Texas lends itself well to year-round outdoor events. Other than the dead heat of summer, there are very few times of the year when a successful golf scramble can’t be pulled off. Enter the experts of Texas golf: club directors and tournament directors from across the state who put together some of the largest golfing events each year. Texas is great for golf, which is probably why it’s arguably home to more pro golfers than any other state.
“In Texas we have so many members geographically and a large number of member clubs—we regularly see those avid golfers always looking for an opportunity to play. The Lone Star State has a staggering number of professional golfers calling it home,” says Cameron Crawford, tournament director of the Texas Golf Association.
Crawford organizes six major tournaments a year and knows a thing or two about pulling together the hundreds of elements that go into a great day on the green.
“Golf is unique compared to other sports,” Crawford says. “An individual sport doesn’t necessarily offer a level playing field, but with golf it could be myself and my brother or myself and my wife—there can be different ages, genders and experience levels playing together.”
Making a Scene
It’s not just Texas players who love golf. Crawford points to large audience turnouts at tournaments, as well.
Charity golf events, in particular, can bring in much-needed notoriety and donations for a good cause. They attract competitive golfers, but they also attract spectators and players of all levels who enter putting contests, hole-in-one contests or enjoy a leisurely few hours strolling across a green. Not to mention the often award-winning catering and drinks served at resort-style clubhouses before or after the tournament.
“We get most of our notoriety because the Shell Houston Open is held here—everybody wants to play where the pros play,” says Golf Club of Houston General Manager Herb Lipsman.
Golf Club of Houston is Houston’s only PGA Tour stop and hosts about 200 tournaments per year. Because the course is challenging, the club provides a special team of forecaddies to help players at each hosted event.
“They run out in front of the group and spot all the falls and help read the green for every group—it’s really fun and the players enjoy it,” Lipsman says.
Golf clubs have started to differentiate their services by providing original extras, like custom caddy services and pretournament golf clinics hosted by well-known golfers. These clinic and caddy services are often built into tournament event packages from the get-go.
Stonebriar Country Club in Frisco is part of ClubCorp, which owns or operates everything from country clubs to alumni clubs to business clubs. ClubCorp has more than 30 courses and 10 business clubs across the state.
“I would say ClubCorp as a whole is about meeting the needs of our clients, but also providing a new type of experience,” says Stonebriar Country Club PGA Regional Director of Golf Michael Kiesling. “Events don’t have to be cookie-cutter tournaments; each should be unique and keep people talking and coming back each year because it’s fun.”
“Often people think of golf and country clubs as just golf and food, but we’re a one-stop shop,” Kiesling says. “Everything from tee gifts, shirts, speakers—we’ve done Beats by Dre gifts, Under Armour, Nike—you name it. The biggest obstacle is your own imagination and getting out of that idea [that a tournament is just golf and food]. There’s a bigger impact, and all our coordinators definitely are on board with creativity and creating an experience.”
From face-painting stations to minibar setups across the green, tournaments are evolving to meet audience expectations. Those expectations are set during the planning process.
“We meet with clients and walk through the event—some hosts are a little more tenured than others and no detail is too small—we make sure we understand what the client wants to accomplish,” Kiesling says.
Expect the club to ask a lot of questions and in effect interview the planner about the organization’s expectations for the event. Is the goal to raise money? Is it to provide an unforgettable thank-you event for major clients? Across the board, clubs want to make sure the course is a great fit that will deliver on the organization’s goals.
Know the Players
“The golfer is your audience—a competitive player could be any age and there’s a wide spread of demographics,” Crawford says. “Always be cognizant of the audience. Make sure they’re registering properly. Plan for them early—are there special dietary needs? They will have rules questions, so administer rules and handicapping.”
A handicap levels the playing field so players of different abilities can play the same course at the same time and still end up with an equivalent scoring that takes skill factors into consideration.
“A handicap is a complex mathematical computation done by computer—that’s the easiest way to explain it,” Crawford says.
