Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday opts to forgo World Am title sponsorship for better branding

ablondin@thesunnews.comJanuary 28, 2014 

Golf.com World AM

Leader Otto Susec reacts as his putt goes in for a net birdie on the 18th in the 30th annual Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship at the Dye Club in Barefoot Resort in 2013.

FILE PHOTO — The Sun News Buy Photo

Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday has always sought title sponsors for the World Amateur Handicap Championship, which it operates.

Rawlings sponsored the tournament in its first two years in 1984-85, then DuPont titled the tournament for 19 years, followed by PGA Tour Superstore from 2005-09 and Sports Illustrated Golf Group for the past four years.

The financial support of a title sponsor is often essential for a golf tournament’s survival.

But even though a company is willing to continue as the title sponsor – one that has provided the tournament with funding as well as additional sponsors and increased national media coverage – Golf Holiday is eliminating title sponsorship of the event.

The marketing cooperative wants to capitalize on the tournament’s popularity by branding it with the golf market’s identity, so the 31st tournament being played Aug. 25-29 is entitled the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship.

“There are a couple reasons, but the biggest one is as we’ve expanded this thing internationally and we feel like we’re missing out on a huge branding opportunity for the destination by not having Myrtle Beach in the logo,” Golf Holiday president Bill Golden said. “We thought it was a good time, with the sponsorship up for renewal, for the next chapter of the event to be about Myrtle Beach.

“… I think we take it for granted that people here in this country know where the event is.”

The tournament has been known as the Golf.com World Am since 2010, and the most recent title sponsorship contract with SI Golf Group, a media company with the primary assets of Golf Magazine, SI Golf Plus and Golf.com, expired at the end of last August’s event.

SI Golf Group was interested in continuing its title sponsorship, and will still be involved in the tournament to a lesser degree.

“Would we like to have our name on it? Of course,” SI Golf Group publisher Dick Raskopf said. “It’s a great event and brings in a lot of players. But if they want to go in that direction, we understand.

“They want to better brand Myrtle Beach with the title, and we understand that, because we believe in Myrtle Beach, too. We loved being in the title, but I think we’re still very much in the same kind of overall relationship supporting the event.”

The extent to which SI Golf Group will continue its sponsorship is expected to be finalized within the next couple weeks.

Like any sponsorship, the relationship between SI Golf Group and the tournament has been symbiotic.

Golden said the tournament has received cash for title rights, and SI Golf Group has also brought in several supporting sponsors including Gosling’s rum, promoted the tournament and provided event coverage from many of its Sports Illustrated, Golf Magazine and Golf.com writers.

“We’ve brought a lot of media clout to the event,” Raskopf said. “I think we’ve enhanced the reputation of the event.”

SI Golf Group has received the name recognition as title sponsor, and been able to market in person to more than 3,000 golfers each year and offer that same opportunity to its advertisers.

“We definitely gave something up [with the title], but we have to see how all the pieces fit together,” Raskopf said. “We’ll be very much a part of it this year and going forward. We hope our involvement continues to grow and grow. We want to do all we can with the event. … We’ll still have branding at the event and will continue to cover it in our media.”

Golden doesn’t expect SI Golf Group’s interest in the event to wane, or to lose many of the benefits of the company’s involvement. The two entities have a longstanding relationship, as Golf Holiday is a longtime advertiser with SI Golf Group.

“They have brought and will continue to bring sponsors for the event,” Golden said. “In terms of the promotional opportunities that the Sports Illustrated Golf Group afforded us, we’ll still be able to participate in that. So you’ll still see the magazine promoting the World Am and you’ll still see it on websites and in emails.

“The idea is to get the best of all worlds. We’re not going to be able to have our cake and eat it too, but if we can get close enough, we feel it’s a victory to have Myrtle Beach as the title moving forward.”

The tournament has multiple sponsorship levels including supporting sponsors, exhibitors, prize sponsors, etc. Gosling’s is likely back as a supporting sponsor in 2014 and will join Maui Jim sunglasses, SkyCaddie and the Greg Norman Collection. A new expo and affiliated International Pairs tournament have added to tournament revenue in recent years.

“The tournament won’t have fewer sponsors as it has in the past, it will have as many if not more,” said Golden, who was among a group of five Golf Holiday representatives at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando last week meeting with media companies, potential sponsors and the press. “It has reached such a point of notoriety that we’re missing out on the fact that Myrtle Beach isn’t in that title, so let’s go ahead and put it in there and make the math work on the sponsor revenue and on the tournament revenue outside of that, which we’re going to do.”

Having the destination in the title can serve a particular marketing benefit overseas. The World Am has recently expanded to China, where Chinese sports marketing company Olle Sports and sponsor Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer 1844 host a World Am series that culminates in a qualifying final.

“When we think about all the opportunities that we’re beginning to open up internationally, it needs to be the Myrtle Beach World Am,” Golden said. “It’s a wordy title anyway. It tends to become cumbersome in certain logos and certain applications, and we have other sponsors from other places, China or wherever it might be. So we felt if we cleaned it up and made it real specific … it would do a better job.”

The World Am is not operated to make a profit. It was established and is operated to benefit the area.

The tournament was created by area golf course owner and businessman Paul Himmelsbach and Golf Digest sales manager Marvin Arnsdorff in part to give the area business during a typically slow week before Labor Day. The tournament is operated as its own entity within Golf Holiday, with its own advertising and marketing budget, staff and personnel.

“The intention is for that event to basically break even,” Golden said. “There are years it has made money and years it has lost money. But that’s not accounting for the economic impact and the promotional value of it.”

The tournament entry fee provides golf as well as food and drinks for a few hours after each of the first four rounds at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. But transportation and lodging are not included in the tournament entry fee, and survey results show that 53 percent of participants play at least two rounds in the area in addition to their four or five tournament rounds.

The World Am has made a resurgence in the past couple years. After hitting a peak of about 5,000 players in 2000, participation dropped to levels that hovered around or below 3,000 players from 2009-11 before it increased about 8 percent in 2012 and another 8 percent in 2013 to 3,310 players.

“We’ve seen many areas of growth, and certainly Golf Magazine has had a role in that,” Golden said.

Registration for the 31st World Am will begin March 25. The entry fee through May 15 is $475 and rises to $525 thereafter.

“I think if we can make this work with Myrtle Beach as the title, if you will, it won’t change,” Golden said.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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