This article is adapted from Tom King's new book, Going for the Green! An Insider's Guide to Raising Money with Charity Golf.
Four key ingredients go into the formula for attracting players to your organization's tournament. Let's take a close look at each of these.
People who love your cause are your most loyal attendees. They come because they're passionate about what you do. For them, the finer points of your tournament don't matter much. They come to support you, pure and simple. And whether your format is a scramble or a marathon, or whether you offer a hole-in-one contest or closest to the pin, they'll dependably show up.
If yours is a tangible mission like poverty, starving children, or literacy, then golfers will have a vivid picture of what they're helping you raise money for.
Unfortunately, not every cause is so easily explained (for instance, I work with a nonprofit group that trains people to organize for local initiatives, which isn't terribly sexy).
That's not to say obscure causes can't attract golfers, but your creativity may be put to the test in "selling the cause."
Whether it's irresistible or esoteric, your cause will seldom be the primary draw. Let's face it; there are people who'd like to spend every waking moment playing golf. For them, your tournament is mostly a chance to enjoy some guilt-free fun. You could be raising money to purchase bowties for penguins for all they care.
Still, they've got dozens of tournaments to choose from. So the fact that you're playing golf isn't the only reason they'll choose your venue over another. Your job is to maximize the potential player's excitement about the golf that will be happening at your event.
Just as you'd choose different lures depending on the type of fish you want to catch, you'll select different locations and styles of tournaments to attract different types of golfers.
For example, you can run a simple tournament at a municipal course. It's reasonably easy to do and if the golfers you want to attract are regular guys looking to play an affordable event, then that's a good choice.
You can also opt for a more elaborate event; something held at a swank country club where the $100,000 membership crowd hangs out. Choose that approach and you'll be tapping into players who don't mind spending money for a chance to rub shoulders with local luminaries.
An unusual location can also be a draw. In West Texas, for example, an "extreme golf" tournament might be played on a well-known ranch where cow chips are a natural hazard and sand traps are arroyos and gullies (coyotes and longhorns are considered natural hazards). The greens are swaths of Astroturf with tin cans buried at the center. Afterward, everyone gathers at the ranch for a Texas style barbecue by the pool.
Those who organize, volunteer for, and play in your tournament must have a strong connection to your community! If your team knows lots of people, is gregarious, loves to play golf and to network, then you'll do just fine. On the other hand, if yours is a shy group that keeps to themselves, doesn't like golf, doesn't even own an address book, well, try something other than a golf tournament. Golf is a social event.
Here are the types of people that will make your tournament a success:
Local Movers & Shakers
Depending on whom you attract, your tournament can become a place where people come together to do business deals, network, or build relationships with customers and colleagues. One successful tournament I worked with has developed a reputation as a fun event and a prime opportunity to mingle with local movers and shakers. In less than four years, this schmooze-a-thon grew from a half-day event attracting around 65 golfers to an all-day event hosting nearly 250 players today.
There's always the option of inviting a celebrity to attract players, but in nearly all cases you'll have to pay for him or her. And that can be expensive.
Don't let the glamour of having Emmitt Smith or Tom Brady cloud your judgment and break your budget. You don't have to have such a person. There is, in fact, only one reason to secure a celebrity - to make more money! Ah, yes, I keep harping on that.
As for hometown celebrities, I once invited the news team from a local TV station to play, hoping a little free golf would induce them to cover the event. They covered the story all right, but not the one I had in mind. Instead the story was a humorous piece about the news team playing golf. The charity was scarcely mentioned.
Local celebs can be helpful, but make sure they really want to assist you. See if they'll do radio, TV and print PSAs or volunteer for emcee duty. On the other hand, beware the celeb that sneaks in, plays a quick round of golf, and scoots out.
If you do want a celebrity, decide on day one and make a wish list. Some have to be booked a year or more in advance. Try hard to find a corporate sponsor to pay his or her fee in advance. The celeb can sit at the sponsor's table for the pre-game dinner and play golf on the sponsor's team.
One last note: Tiger Woods won't do your event for free, even if his mother's third cousin's sister chairs your board. Don't waste your time. Pro golfers, besides being expensive, are hard to nab because when you're playing they're playing. On the other hand, ex-football, baseball, and basketball players make a nice living working golf tournaments and some pretty big names are available for a surprisingly reasonable fee.
Who else might be involved
You can spice up your tournament with interesting special attractions. One group invited a local university drill team to serve as volunteer hostesses and hole-sitters (in uniform, of course). They did very well on that tournament, particularly with the male players.
One lamentable bunch of corporate bigwigs added a little too much spice when they hired the staff of a local "gentleman's club" to work a tournament in Texas. These girls were also in 'costume.'
The nature of the event remained under wraps until the last minute, when word inevitably spread that a topless tournament was underway at one of the city's most prestigious country clubs. Before organizers knew it, news helicopters were buzzing overhead with camera people hanging out chopper doors - not the kind of publicity you want if you're the charity beneficiary.
Another possibility is a professional tournament entertainer and organizer like Eric Tracy, California's famed "Mulligan Man." Hiring such a person can give a flagging annual event a much-needed lift. It may also help to have a pro at your back if your tournament committee is stuck in a rut.
Tom King has worked with nonprofit organizations for more than a quarter century as a teacher, recreation therapist, program director, executive director, PR director, development officer, workshop facilitator, media consultant, advocate, and organizer.
King has facilitated five startup nonprofits, reorganized two and was appointed to the Texas Department of Transportation's Public Transportation Advisory Committee for his transit advocacy work.
A veteran charity golf tournament organizer, King has planned and directed a string of successful charity tournaments and special events. He is currently developing virtual-village.org, a networking tool for volunteers, advocates, community leaders, staff and organizers of faith and community-based agencies.