There are different ways to calculate a handicap and different courses will follow different guidelines, which are regulated by groups like the United States Golf Association. The handicap for a particular course will be provided prior to a tournament, and handicaps can also be calculated for an individual.
Although individual handicaps aren’t strictly necessary for tournaments that are hosted for fun, they are needed for competitive tournaments. The TGA staff provides handicapping technology for each of its member clubs and helps develop each course’s rating.
“We’ll do course rating, and also all the technology associated with record and scorekeeping that gives individuals their personal handicap,” Crawford says.
The everyday Joe or Jane Golfer could have a handicap of 5, 10 or 22, and it caps out at 36, he says. Lower numbers indicate more experience and skill.
Find the Format
“Golf is not restricted to just 18 holes,” Crawford says. “There are different formats. You can have groups of two or four. Golf clubs will liaise with you to choose the right format for your group.”
What’s the difference between a scramble and a blind-hole match? What on earth is a mulligan, and can they really help bring in extra donations for a charity? The planner doesn’t really have to know, because the golf pros take care of everything.
“It’s all up to the organization that hosts,” Lipsman says. “Sometimes they have their mind made up, typically they want a scramble, but our pros help come up with the details.”
The details include everything from special menus, drinks, clinics with pros and tee gifts of all types.
So, for those who want to know: What exactly is a scramble? It’s the most common type of tournament. A team of two or four takes turns teeing off at each hole. After each player on a team tees off, the team selects the best shot and each player hits from that spot, and this process continues with each shot until the ball is holed. This style speeds up game play and levels the playing field between players a little bit, since each player gets a turn even if they don’t have great aim or a powerful stroke.
Side contests are also popular, particularly at charity tournaments where side entry fees add to the overall take for the charity.
Putting contests, driving contests and chipping contests are all fun ways for players to test their ability to put, drive or chip a ball in order to win a prize.
What about blind-hole matches and mulligans? In a blind-hole match, the game is played through normally for all players, but at the end of the tournament only the scores for certain holes are counted, which adds an element of surprise and luck to the final outcome.
Mulligans are frequently sold to players at charity matches to help raise more funds. Like a “get out of jail free” card, a mulligan can be traded in to switch out a bad shot for a do-over. By selling one or two per player, the charity gets a few extra dollars and players get a fun way to buy a few extra shots.
The golf pros at any clubhouse that hosts tournaments will be able to plan out an event, from providing hole-in-one insurance to managing online registration and placing refreshments along the course.
“There are some events we do where it’s like a party on the golf course. There’s food and drinks all along the course,” Kiesling says. “When I plan a tournament for myself, I want there to be anything but a tournament [atmosphere]. I want it to be something entirely different, even down to different kinds of tee gifts.”
At Golf Club of Houston, Lipsman says a popular tee gift trend is to issue gift cards or retail credits to their mobile pro shop instead of the standard balls and tees.
“A company like Nike will set up with all kinds of merchandise and every player gets a gift card,” he says. “Instead of each person getting the same gift, they each get to pick out what they want.”
“A golf club is not much different than a hotel,” Crawford says. “It’s similar to planning a conference at a hotel—there will be similar roles among the staff.”
At Golf Club of Houston, Lipsman leads a sales and services team that includes a dedicated events services manager, executive chef, event sales director, food and beverage director, and head golf professional. He also oversees preparations for the annual Shell Houston Open.
“We do everything—we’re basically turnkey,” Lipsman says. “The only thing the planner needs to do, if it’s a charity, is bring the players and the donations for the charity. We do everything else, from parties to hole-in-one contests, setting up scoring and formats. Our golf pro staff runs the entire operation. You literally don’t have to do anything.”
Ultimately, every club is different, and some may have more restrictions on holding group events. In those cases, Crawford recommends looking for a membership connection. Whether the hosting group is a nonprofit or a corporation, find out if there’s a member on staff or on the board who can make an introduction and talk to the club about potentially hosting the event.
Among private TGA member clubs, Crawford says he has seen instances where a club member has facilitated an event at a course that might not otherwise be open to outside events. When in doubt, it never hurts to ask.
