FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, outsourcing tournament logistics was not an option: Few golf-event management companies existed. Today, the corporate landscape is dotted with hundreds of tournament planners who are willing to handle every element of your golf event, or just the pieces you want to remove from your overstuffed planning bag.

So when should you consider outsourcing, and what tasks should you give away? What should you look for in a golf planner? And, perhaps most critically, what will it cost?

Consider Objectives, Look for Savings

Most organizations outsource golf events to save money, time, or personnel resources, or because they don't have the golf expertise on staff, according to Mike Wilkins, president of Golf Logistics, Marietta, Ga. “It's smart to outsource golf events if by doing so the company or organization receives a direct, measurable benefit,” Wilkins says. “In most cases, a first-time, in-house event will be more expensive, require more overall staff hours, and be more prone to mistakes.”

If you assume that the golf course will handle everything, you're mistaken. Golf courses make the site available, but typically that's where their services end. Nobody at the golf course is going to take care of the signage, prizes, registration staff, or the hundred other details that go into a successful golf event, says Roger Caldwell, president of Great Golf Events in Mission, Kan. “Planners who are new to golf and think the golf course will take care of the details usually realize there's a big problem when they speak to the golf course two weeks before the event,” he says. That conversation makes it clear that there are gaping holes, and that nobody is prepared to fill them.

Michelle Anderson, client relations manager for Burr Wolff in Houston, says she has outsourced the management of her annual golf event to Caldwell for the past two years. “I didn't have time in-house to do it, and it's easier to outsource it,” Anderson says. “Roger took care of everything — signage, small details, working with the golf facility.”

Some corporate golf events are the “hit and giggle” variety — low-key, fun events. If that describes your tournament, perhaps a few mistakes are tolerable. A nonprofessional approach, however, isn't an option for Lorraine Struck of Chubb & Son, Warren, N.J., who is responsible for the annual Chubb Charity Challenge, a nationwide event that has raised more than $1.3 million. The Chubb event benefits charity, but the golf itself is competitive, and Struck says the value of third-party management is immeasurable.

“When people are playing for money [in this case, money for a charity of the player's choosing], there's no room for error,” Struck says. “Right from the beginning, we hired an outsider.” If questions arise about the rules, the golf-event manager is the officiating party, and company employees don't have to get involved.

“We're in the insurance business, not the golf business,” explains Struck.

A Menu of Options

After deciding to outsource your tournament management, you need to ask two questions: What do you want the golf planner to do, and what tasks do you want to retain, if any?

Wilkins says that the most common pieces to outsource include site selection, event development and coordination, budgets, format details, contests, selection of merchandise and awards, coordination of rules and format information, on-site coordination, and coordination with golf course staff.

The most common responsibilities to keep in-house include participant invitation and confirmation processes, pairings, and guest registration.

While some planners like to outsource golf course negotiations, Struck says she always does that herself. Struck uses resorts for the Chubb event, and she believes that the clout of her room nights can make a big difference when seeking difficult concessions from a resort golf course, such as agreeing to shut down 18 or 36 holes for the entire day.

Experience Rules

When determining whom to hire as a tournament planner, vendors and meeting planners are unanimous on what to look for first: good experience.

“Experience in creating and coordinating successful golf events is the greatest benefit in knowing what to do and when,” Wilkins says. Find an individual or company you know and trust, he advises. Check references from previous customers and from golf courses.

The golf planners also agree that it's important to get them involved as early as possible — at least 90 days in advance.

“They will assist in the budget process and be a valuable resource in developing the marketing material for the event,” Wilkins says.

Golf-event managers also can facilitate registration (some now provide online registration), and that requires up-front planning, Caldwell says.

What's the Damage?

OK, so how much is outsourcing going to cost? As you might expect, it depends.

For a one-day event, expect to pay between $2,000 and $10,000, plus expenses. More elaborate events involving multiple sites and dates, and a full slate of services (see sidebar) can push the fees into the $15,000-30,000 range. Fees typically are calculated on a flat-fee or per-golfer basis.

If cost is an issue, you can whittle down the management fee by buying merchandise from the tournament planner. Many offer a wide range of goods, from clothing to equipment to awards. They even can supply hole-in-one insurance. Golf planner will mark up the cost of the goods above wholesale, but you still pay less than retail, and when they sell enough merchandise, they have more flexibility to negotiate fees downward.

“The fee paid … for creating and coordinating an event stands out on a line-item budget and, in many cases, is difficult to explain to senior management, especially if they are not golfers,” Wilkins says.

Unfortunately, if cost is the primary issue, running the event in-house can, in the long run, be more expensive in overpaying for gifts and prizes, not to mention the staff time involved, he says.

Here's the bottom line: If the golf event has important, measurable objectives, your organization stands a better chance of meeting them with an experienced organizer. For Michelle Anderson of Burr Wolff, the cost of outsourcing is justified. “My experience has been that it's well worth the money,” she says.

The Tournament Planning Menu

Golf-event management companies offer a menu of services, although not all companies offer the same services. Here is a list of possibilities:

PRE-TOURNAMENT

  • Course selection and negotiation
  • Administrative coordination
  • Custom Web site/online registration
  • Marketing materials
  • Signage and banner coordination
  • Gifts and prizes
  • Sponsorship coordination
  • Transportation arrangements
  • Catering arrangements
  • Hotel arrangements
  • Hole-in-one insurance
  • Pre-tournament venue visit
  • Pairings and registration management
  • Name badges
  • Customized scoring systems
  • PGA player or entertainer
  • Contest coordination
  • Photography


DAY BEFORE EVENT

  • Venue walk through and confirmation of delivered items
  • Pre-packaging of welcome gifts
  • Registration setup and logistics


TOURNAMENT DAY

  • Catering coordination
  • Management of registration
  • Venue staff coordination
  • Contest setup
  • Awards setup and coordination
  • Signage and banner posting
  • Rental clubs coordination
  • Facilitation of announcements
  • Post-tournament survey
  • Scorekeeping and rules coordination
  • On-course entertainment


Source: Great Golf Events