On Wednesday, March 17, participants in the Liberty Mutual Pro-Am awake to a light fog resting over the grounds of the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla. The complex is hosting Liberty Mutual's Legends of Golffor the first time this year. At The Slammer and The Squire, the championship course named for golfing pioneers Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen, officials in windbreakers await the start of play.
Chi Chi Rodriguez and his four amateur teammates arrive for the 7:30 shotgun start. As the starter announces Rodriguez, gives his career highlights, and mentions the millions Chi Chi has raised for kids, the dapper 64-year-old chats with his fellow golfers. Then he steps up to the tee, looks out at the mist lifting off the fairway, and casually cracks one into the rising sun. A video crew, two photographers, spectators, and officials look on. The amateur players head to their tee box as the sun gets higher, the air feels warmer. The fairway stretches out before them, full of promise.
This is what it's all about. Liberty customers, executives, and guests are getting this chance to walk alongside a legend, to play the tournament course.
They'll remember it forever.
Building Relationships Every year, the Legends of Golf tournament draws thousands of spectators, is televised by ABC and ESPN, and attracts some of the biggest names in senior golf.
But for sponsor Liberty Mutual, Wednesday's Pro-Am and seven other golf tournaments held over the course of Legends week and weekend are really the main events. These tournaments let Liberty's executives thank their major customers, reward their top salespeople, and court prospects.
On Monday, the first wave hits. Some 400 customers, sales reps, and guests, along with Liberty's executives and board of directors, arrive. They will stay through Friday morning. As they depart, 100 new customers and guests arrive for the weekend.
Throughout the week and weekend, Liberty hosts more than golf for these attendees. There is a theme party every night, and every day there are nongolfer activities, such as sightseeing, city tours, spa programs, canoeing, swamp buggy rides, and shopping.
But golf is the centerpiece. That's what builds and nurtures the relationships that are critical to Liberty Mutual. As guests wander the complex wearing their all-access badges, as they chat with the legends of a game they love, they know they're part of a select group. They understand how much their business is appreciated. And those impressions become memories that keep sealing the deal for Liberty.
Of course, as any meeting planner knows, goals like these are met only if attendees perceive their experience as smooth and effortless. Responsibility for that rests on the shoulders of Mary Keough-Anderson, CMP. "It's one of the most important customer events we do, definitely," says Keough-Anderson, Liberty's manager, conference and meeting management, who has been planning the events that surround Legends for the past eight years. "This is not your regular meeting."
It's so important, in fact, that this year three staffers who work at resorts that have hosted previous Legends events were brought in just to handle the golf bags. With hundreds of golfers playing tee times and tournaments at six area golf courses, golf bag duty is among the most critical. The "bagmen" and one Liberty planner, Rosalie Triggs, are up at 4 a.m. each day to inventory every single club that goes out. They're inventoried again when they come back. "It's a formalized procedure. We know where the bags are at all times," Keough-Anderson says. "Once they arrive, [attendees] don't handle their bags at all."
Tee Times and Tournaments "There's tons of golf," Keough-Anderson says of the seven days that make up Legends week and weekend. "Most business is done on the golf course. These are good opportunities for the executives to maintain and develop their relationships with customers."
Booking eight tournaments and making reserved tee times readily available for guests takes the cooperation of a lot of local partners. Keough-Anderson did site inspections of all the area courses and met face to face with their golf directors about a year before the event. As a golfer, she has the lingo down, which is important. "When you meet with these golf pros, you have to be able to talk to them," she says. "And you really need to play the course if you have time. You don't know a golf course until you play it. When I'm doing site inspections of six or seven courses, I'll at least ride them if I don't have time to play."
Communication is also critical between the meeting department and the executives who are doing most of the inviting of attendees. To help them, Keough-Anderson's department provides host kits that include brochures, programs, and scorecards. She also sends them regular reports on which of the invited have responded. She also meets with the Legends Golf Committee, which includes the executives that head up Liberty's various markets, several times before the tournament to handle two of the toughest tasks she faces: seating charts for each night's dinner and golf pairings for each tournament. "Those two things are very important," says Keough-Anderson, who bases the assignments on a list of criteria created by the Legends Golf Committee.
A Year of Firsts As a tournament that's been held for more than two decades, the Legends of Golf this year marked a number of firsts: the event just became an official PGA event; it was held at its new permanent home, World Golf Village; and qualifying sales reps brought along their spouses for the first time.
"It was a challenge to be using World Golf Village for the first time," Keough-Anderson says. "We were their first major golf event." So she came up with a couple of ways to ensure that the hotel delivered top-notch service. She planned a pep rally for the staff, including lunch and entertainment. She used the rally to talk about the importance of the event and the service her attendees were used to, and, most important, to announce an incentive contest she had created. Liberty Certificates had been included in attendees' welcome packets, she told the staff. Guests were being encouraged to hand out the certificates to any hotel employee who exceeded their expectations. At the end of the week, employees would receive five dollars for each certificate they collected.
"It worked," Keough-Anderson says. "We had attendees asking for more certificates and raving about the hotel employees. The chef got one. Even phone operators got them."
