Golf: The Game of Honor | Sports Destination Management

Golf: The Game of Honor

Oct 31, 2010 | By: Amy Henderson


Phil Mickelson at WGC Championship, Doral golf course in Miami, Florida. © Photogolfer -
Phil Mickelson at WGC Championship, Doral golf course in Miami, Florida. © Photogolfer -

Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer summed it up beautifully:

"Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening - and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented."

It is estimated that there are over 34,000 miles of golf courses throughout the United States and over 20 million golfers walking them. Of course those figures are pure speculation as is much of the history of golf itself.


The clubhouse at Atlanta Athletic Club taken in 2005 in Duluth, Georgia, USA. Photo by Bob Maynard/PGA of America.
The clubhouse at Atlanta Athletic Club taken in 2005 in Duluth, Georgia, USA. Photo by Bob Maynard/PGA of America.

According to Wikipedia, the modern game of golf was invented in Scotland and the first documentation of golf was in 1457. However it would be another 300 years until the game would make its way to the United States in 1779.

The United States Golf Association was formed in 1894 with delegates from six clubs and grew to 267 clubs in 1910. The sport's steady climb continued in 1932 with 1,100 clubs affiliated with the USGA and over 4,000 in 1980. According the United States Golf Association website, today there are 10,600 golf courses with USGA member club representatives and more than 680 clubs hold qualifying rounds for USGA or state golf championships.


Photo courtesy of Visit Winston Salem
Photo courtesy of Visit Winston Salem

Although the sport has held steady, there has been a slight decrease in participants in the United States. According to the National Golf Foundation the number of individuals who played golf at all decreased from 30 to 26 million from 2000 to 2005.

They Made The Game
Their names are synonymous with the game of golf. Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and, of course, Tiger Woods.

The demand for golf was at a steady incline during the 1980s and on into early 1990s but things changed quickly in 1996 when Woods took not only the golf world but the sports world by storm.

Woods turned pro after winning three consecutive U.S. Amateur Championship titles; the NCAA Men's Championship and tied the British Open record for an amateur. He competed in the remaining 8 PGA events that season, signed $60 million in endorsement, was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, won America's heart and catapulted the sport of golf into the media forefront.

All of the above are members of the Professional Golf Association or PGA, the most popular of the golf tours. However there are a minimum of 20 other professional golf tours that arrange events, manage corporate partnerships and regulate their own tours.

Ryan Cannon has been working with the PGA Championships since 2001 and is a championship director preparing for the 2011 PGA Championship in Atlanta, GA, at the Atlanta Athletic Club August 8-14, 2011. The PGA Championship estimates that it takes three years to prepare for each tournament and Cannon has spearheaded those efforts for next year's event.


Hole 18 at Atlanta Athletic Club taken on Tuesday, May 26, 2009 in Duluth, Georgia, USA. Photo by Bob Maynard/PGA of America
Hole 18 at Atlanta Athletic Club taken on Tuesday, May 26, 2009 in Duluth, Georgia, USA. Photo by Bob Maynard/PGA of America

"Our event is unique," said Cannon. "It's a totally different animal operationally. There is nothing like working a major championship."

"We really spend most of our time outside of the ropes," explains Cannon. "We handle logistics like all the traffic, parking, security, marketing, advertising, hospitality sales and volunteer recruitment. All of those elements of the Championship that happen outside of the ropes."

Cannon didn't enter Atlanta with a blind eye, this will be the third PGA Championship hosted by the Atlanta Athletic Club. Typically the PGA Championship utilizes their long term partnerships as well as a substantial list of suppliers that have multi-year and/or multi-event contracts.

"In those key areas we have that long term relationship," said Cannon. "Some of our suppliers have been working our events for 15 years and every year we go back and look for ways to improve. We make sure that we have the best folks in the world executing our events."

"We operate at an extremely high level, we don't run the event with our eye on the bottom line," continued Cannon. "It's about the game and the event. I think we run one of the best events in the world and we have one of the most dedicated teams of professionals out there."

Similarly, the United States Golf Association produces some of the game's most notable events with the U.S. Open, U.S Women's Open and U.S. Senior Open as well as 10 events that are strictly for amateur players.

"In general, our goal is to select sites and plan far enough in advance in order to conduct a given championship at the highest possible level," said Dan Hubbard, manager, communications with the USGA. "For our largest championships, especially the U.S. Open, we try and complete the site selection process far in advance; usually in the 5-7 year range."

When I Grow Up
Like professional tournaments, youth and amateur golfers are looking for very specific needs.


Photo courtesy of Visit Winston Salem.
Photo courtesy of Visit Winston Salem.

"We have to find a course that can facilitate 300 players," explained Chris Carme, Junior Program Manager with U.S. Kids Golf. "Usually a course that has 36 holes and is willing to give up the course for 2-3 days. We go through and select courses that meet those criteria."

U.S. Kids Golf is a nonprofit organization established in 2001 to allow athletes and their families to participate in competition and instruction. There are currently 7,000tournament members and host over 400 local, regional, national and international tournaments.

The number of participants hasn't slowed down despite the recent economy.

