To some observers, being a golf title sponsor might seem as simple as cutting an annual $2 million to $3 million check for prize money and another $2 million to $3 million for television advertising.
But being a title sponsor is much more than writing checks, hosting pro-ams and getting your company name splashed all over the headlines. Consider Deere & Co., title sponsor to the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic.
“The title sponsorship commitment is a significant one,” said Clair Peterson, Deere’s manager of golf event marketing. “There’s a tremendous sense of pressure leveraging that investment.
“Tournament week is the crescendo of six months of planning. There’s so many things happening on different fronts. Lots of people coming in waves and overlapping – it’s a multilayer hospitality experience. It really is frantic. It’s devils-in-the-details week. Every hour has an agenda to it.”
For Deere & Co., that frantic tournament week entails playing host to as many as 1,500 guests at two pro-ams; a separate golf outing for guests and company division representatives; and several breakfasts, dinners and pairings parties. All of this takes place before the tournament begins on Thursday, when Deere & Co., opens its skybox and trophy suites for a weekend of entertainment.
Organizing the company’s two pro-ams is a complex job in itself, largely because both events are actually three-day, overlapping affairs.
The first is the “Monday Pro-Am Hospitality Program,” comprising 12 golf course superintendents and 12 management representatives from the superintendent’s club. The winning superintendents are selected from a Deere-sponsored writing contest that begins in February and lasts through April. The essay subject: How superintendents and their employers have worked together, demonstrating a cooperative effort between the two main disciplines at golf courses.
The contest, co-sponsored by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, is a fit for Deere & Co.’s turf maintenance business strategies. Deere & Co. is one of the golf industry’s largest suppliers of turfgrass equipment, and it also became the official equipment supplier for the PGA Tour’s Tournament Players Club network as part of a nine-year title sponsorship deal signed in April 1997.
The 24 superintendent/management guests arrive Sunday for a pairings party at world headquarters in Moline, Ill. The following morning, Deere & Co. hosts a “semi-educational” breakfast that features a guest speaker.
The purpose of the morning event is to recognize the importance of the superintendent’s role in golf, and perhaps enlighten the superintendents’ employers in the process.
Later in the day, 30 foursomes head off for their pro-am rounds. Meanwhile, when this group is well into its hospitality program, the “Wednesday Pro-Am Hospitality Program” kicks into action with guests arriving Monday for another three days of Deere entertainment.
As Peterson described it, this latter group comprises some “higher-profile” guests who are matched with better-known pros for their pro-am event on Wednesday. On Tuesday, both groups of guests play a bonus round of relaxed golf at the private Rock Island Arsenal, with Deere & Co. representatives in each foursome.
Peterson puts a premium on this kind of one-on-one event.
“We believe all of our business is built on personal relationships,” Peterson said. “The hospitality experience is one of the tremendous opportunities for us to leverage the event.
“I don’t think we’re different from anyone else. For everyone, depending on the business they’re in, hospitality is important. The exciting part is the creativity you can attach to it.”
Here’s an idea of the behind-the-scenes creativity Deere & Co. applied to this year’s event, held for the first time at TPC at Deere Run in Silvis, Ill.
• Eight months out: Peterson and tournament director Kym Hougham enlisted the services of advertising agency Thomas D. Porter to launch a marketing campaign
centered around a calendar about the tournament’s new venue. The goal: help sell daily tickets and, in the process, offer people a glimpse the new TPC at Deere Run. The calendars were sold at all John Deere dealers in the Quad Cities region, and throughout the local Drug Town and HyVeecq supermarket chains.
According to Peterson, the campaign was a success.
“We exceeded our goals,” Peterson said. “It was the first sellout ever. We sold over 140,000 (tickets) and stopped selling daily tickets about a month before the event.”
• Five months out: Deere began studying how different tournaments float cars and other displays because the company wanted to float its riding lawn mower – to be awarded to the winner – on the 18th hole hazard. Next to the lawn mower would be a monster golf ball emblazoned with the company’s new logo – the company’s eighth version of its “leaping deer” in 164 years.
• Two months out: If holding the John Deere Classic at a new venue didn’t complicate matters enough, the job became even more challenging when company executives decided to use the tournament as the launch of Deere’s first change to its corporate logo in 32 years. After two years of working with its advertising agency Landor & Associates, Deere figured the tournament, and its international exposure, would be the perfect vehicle to announce the company’s eighth version of its leaping deer logo in its 164-year history.
The biggest challenge, according to Peterson, was integrating the new logo “tastefully into the presentation of the John Deere Classic.” The answer: produce a historical display of seven of the eight logos, along with the year they were introduced, at strategic places along the entrance to the course (Deere eliminated one period where the logo changed twice in two years).
Additionally, the new logo would be featured in a flower display, on caddy bibs, pin flags, equipment display flags and a 6-foot golf ball to be built and floated above the 18th hole hazard. Several years ago, the company formed its own shows and exhibits department – and display shop located near company headquarters in Moline, Ill. – to help construct, store and ship the materials necessary to support these kinds of special projects and the various equipment shows Deere annually attends.
Also at two months out: Deere’s design team, along with one of its suppliers, Midwest Exhibits, started building the golf ball, using a combination of wood and Styrofoam painted with a high sheen automotive-type finish. Once the ball was built, Deere officials tested its float concept in a lagoon near the display shop, borrowing a lawn mower from the company’s equipment display at its headquarters.
• Three weeks out: After several practice sessions in the company lagoon, Deere officials then put their pontoon float to the real test – out on the course, using a rented 7-foot inflatable ball.
“Our concern at this point was where to place both the tractor and ball without interfering with players or spectators sight lines,” Peterson said. “We had tether lines on four sides of the inflatable ball and positioned it in the center of the hazard.
“We then looked at it from all different angles including the adjacent holes and tees.”
PGA Tour officials, who were on site to check the course, bleachers, skyboxes and other hospitality areas, weren’t thrilled by the floating ball.
According to Peterson, the Tour felt the ball didn’t fit the “aesthetic beauty of the course and talked us out of putting it in the hazard.”
As Peterson put it, the ball got “dry-docked,” and it eventually became the centerpiece to a large John Deere equipment display on the drive to the course.
• One week out: Workers put the finishing touches on a flower logo behind the green of the par-3 16th hole, one on which work had begun five months before the event. The company’s original plan was to build a flower box with wooden separators for the lines of the company’s new logo. But when the company started building the frame, it realized in order for it to be picked up by television cameras the logs would have to be approximately 12 feet in diameter.
Thus, the earth needed to keep the plants alive in such a massive flower box would make it too heavy, “since we planned to tilt it to make it visible from behind the green,” Peterson saide.
So Deere scrapped the plan and devised a much-lighter artificial alternative, building something akin to a display on a parade float.
“The team came up with a plastic insert in a wire mesh that looked like flowers from afar, but would keep it’s color and would allow us to finely define the different elements of the logo,” Peterson said. “We scaled the CBS tower behind the green to place it about a week before the tournament. The only fine-tuning we did was add a camouflaged back to help it blend into the scenery for the players viewing the green from the tee.”
According to Peterson, all of Deere’s tournament displays worked well, and they now are being stored in the company’s display warehouse until next year’s event. Cost of the floating tractor, golf ball and flower projects: about $25,000.
“It should be easier the second time around,” Peterson said.
That is, until the next project comes along.