin Indian Community (presenting sponsor)
Key executive: John Bridger
The approach: The WM Phoenix Open remains the biggest party on the PGA Tour and a rare golf stop from which events across the sport look to learn. The renowned 16th hole, par 3 is a stadium within the course with more than 16,000 rowdy fans ringing the fairway. While some players recoil at the raucousness, the young audience is more of what the tour needs. The WM leads the tour in attendance each year, drawing more than 700,000 fans for the week, and its hospitality is among the biggest and best. The Coors Light Birds Nest becomes one of Phoenix’s hottest nightclubs and concert venues, drawing thousands of fans each night.