"Like any sport, parents are spending money on their kids to have opportunities with things they want to pursue," said Carme. "We don't see a big drop off in participation in any of our events we just seem to continue growing."

The PGA Championship has been proactive in promoting golf to younger generations to garner more interest. "There's always been a focus on getting young people interested in and learning to play golf," said Cannon. "That's been the DNA of this game forever and there seems to be a renewed interest in that lately.


Anna Rawson, an Australian professional golfer who currently plays on the LPGA Tour. © Photogolfer -
Anna Rawson, an Australian professional golfer who currently plays on the LPGA Tour. © Photogolfer -

The Masters began allowing juniors, anyone under the age of 16, into the competition at no charge as long as they were accompanied by a ticketed adult - which has proven beneficial. The PGA Championship has since followed suit.

"The number of juniors attending has grown exponentially," explained Cannon. "That renewed interest and commitment to get young people involved in the sport. That type of exposure translates into the game and a more diverse group of people picking up the game. That's one of the biggest things."

Younger players aren't the only demographic that is showing a renewed interest in golf. "In general,USGA events have grown in terms of the number of players involved," explained Hubbard. "For example, 2010 was an exception year for American women in golf. Three of our championship entries for females set records for entries, reinforcing the fact that growing numbers of women are competing at the game's highest professional and amateur levels."

Choices, Choices
Choosing a destination for a golf tournament can be a daunting task. With so many excellent courses spread throughout the country and desirable locations available, it can be overwhelming.

So what is the best way for a destination to attract the pristine tournaments and what do the event planners look for in a destination?

Both the USGA and PGA Championship have high expectations when it comes to their events and take their time before securing a location.

"The USGA is honored to receive invitations each year from clubs and courses who want to host one of our 13 national, amateur or professional championships," said Hubbard. "The most important elements in selecting a destination are the quality of the course and broadly, whether the course and its accompanying infrastructure are conducive to producing the best championship event possible."

The same holds true with PGA Championships. "There is no formal bid process, it's an informal process that typically starts with a club expressing interest in the PGA that they would like to start talking about hosting an event," said Cannon. "That can begin 10 or 15 years in advance. Once we choose the destination it almost always starts with the golf course itself, it has to be suitable to challenge the best players in the world. If they are of that stature as determined by the PGA we go to the next step and that is, 'logistically can we make this happen?', 'can we build the temporary city'?"

Both entities require a laundry list of specific needs that include but are not limited to: road accessibility; parking; public transportation; food & beverage; hospitality; media accessibility; hotel accommodations; accessibility for disabled patrons and grounds for players, fans, staff, officials and volunteers.


Padraig Harrington during the second round of play at the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA, on Friday, August 14, 2009. Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America.
Padraig Harrington during the second round of play at the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA, on Friday, August 14, 2009. Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America.

Community involvement is also a key decision maker for the event planners when choosing a destination.

"You start looking at the communities' affinity for the game of golf," explains Cannon. "Have they supported major sporting events? Do they appreciate and want major sporting events in their city? What are they doing to help grow participation in the game?"

Sunny Skies - The Competitive Edge
Yes, choosing a destination can be tricky; and with all the variables listed above that come into play, weather must also be a consideration.

Lubbock, Texas, offers a golfer's paradise when it comes to Mother Nature. "I would say that the golf courses are great and the weather is beautiful," said Scott Harrison, sports director of Visit Lubbock. "We have no humidity and during the right times of the year, we don't have any wind. It helps that we have perfect weather 263 days of the year."

Another factor? Affordability.

Winston Salem, North Carolina, provides both great weather and affordable rates. Golf Digest named the Triad the best big city for golf in America in a survey of 330 cities with a population of over a million people. According to their website there are 262 playable days of golf a year and boasts courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Donald Ross, Hale Irwin,Nicklaus and Palmer.

"We are very affordable and quality of the courses is outstanding," said Bonny Bernat, sports sales manager of Visit Winston Salem. "You won't find courses at peak time over $60 which is really unique. Especially with the quality we offer and quality designers."

"I think our proximity for accommodations and attractions makes us a great draw," continued Bernat. "Because we are so condensed, accommodations are very easy to book and the other attractions are easy to get to. We are very family friendly for youth groups and for pros, there is a lot of entertainment value."

The AJGA hosted The Sean O'Hair Junior All Star Championship at the Rawls Course at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, in July with 125 athletes competing. The Rawls Course was voted number 23 of the best 50 golf courses in the United States by Golf Magazine.

"The participants came from all over the U.S.," said Harrison. "What that opens up for the city of Lubbock is awesome. Our hospitality is the best in Texas. From the coaches, players and VIP's in the organization, we make sure they are all well taken care of."

Similarly, the AccuSport Championship hosted by Webb Simpson was held at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, NC, outside of Winston Salem in August with 90 participants from 16 states and two international countries.

"Our Regional tournaments usually attract 300-400 players," continued Carme. "They are held at resorts which also provides rooms, greens fees and everything else that comes with family travel. We like to use the shoulder season to give the resorts a boost."

Regardless of whether you're the event planner or the destination, golf is a winning game for everyone.

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