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If you have the resources to get started, running a golf tournament can really pay off.

by Lisa D. Ellis


Running a golf tournament can be an effective way to bring in a large amount of money in one day. Hosting a tournament requires a significant investment of time and money. But with the right people involved and the commitment to succeed, the payoff—anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to $10,000 or more for your parent group—can be well worth the effort.

For instance, in rural Nordman, Idaho, the proceeds from the Priest Lake Elementary School PTOs annual golf tournament provide students with new sporting equipment and access to a state-of-the-art computer system. According to Roger Benscoter, a local business owner who has helped run the Priest Lake tournament for the past 15 years, the first few years of an event can be daunting.

Anyone planning a tournament will find that the first year is the hardest, but it really does get easier every year, Benscoter says. People shouldnt be discouraged if they dont reach their goals on the first attempt, he adds. Repetition minimizes the work and maximizes profits.

Getting Started

The most successful golf events often have someone with tournament experience to help guide the process. Therefore, if you are considering holding a tournament, a good way to start is by looking within your ranks for someone to lead your efforts. Choose someone who either has led one in the past or at least has participated in quite a few such events and can offer knowledge and advice.

If you have no one with adequate experience to call on, then contact the local golf course where you would like to hold your event. Ask whether the pro there would be willing to help you with the details. This can help cut down on a lot of the work that would fall on your group, as the PTO at Springdale Elementary School in West Columbia, S.C., learned first-hand. They relied on a pro at their local course to do much of the ground work for their first tournament, which was held in December. The pro handled many of the logistics, freeing up the school to solicit donations and recruit players for the big day.

Form a Committee

Recruit a team of volunteers to help organize your effort. Three or four dedicated people can put together a tournament. Springdale Elementary PTO had 30 people helping out. For your first effort it helps to have at least half a dozen helpers, and some experts recommend as many as nine to 18. The work includes researching course options, getting the word out about the event, handing out registration forms, collecting prizes, selling sponsorships, and working on the day of the event.

The committee will also need to set up a system for organizing the registrations and keeping track of them. Barry Nelsen, who successfully chaired a golf tournament several years in a row for Mountain View Elementary School in Haymarket, Va., suggests that as registrations come in, they be kept in a database that can be used to send out invitations again for the next year.

Select the Place

You can ask parents and teachers at your school for entrees into their private golf clubs, or you might prefer holding your tournament at a local public course. Either option can be effective. With a private course, you will likely attract people who are eager for an opportunity to play at a closed course that might otherwise be unavailable to them. On the other hand, public courses are usually less expensive and may be easier to access for the date and time you want.

Call around to find out what options are available in your area and make sense financially for your group and target audience.

When you contact golf courses, it helps to have a prepared list of questions ready. For instance, you will probably want to know how many tournaments they host a year to be sure they have enough experience for things to go smoothly. Also find out whether they prefer morning or afternoon events, and see what services they will provide for the day. In addition, ask whether they will set up the foursomes, provide and label carts, and provide lunch. These types of details are key to the success of your day.

Decide on the Day

Golf tournaments are usually held during the week. Thats because companies often buy foursomes for their employees, most of whom will appreciate the opportunity to play golf during the workday. In addition, many golf courses save Mondays for special events like this. Certain times of the year are also less expensive to play, such as in the late winter and early spring, when the weather might be iffy. But keep in mind that you need to assess your audience to see what day and what season are appropriate; there are no hard and fast rules.

148 silent auction ideas for items to sell (plus 7 to skip)

Nelsen suggests asking the golf course to tell you the best—and worst—possible day they can give you. When you select the date, you are also selecting the price, he explains. When schools compare prices, he reminds people to also ask what is included for this amount, such as golf carts, food, and beverages. And keep in mind that while many tournaments are held during the week, there are exceptions. For instance in the case of the Priest Lake tournament, holding it on a Saturday works well for the group. Whatever day and month you select, consider making it one that you can repeat every year, so people will know to save the date. Also, be sure to plan far ahead. Some courses book up a year or more in advance.