For those who do want to learn every intricate detail that goes into golf planning, ClubCorp hosts a seminar each spring in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to walk planners through every detail of planning a tournament.
“Tournament sales and golf professionals are like wedding planners in a sense—we’ve seen it, we’ve done it, we can guide the process from start to finish,” Kiesling says. “You’ve just got to know what you’re trying to do. Are you raising money or spending money to have an unforgettable experience?”
Even the most pristine year-round green will be subject to seasons—prime tournament seasons. Course availability and per-player costs are often subject to seasonal highs and lows.
“We host about 200 tournaments per year, the most popular times being our spring and fall seasons. When the weather is nice, everybody wants those premium dates,” Lipsman says.
The Shell Houston Open is generally held the end of March or the first week of April. That’s when the greens are at their peak, but the Houston Golf Club tournament course is over-seeded with rye grass as summer wanes to give the green a lush appearance year-round.
“March through April and September to October are our prime seasons, that’s when we charge premium rates,” Lipsman says. “Summer and winter are offseason, so we’re able to be more flexible and prices are more competitive.”
Day of the week also makes a difference. For the Stonebriar Country Club and many other golf courses, Monday is the only day that’s closed to members, so that tends to be the only day available for public or hosted events.
Because golf is so popular in Texas, and so many clubhouses are coveted for weddings and celebrations, courses get booked in advance—far in advance. It pays to contact a club as soon as possible once the decision is made to host a tournament.
Although most courses have a clubhouse and full-time staff dedicated to running the logistics of a golf tournament, there are some smaller courses and municipal courses that may have the space but not the dedicated staff.
In those cases, Crawford suggests looking for one of the many sports management companies that will come in and plan tournament logistics.
“There are a number of companies out there that can handle those logistics—for example, hole-in-one contests—and it takes it off the plate of someone who just gets handed the [planning] job without necessarily knowing how to run a tournament,” he says.
“We do that on a competitive basis, mainly for large colleges such as Texas A&M, Baylor and the Big 12,” Crawford says. “We do have a charitable arm in the organization, and those are also major events competing for charitable reasons.”
While the chances are slim that a course won’t have a dedicated event staff, if a planner ever encounters that predicament, there are independent sports management companies that can step in to provide support.
“I can’t stress enough the small details,” Crawford says of his planning experiences. “There are so many things to consider behind the scenes. The best advice I was given that I use every day is MBWA: Management by Walking Around. Make sure all the details are considered and taken care of.”
Things to know before going in blind to the clubhouse:
Putt, drive and chip: Different ways to hit the ball; a putt is a short distance, a drive is a long distance and a chip is an attempt to get a ball out of sand or another tricky area.
Par: The number of strokes, plus two putts, to play through a hole.
Tee box: At the beginning of a hole, four spots where a tee can be placed for different levels of difficulty.
Hole-in-one contest: A contest with a major prize, like a car or boat, where players try to sink a hole-inone shot; special insurance is required for this contest and winnings are paid out of the insurance.
Tee gifts: Thank-you gifts given to participants, typically logo golf balls or T-shirts, but can be as extravagant as Beats by Dre headphones or retail credit at mobile pro shops.
The Six Levels of Golf Skill
A guide established by the Executive Womens Golf Association.
1 New Golfer
Limited knowledge of rules and etiquette and typically doesn’t keep score
Plays occasionally, has not established a handicap, typically scores 70+ for 9 holes, hits the ball 50-90 yards
3 Advanced Beginner
Basic understanding of the rules and plays perhaps weekly, scores 60+ for 9 holes, hits the ball 100 yards
Plays 1-2 times per week, has an official USGA handicap of 25-49 for 18 holes, consistently hits the ball 125+ yards
5 Intermediate Advanced
Plays 1-2 times per week and practices fairly often, comfortable at tournaments, has a USGA handicap of 16-28, consistently hits the ball 150+ yards
Plays 2-3 times per week and regularly practices, plays competitively, handicap is 0-15, consistently hits the ball 175+ yards