With an estimated 35 million people in the U.S. currently hitting the links, your board of directors thinks a golf tournament would be a natural for your annual meeting's fundraiser. The only problem? You don't know the first thing about the sport.

Association Meetings recently spoke with Jo Ann Hoffman, president of MILO, the Meeting Industry Ladies Open, to get some direction for novice golf tournament planners.

“Have a mission and know your group,” she advises. “Do you want to raise money or to have attendees network? Make sure you know what is important for your event.”

  • AM: How far in advance do you need to plan?

  • Hoffman: It all depends on the nature of the event. If it's not too complicated, an event could be planned on as little as a week's or a month's notice. It also depends greatly on how large a staff or volunteer base you have to help you. As with any event, the more time you have to plan, the better. If you're looking for sponsors, it's good to have a year to get things in place.

  • AM: How much should sponsorships cost?

  • Hoffman: Again, it depends. Organizations can ask for as little as $100 a hole, or as much as $5,000, depending on the audience, the venue, the charity the money is being raised for, and the type of people invited. For example, if you're holding a large event at a posh private club that will attract 1,400 CEOs, you will probably charge more than a small event on a public course.

    Golf event organizers should make sure sponsors take full advantage of the sponsorship opportunity. Have contests, offer food and beverages…. It makes it more fun. There's nothing like face-to-face time to build relationships.

    And remember, holes aren't the only thing you can have sponsored — don't forget the driving range, the putting range, and even the rest stop. At MILO, the Atlanta Convention Bureau always sponsors the ladies rest stop — a well-frequented area with great visibility. They put flowers in the rest room, and also provided other much-appreciated necessities, such as Band-Aids, painkillers, tissues, and hand cream for players.

  • AM: Any tips on generating sponsorships?

  • Hoffman: Personal contact is important. Stay focused on your goal, and form a good committee with strong industry contacts to build your list and sign up sponsors.

    High-level donors could have their logo on the tournament shirt, or — if the sponsorship is large enough — you could even name the tournament after them. Smaller contributors could get visibility with things like signs on golf carts or on other areas on the course. Sponsors could also be honored at the after-game cocktail party.

  • AM: How can you give maximum value to the sponsors?

  • Hoffman: Make sure they're featured in the program, any newsletters mentioning the event, and on your Web site, and give them access to the mailing list so they can follow up.

    Remind sponsors that the course is not the place to sell. The tournament itself (and the social hour that usually follows) is a relationship-building activity; sponsors need to be friendly and use the opportunity to network. Ask them to tread lightly and follow up later with a call or a letter.

  • AM: Any other revenue opportunities, besides sponsorships?

  • Hoffman: Contests are a good way to raise additional funds. You can also offer the chance for people to take “Mulligans,” where they pay (usually somewhere between $5 and $25) for an extra shot. “Hand wedges,” when people buy a chance to extend a shot by throwing the ball with their arm, could also be sold. If you hold a contest like “Who can hit the longest drive?,” have prizes for both top male and female, so everyone has a fair shot at winning.

    “Make sure you have a rain date negotiated ahead of time, and have a plan in place to notify players if the weather is too inclement for the game to start.”
    — Jo Ann Hoffman

    And there are lots of other possibilities, like putting contests, selling 50/50 tickets (half the prize money goes to the winner, half to the association), guessing the number of tees in a jar, or seeing who could hit a marshmallow the farthest off a tee. I once had a contest where people had to try to hit a Fabio cutout with a golf ball.

    Of course, you could just have a tournament where people pay a lot of money to play golf, drawing golfers in for the chance to play alongside celebrities or golf professionals.

  • AM: Is it necessary to book the entire course?

  • Hoffman: If you have fewer than 100 players, no, but if you have more than 100, definitely. Just remember that if you have a smaller group and don't have the whole course, everyone will have different tee times, meaning they won't all start and finish at the same time. This quashes the possibility for an end-of-the-day mixer, where people can network and socialize. “Shotgun” events, where everyone starts at the same time at a different hole, can work better.

  • AM: Are nine-hole fundraising tournaments a good idea?

