Tourney's impact on, off course Charity, corporations, local businesses have stake in golfing event

June 29, 1998|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When the world's top senior golfers play Hobbit's Glen Golf Course this week in pursuit of a share of the $1.25 million purse, they bring to town an event that is part athletic contest, part charity fund raising, part corporate advertising and part pure merchandising, with a large dollop of high-rent schmoozing thrown in.

This traveling carnival of golf and money is expected to bring about $15 million in golf-related commerce into Howard County and the Baltimore area.

That's the estimate of PGA Tour officials and of tournament directors John Mathews and Lee Corrigan, two local friends whose four-year drive to bring a top professional golf tournament to the Baltimore area culminates this week with the State Farm Senior Classic in Columbia.

"We always thought this was a perfect location for a tournament, and the PGA does, too," Corrigan said. "It's really good news. What's not to like about this event?"

Like all new PGA events, the tournament will donate its profits to charity. The Maryland Special Olympics and other local causes will receive the weeklong event's proceeds, estimated at $250,000.

Behind the tournament's nonprofit status, however, is an event that means millions of dollars spent and gained. Putting on a golf tournament is not just a matter of grooming greens, mowing fairways and selling tickets -- it is also about raising money, much as for a political campaign. But what is dangled in front of contributors is not access to power, but access to some of the world's top golfers -- and to television coverage broadcast nationwide.

Corporations will contribute $100,000 or more to have their names on brochures and their top clients on the star-studded fairways. Concessionaires will spend nearly as much for the chance to sell food and merchandise to the 100,000 fans.

Prize money important

Simply staging the tournament will cost about $3.5 million, a figure that includes the prizes available to the tournament's 78 professional golfers. The champion will receive $187,500.

The purse is a critical component of a successful tour event, necessary to attract the biggest stars, who, in turn, attract the biggest audiences and sponsors. The State Farm Classic exists only because organizers of the defunct Bank One Classic in Lexington, Ky., couldn't raise enough money to pay the winners an acceptable rate.

The purse accounts for only about one-third of the cost of staging a weeklong tour event. Mathews and Corrigan also must rent the course and pay for insurance, skyboxes, air-conditioned corporate tents, generators and the 4-foot fence encircling all 18 holes.

They had to print more than 100,000 tickets and passes, then find enough parking and restrooms for everyone who attends.

The money comes from several sources. Tickets cost between $10 and $25, and the catering and concessions operators pay a fee to do business on the grounds.

Most of the money comes from the 80 corporate sponsors, with State Farm Insurance contributing the largest amount. Mathews and Corrigan would not say how much State Farm paid to attach its name to the event, "but typically it is near what your purse is," Mathews said. "I'm not saying ours is, but it's a very significant amount of money."

Most companies paid between $1,000 and $100,000 for choice spots on the course and in tournament brochures and advertising, Corrigan said. The top sponsors can place foursomes of executives and clients in the two pro-am tournaments held Wednesday and Thursday, and each group is paired with a tournament professional.

"It's hard to generate $3 million-plus in commitments, especially without the guarantee that you're even going to have a tournament," said Tim Crosby, vice president of business affairs for the PGA tour. "We get requests every week from groups that want to host a tournament, and probably 99 percent of them aren't viable. To pull it all together is a real achievement."

A four-year journey

Mathews and Corrigan got their introduction to corporate marketing -- and each other -- when they handled corporate ticket sales and sponsorships for the Capital Centre in Landover. Four years ago they wagered their talents on an effort to land a PGA event for the Baltimore area, forming a nonprofit corporation called the Fore Baltimore Foundation and a for-profit agency called EMCEE Sports. Next, they staged the Toyota Invitational Pro-Am in Columbia, a sort of minor league senior tournament designed to impress the PGA brass.

It worked. The PGA granted the region a tournament slot early this year when the Lexington tournament folded.

That the Baltimore region landed a regular senior tour event was largely a product of the city's market size and its lack of professional golf. The fact that the tournament will be played in Howard County -- where Corrigan lives and EMCEE is based -- was largely a matter of convenience and coincidence. PGA officials scouted several courses before deciding that Hobbit's Glen had the best combination of course layout and spectator access.

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