Keough-Anderson presented the top certificate-earner with a plaque. "The winner was a bellman, but the contest also reached the people in the back of the house, which is what I wanted to happen," she says.
A big change for qualifying sales reps this year was that their spouses were invited. "This way they can socialize with the customers. It's more difficult to socialize with couples when you're by yourself," Keough-Anderson explains. "Also, we used to seat the incentive winners all together; now we're putting them in with their customers." Individual sales offices hold six-month contests for Legends, with total sales rep attendance capped at 50 people. It's a prestigious ticket.
For Keough-Anderson, what makes this event challenging is also what makes it rewarding. "It's an event that covers all aspects of planning, from golf to printed materials to database management to theme parties. It's my favorite meeting," she says. "I'm the project manager, but I bring all my planners, and we get to work together as a team. We're running on adrenaline. It's a lot of work, but we play hard, too. It gets my blood flowing."
For participants, the chance to reach out and touch a piece of golf history is unparalleled. Even the legends themselves appreciate the experience. "The best thing about Legends is you get to rub elbows with the pioneers of the game," says Chi Chi Rodriguez. "Just to be around Sam Snead . . . When I'm around Sam Snead, I don't make statements. I just ask questions."
A highlight of the 1998 Legends tournament was the Liberty Mutual blimp, which actually took attendees for rides. But the blimp made the biggest impact on a golfer who wasn't even invited to the Legends event.
The story goes that this executive was playing golf at a course nearby the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, site of last year's tournament. As it happened, he'd been in the process of deciding between Liberty and another insurer as his company's provider. He looked up, saw the blimp, and took it as a omen. He signed with Liberty.
Even before Liberty Mutual decided to make World Golf Village the permanent home for its Legends of Golf tournament, this new resort complex had plenty of legends in residence at its World Golf Hall of Fame. Nearly a decade in the making, the Hall of Fame opened last spring as the centerpiece of a complex that includes upscale lodging with an attached convention center, retail outlets, and two incredible golf courses designed by and named for four true legends of the game.
Last year The Slammer and The Squire course opened, named for Sam Snead (who won the first Legends tournament, in 1978) and Gene Sarazen (who passed away in May at the age of 97, just a month after teeing off as a ceremonial starter at The Masters). This year sees the opening of a second course, The King and The Bear, designed by and named for Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
Organized like a golf course, the Hall of Fame museum covers the historic game on the "front nine" and the modern game on the "back nine." A highlight is an interactive computer exhibit allowing users to surf a Web site of the Hall of Fame's male and female inductees, clicking through "scrapbooks" of photos, video clips, and personal narratives from their golfing heroes. Guests can evaluate their own talent at the swing analysis machine and take a solemn walk over a replica of the famous Swilcan Burn Bridge from the 18th hole at St. Andrews in Scotland. There are even two outdoor exhibits: a par-three island challenge hole and an 18-green putting course.
The 75,000-square-foot venue is available for receptions of up to 500 people, catered by the World Golf Village Resort Hotel. Special features: a 32-unit video wall available for promotional tapes, and an IMAX theater seating 300 people for AV presentations. The 191-foot Hall of Fame Shrine Tower, overlooking World Golf Village, is available for intimate dinners of up to 50 people.
Nearby, the World Golf Village Resort Hotel, a John Q. Hammonds Hotel, offers 300 rooms (with the capability of expansion) and a 10-story atrium. The adjoining St. Johns County Convention Center offers 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including a nearly 30,000-square-foot ballroom. The 450-acre World Golf Village complex also features the Vistana Resort, with 400 one- and two-bedroom vacation ownership villas.
Minutes away is the charming city of St. Augustine, America's oldest city, with numerous historic sites and plenty of shopping and dining options. For more information, visit www.wgv.com.
Before dinner on Tuesday night of Legends Week, Liberty Mutual President and CEO Ted Kelly began his welcome remarks talking about Juan "Chi Chi" Rodriguez. "Golf is better for having Chi Chi, but the world is better for having Chi Chi," he said. "We're proud to know you."
Indeed. Not only has Rodriguez's presence on the PGA tour and now the Senior PGA tour brought a new level of fun and entertainment to the game, he's also had a profound impact on the lives of thousands of kids through his charity, the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation, in Clearwater, Fla. He also founded an orphanage in Guadalajara, Mexico, which now houses
137 kids, and he is looking to build a second home for children there.
"It's my mission," Rodriguez says simply. The Puerto Rico native started the Foundation 20 years ago, and from the beginning, he has contributed much more than his name. He notes with pride that the organization opens its books to potential donors so they can see that 82 percent of the money contributed goes directly to the kids.
Golf is an important component of the Foundation's various educational programs. "Golf is a humbling game. It has a long tradition. But the best thing about golf is the pros," Rodriguez says. "Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino, Paul Azinger . . . any kid that wants to be like those guys is going to be all right. The problem in this country today is that kids idolize the wrong people."
They would do well to emulate Rodriguez, who cites Mother Teresa as his own idol. Over the two decades that his Foundation has been operating, it has garnered numerous awards, and in 1994, Rodriguez was an inaugural inductee into the World Humanitarian Hall of Fame.
"I want my kids to be taxpayers instead of tax burdens," he says. "I want to give them not just hope, but a chance."