  • Hoffman: They can be fun if you have an audience of novices or limited time to play. But more experienced players will be frustrated or bored with nine holes.

    There are other options if you have time constraints, such as playing a short “executive course.” Another fun idea is to stage a short round of night golf, having people play two or three holes in the dark, guided by flashlights.

  • AM: What should you consider when pairing players?

  • Hoffman: If the event is set up so sponsors can bring clients along to network, that will determine the teams. But if you're in charge of pairing players, handicaps will be determined for the teams. This technique, called a “scramble,” means that all the teams will start off on an even footing. That's the wonderful thing about golf.

  • AM: Any suggestions on working with the golf course?

  • Hoffman: Most courses will provide a checklist. The course's pro shop can also be helpful in ordering the tee gifts, like golf shirts or golf balls (unless you find a better vendor on your own). And make sure tips for bag boys and staff golf pros are set in advance so people don't forget.

  • AM: Any food and beverage suggestions?

  • Hoffman: Make certain they're easy to consume on the course. Chips and dips, and fried chicken, are terrific, but not easily portable. Be sure to offer juices and plenty of water so players don't get dehydrated. Don't serve just alcohol. Box lunches, with easy-to-eat-on-the-go items like chips, sandwiches, soda, and fruit, are always a safe option. And don't let people just load up on the junk food — have fruit and other healthy treats available.

  • AM: What about that uninvited player: the weather?

  • Hoffman: Golfers do understand that Mother Nature plays a role in the game. Make sure you have a rain date negotiated ahead of time, and have a plan in place to notify players if the weather is too inclement for the game to start. If it begins raining halfway through the game, it just means you'll eat and drink earlier, and you probably won't have too many complaints or requests for refunds. People understand that that the weather can't be controlled, even by the best planner.

  • AM: Is it necessary to learn the game?

  • Hoffman: It couldn't hurt. There are numerous tapes, books, magazines, and Web sites dedicated to the game. Novices could also attend a tournament to observe how one is conducted, or follow a patient friend around the course for a day and ask questions. If you're really ambitious, you could even take a class and try the sport out for yourself. You might even get hooked.

MILO's Milestones

“When I was first playing golf, my father said I had a handicap of two — my left arm and my right arm,” laughs Jo Ann Hoffman.” But it's really about 36. I'm a better planner than player, but I love the game.” Hoffman is the president and founder of CLUB MILO ( www.clubmilo.com ), a meeting and hospitality industry organization established to teach women executives golf skills, and how to use these skills to enhance their business opportunities.

The first Meeting Industry Ladies Open (MILO) was planned by a group of women that felt a women's tournament would provide a comfortable atmosphere for women golfers. The first tournament was held in Atlanta, Ga., in 1986. Fifty-five women participated with support from 50 sponsoring organizations.

Hoffman notes that the 2001 MILO tournament — held in April at the Hilton Anaheim in California — drew about 450 attendees, and had 250 sponsors. While the event is geared more toward networking than fundraising, Hoffman says the group always makes an effort to give something back to the community they play in. This year, 500 shirts and $3,000 dollars were donated to the Orangewood Children's Foundation. And since the theme of the tournament was “ZOOMILO,” $3,000 was also donated to Orange Country Animal Care Services.

CLUB MILO also sponsors MILI, the Meeting Industry Ladies Invitational, a tournament for corporate planners, which typically attracts about 130 attendees. MILI 2001 is set for October 28 to 31 at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort in Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M. A golfing school for women, the MILO Institute is also held annually. The next session is scheduled for September 2 to 5 in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho.

A “sister” organization to Club MILO called The Golfe ( www.thegolfe.com ) sanctions over 60 tournaments to serve as qualifying events for the Meeting Masters Invitational, to be held this year in Palm Springs, Calif., November 14 to 18. Members of The Golfe — most of whom are men — also have access to a handicapping service, discount greens fees, a newsletter, and a membership directory.

Hoffman has been in the meetings industry for more than 30 years. Before forming CLUB MILO, she was the chief operating officer of the American Association of Bloodbanks. She is a past president of the PCMA.
— Beth Negus Viveiros