Plan the Format, Events, and Menu

As you plan your activities, you will need to decide how your tournament will be organized. There are generally three parts to the days events: the golf game, an awards banquet, and a silent auction.

The first part, the golf game itself, can consist of a number of different formats. Most tournaments use a shotgun start, which means that one or two foursomes are assigned to start on each hole. That way, everyone can begin play at the same time and then rotate around the course. Then a method called best ball may be used, which means that all four players on the hole hit their ball and decide which is the best shot. The other three balls are moved to within a clubs length of the best ball, so that all of the players hit from there. This best ball process is used repeatedly until all of the players sink their balls in the hole. This format, which is used for the entire day, makes the game interesting for players and keeps the action moving smoothly.

Often, participants receive a box lunch while they play. Unlimited drinks, including soda, beer, and water, also are commonly provided during the day.

Following the game, an awards banquet (sometimes preceded by a cocktail hour) usually is held to recognize the winners and also to feed the hungry participants. Talk to your golf course managers to determine the best menu for this event. Since players can be anxious to get home by the end of the day, a buffet is often a good option. This can move more quickly than a sit-down, served dinner.

The third and final part of the day is often a silent auction, which can be an important way to raise additional funds. Although more work is involved in soliciting or purchasing items to auction off, this extra step can help increase the profit margins. Let the golf course help to guide you on how best to organize these activities in a way that will make the most sense and be the most enjoyable for participants. Its like any kind of party, Nelsen says. The golf course will give you options of activities and food, and you can select those that will work best for you.

Decide How Much to Charge

The price you charge people to participate in the tournament depends on how much the golf course is charging you per person for a game of 18 holes plus food. Generally, the tournament fees should cover the cost of the golf itself, sometimes with a little money left over as profit. The real money that schools earn comes not from the entry fee but from selling sponsorships. You might ask the golf course for suggestions on what would be a fair price for you to charge. You can also research what other, similar events cost in your area, to help pinpoint an appropriate price range.

Solicit Donors and Sponsorships

Sponsors are a vital part of any events financial success and longevity, says Colonel Thompson of TBD (Tournaments By Design) Golf Events in Mandeville, La. Therefore, it is important that you call on local businesses and ask them to support your event by becoming a sponsor. Also encourage them to buy foursomes, so that they and their employees can play.

Some of the different types of sponsorships you can sell include hole sponsors, where the company pays for a sign with its name to be put up at a hole. In addition, you can sell goal sponsorships and various logo sponsorships, where the company pays for its logo to be put on balls, shirts, or other give-aways.

As Thompson explains, not only can selling the sponsorship bring in extra money, but it can also cover the actual costs of the item as well. If you are going to give a shirt and you have a logo preprinted on the left side of the chest, then you get a company to have its own logo added to the sleeve and you get them to pay for the entire cost of the shirt, he says. Better yet, if the cost of the shirts with the printing comes to $5,000, you sell them for $6,000 and have $1,000 left to add to your profits.

In addition, consider contacting a local car dealer to see whether they will sponsor a hole-in-one contest, which means that participants get a car or other big prize for getting a hole in one. You can also find out about hole-in-one insurance options. Your local golf course can help point you in the right direction.

Provide Appealing Prizes and Give-Aways

Most golf tournaments give arrival packages to participants. These generally include accessories that people can use during the day, such as balls, tees, a towel, and a hat. Many schools look to area businesses to cover the give-aways but, according to Nelsen, this is not always the best way to go when it comes to the larger gifts. He stresses that PTOs should be prepared to spend some of their profits to buy high-end prizes, like a weekend getaway, a set of golf clubs, a golf bag, and gift certificates to area businesses and restaurants, in order to attract participants and leave them satisfied. You are trying to lure them to come back again next year, Nelsen says. To do this, you have to be willing to reach into your profits to make the day really special. He says that in his experience, the investment has been well worth it in repeat business.

