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What’s in a name? For these golf tournament sponsors, not everything

The SAS Championship is Oct. 12-14 at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary. Above, volunteers update the scoreboard at a previous tournament.
The SAS Championship is Oct. 12-14 at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary. Above, volunteers update the scoreboard at a previous tournament. News & Observer File Photo

If the point of putting its name on a golf tournament was to get its brand out there, it might be a little disheartening for SAS to hear two of the best golfers on the PGA Tour Champions struggle to pin down what, exactly, the company does (although they weren’t far off).

“I think they’re into software? Analytical stuff?” said Bernhard Langer, playing in his 12th SAS Championship this weekend.

“I know Dr. (Jim) Goodnight,” said Scott McCarron, the runaway leader on the tour this season. “He’s a great guy and he gives away a lot of money. But SAS is more of a consulting … right? Analytics. Consulting analytics. He’s a smart math guy, I know that.”

None of which detracts from their enjoyment of the tournament, traditionally rated one of the most hospitable on tour, nor their appreciation of SAS for sponsoring it. Nor does it detract from why SAS sponsors it in the first place – and not merely because SAS founder Goodnight also owns Prestonwood Country Club. Unlike most title sponsors, the point of sponsoring this tournament isn’t name recognition. And the same is true of the Rex Hospital Open, the Web.com Tour event at TPC Wakefield Plantation in the spring.

Things are a little different in the Triangle, where the name isn’t the game. For both SAS and Rex, the motivation to sponsor these tournaments isn’t spreading the word, but strengthening their roots.

For SAS, there are three key goals over its 18 years of involvement, chief marketing officer Randy Guard said: Strengthening business partnerships, both in the Triangle and with its customers from around the world; showcasing the community, and Cary specifically; and raising money for the YMCA of the Triangle.

“This event does so much for the community,” Guard said. “We couldn’t be more excited about this year and all the history from the past.”

The Thursday’s pro-am, with all these famous older golfers who appeal to the SAS client base, is a big part of that. Unfortunately for SAS, this year’s pro-am was all but wiped out by the arrival of Hurricane Michael.

Rex, which has sponsored some kind of golf tournament in the Triangle for three decades, has the Rex Hospital Open within a sports-marketing portfolio that also includes sponsorships of the Carolina Hurricanes and N.C. State athletics, but the primary reason for its involvement is to raise funds for the Rex Healthcare Foundation, its charitable arm.

Contrast that with Greensboro’s Wyndham Championship, a PGA Tour event all about branding the hotel chain as a vacation destination, from the fan experience to the extremely telegenic beach party on Sedgefield’s 16th hole. Wyndham pays millions of dollars for the weekend exposure on CBS, essentially a hotel informercial embedded within a golf telecast.

That’s a more typical sponsorship – and a more expensive one. PGA Tour tournament title sponsorships can run into the tens of millions of dollars, which covers the purse, charitable donations and operations. Sponsorships at this level are a tenth of that, but not an insignificant sum to be sure – and vital to the health and growth of the tour.

Title sponsors are the primary driver of the week-to-week operations on the tour, and even beloved and historic tournaments like The International can disappear from the schedule without a title sponsor. Efforts to bring an LPGA Tour event to the Triangle in the wake of the very successful U.S. Women’s Open in 2014 foundered in part for lack of a company willing to put its name on the event.

The same would be true of the PGA Tour’s second-tier tour without Web.com, which found sponsoring that tour a useful way to spread the word about what exactly it does, going week after week to the kind of mid-sized markets full of small businesses that make up its online-marketing customer base.

“Nobody even knew who we were 5 ½ years ago,” said Web.com vice president Michael Young said.

That’s not why SAS or Rex Hospital got into the golf game. Their results come in other areas, something more like a player saying something like this about the company, unprompted: “I’ve never heard a negative thing, which is pretty amazing,” Langer said.

For SAS, that’s money well spent.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock
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