Get the Word Out

Once you have set the date and location, spread the word as broadly as you can about your tournament. Use your newsletter and flyers. In addition, ask the golf course to put up posters for you. You also can ask them for their mailing list so you can invite their members. Nelsen says he obtains a list of local businesses and, with the help of his committee, contacts as many as possible to solicit support and participation. Local newspapers and radio and television stations also can help you reach a wide range of people.

Coordinate the Details

Work with your committee to coordinate all of the details leading up to your event. For instance, you will need to order the sponsorship hole signs, have hats and shirts embroidered, have banners made, and track the registration numbers. Once you have a total count, you will also need to finalize the player pairings to organize the play. In addition, you will need to decide whether you will sell raffle tickets or have on-course contests. These are additional ways to raise more money and provide a fun and exciting day for players. Also, stay in close touch with the golf course to confirm meal menus. All of these details are key to creating a successful event and to establishing a foundation that the school can build upon in future years.

Consider Hiring a Golf Tournament Company

If the idea of hosting a golf tournament really appeals to you but the level of detail involved sounds like more than you and your group can handle, you may want to consider hiring a company that specializes in managing these types of events. Although these companies charge for their services (anywhere from $75 an hour to 15 percent of the net profits), they can actually prove to be cost-effective. This is because they often can get you a reduced rate on most of the tournament costs and, at the same time, provide advice and guidance to help you increase your overall profits. You can find golf management companies in the Yellow Pages or do a search on-line to find one that is a good fit for your group.

Learn From Others

Frank MacGrath, the owner of Golf Tournaments Inc. (GTI), which is based in Aurora, Canada, near Toronto, advises parent group leaders who are thinking of taking on a golf tournament to talk to other organizations in their area that have hosted similar events to get their input on what works and what doesnt. A golf tournament may not be the right fit for a brand-new PTO or for one that is already over-extended with other events, he cautions. But for those groups that are up for the challenge, such an event could prove to be a very lucrative way to bolster their finances and, in the process, provide a good time for all of the participants.

Timetable for Running a Golf Tournament

Nine to 12 months in advance
Select a golf course, date, and time for event
Decide on format, contests, and activities
Form a committee of volunteers and delegate work tasks
Solicit sponsors (for holes, merchandise give-aways, and receptions)

Six months in advance
Plan on-course events, food and beverage menus, and additional activities, such as auctions and raffles
Order invitations

Three months in advance
Publicize event in your newsletter and with the local media
Distribute flyers and registration forms throughout your area
Plan luncheon for participants
Order arrival packages for each participant (including such items as balls, tees, towels, shirts, and/or hats) and hole sponsorship signs.

Day of tournament
Set up sponsor signs
Arrange registration booth and set out registration packages
Set up scoreboard
Serve snacks, meals, and beverages
Post scores
Host an awards ceremony to announce the winners
Hold raffles, auctions and other special events

After tournament ends
Clean up location
Write thank you notes to sponsors and volunteers
Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the event
Begin planning for next year


# Natalie Dalton 2011-12-08 21:49
Thanks for the great golf tournament ideas. I was just put in charge of planning the company tournament for next spring. Hopefully all goes well!
# lorrelei 2012-02-16 15:07
Thank you so much for the great golf day ideas..
# SMPsychologist 2015-06-01 01:23
I was asked to organize our high school's annual fundraiser golf tournament at the last minute this year and have had only about 4 weeks to work on it. Even with basically no time at all, I have gotten prize donations from two major sports teams, a theme park, a restaurant, a coffee place, a hardware store, a sports store, and now have 10 hole sponsors (I still need more). This has been stressful and extremely time consuming. I have promoted the tournament in as many ways as I can think of (social media, district web page, local paper, local chamber of commerce, flyers, local NBC affiliate, and more). I definitely agree with this article that 9 to 12 months is necessary to do this right. I compare this experience to planning a big wedding.

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